Archives for category: Aliyah

Purim is the festival of all that is surprising. Recorded Purim songs break out on to the streets of Jerusalem from Rabbi Nachman vehicles and face painted waiters serve at Caffit. Yesterday in yoga, the session ended with a Chag Sameach from the teacher and a festive plate of poppyseed hamentaschen passed around, homemade by one of the students.

Purim begins in Jerusalem a month before the actual festival. With hamentashen being sold in all bakeries the moment TuBishvat is over. And from Rosh Chodesh Adar the children begin dressing up, going to kindergarten and school in pyjamas one day, funny hats the next and fully dressed up in every imagined costume; from dashing, European Princes, to little Red Riding Hood and a hoard of Avengers. I can’t help but smile when I glance into a pram being wheeled down the street and a little, painted, clown face stares back at me.

It’s my third Purim here and I’ve just become comfortable with the Hebrew word ‘to dress up’. I know by now to buy costumes and goodies for Mishloach Manot early and avoid the manic, last minute rush. One and a half weeks early was too late. A size large Batman costume was left and all black eye masks were sold out. That was the beginning of experiencing the shadow side of Purim. The dark underbelly of stress and frustration that underlies all the busyness.

A friend of mine says Purim is a punishment for mothers. It’s stressful organising food gifts, worrying if it’s good enough, original enough, if you’re spending too much money or too little. Another friend of mine has left to Eilat for the Purim weekend. It works out cheaper and more enjoyable than putting together her super, beautiful Mishloach Manot and hosting her gastronomic seudah which came at a massive cost physically not to mention financially.

For many years I myself have given up trying to be original or cool. For years I’ve been searching how to do Purim meaningfully. One year I donated money and sent cards out announcing that instead of giving food gifts I donated money to those in need. Last year I bought gifts from an organisation that supported autism. This year I convinced my shul to start a chessed fund with members of the shul all receiving one food gift from everyone. Meaning that you gave to everyone in your community and raised money for those in need at the same time.

Meanwhile I’ve had my major Purim bloopers. I didn’t arrange a big enough Mishloach Manot for my son to take to school. How was I to realise that Israeli kids take it super seriously and it’s more cool to put big packets of everything and not an array of, what I thought was, fun junk food but on the smaller packet side. I forgot the 21st Century rule, Big is Better. An Oleh mistake. I quizzed my boys about the packets they received so I would learn what’s ‘cool’ for next year. My eldest said, ‘I didn’t get anything, the person who was meant to give me was an American.’

The question that nags me in all this frenzied Purim preparation is, ‘Where is the joy?’ The most joyous festival of all and there is an overwhelming pressure and a hum of meaninglessness floating just below the surface. Just this morning I overheard a bearded, middle aged man talking into the phone at the fruit shop repeating over and over again, ‘I’m not excited about Purim.’

I think back to last Purim and the truth is I had a joyous Purim, even if I probably also gave the children too small packets for their school Mishloach Manot swap. I decided not to pressurise myself. I remember sitting at an empty cafe for lunch with my husband (our seudah at friends was called for much later in the day) and having a meaningful chat with the proprietor’s Moroccan mother. I hadn’t bought into any of the hype, if people gave me Mishloach Manot I tried to jumble something together once I had run out of my prepared ones. I focused on the connection that was intended in the giving, not on what was actually given. No one needs another packet of chips, another packet of sweets and no, not even a bottle of wine.

I focused on the kids. The fun is in the connection. The fun is in the meaning. The big, frantic Purim parties don’t give this to me, the fancy Mishloach Manot don’t do it for me either, the big Purim Seudahs leave me cold. I want that small chat in a small space with a person where I smile and they smile and we feel joy. I want to give my food gifts in those places where they don’t receive much and it will bring love and joy.

I think that’s what Purim is trying to teach us, to do things with joy, and if the joy isn’t there, have a good rethink and ask why? And maybe, just maybe give ourselves permission to enjoy Purim (an apt metaphor for our lives) on our own terms.

It’s 10:00am. The siren just went off. A dull, high alarm where everyone stops, stands still with heads slightly bowed. There’s a deep resounding silence as the cars stop and everyone gets out onto the road. Young school children stand at the front of their school gates, holding onto the iron fence rails. Mothers with prams, old people on their morning stroll all freeze. It’s an eerie moment which brings home the Holocaust as more than a memory but as a national moment which we all share.

This morning as I stood still in my own silence whilst the alarm rang, a modern shofar of calling. Beyond the whine of the siren I hear dogs yapping and the chirping songs of the Jerusalem birds, which is usually drowned out by beeping traffic. It felt so peaceful, and I thought to myself that the dogs go on barking and birds chirping around us, through all moments in our lives. Through the generations. When the Jews were taken to the forests to be shot, piled onto railway carriages, lining up heads shaven, tattooed, a mere number on the way to be gassed, or those marched to their death. All would have heard in the silence yapping dogs and chirping birds.

There’s a deep sadness in realising that we humans are our own worst enemies. We cause more death and destruction than any natural disaster that befalls us.

Last night we lit the Holocaust memorial candles that my boys brought home from school. Each candle had the name and details of one of the 6 million murdered Jews. The boys read their names and my thirteen year old as he lit his candle said without prompting, ‘This is in memory of Yechezkal Gitzinski’. And as the memorial candles flickered alive they reflected our lives. One life passes on and another one is born. The whole of European Jewry perishes in a gas oven and an antiquated country and language is renewed, reborn. A phoenix flying high from amongst the tear stained bloody ashes.

We can’t forget our past. We’ve moved forward and left the shtetl towns with their ghosts, but the tremors of sadness, loss and fractured spirits are still felt. My mother in law can’t speak about her father’s murdered family from Brno, Czechoslovakia. And the saddest of all are the lonely survivors, who live in abject poverty under our very noses as was discussed on Jerusalem radio yesterday.

Yom HaShoah is not only about remembering, it’s about grieving, it’s about seeing the world through the lens of the way we would like the world to be. By keeping our ghostly memories alive we teach our future, child by child, how to be grateful and give and create a world that says, ‘Never Again!’


I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with Hebrew. More than struggling I think I may even be a bit dyslexic in this right to left language. And I’m luckier than most in that my parents are Israeli, although they spoke to us in English. I also have had twelve years in the Jewish school system where they supposedly taught Modern Hebrew, and yet I struggle to understand the radio, read a Hebrew newspaper or speak basic Hebrew on the streets.

The language barrier is, I think, the hardest part of integrating into Israel. ‘You don’t have to know Hebrew in Jerusalem’, I’m told. And that’s part of the problem. Everyone knows English and are more than happy to speak to me in English, rather than have to endure my broken Hebrew which more often than not insults their gender and takes them back and forth in time like a epileptic time machine.

The French and Russians have it easier. They have to learn Hebrew, otherwise they won’t get anywhere. So they learn far quicker on a steeper learning curve. We’ve explained this to our children, who can’t understand why the French Olim are learning Hebrew so much faster than them. It also helps that French has female and male constructs, which English doesn’t have.

It’s a humbling experience learning a new language. Every word learnt and moreover remembered is like a diamond. I collect little diamonds, with such tricks as trying to learn five new words a day, looking like a lost soul as I walk down the streets of Jerusalem with my scrap of paper and new words, repeating them over and over again until they sink in.

I have a renewed respect for immigrants. Broken English is now brave, not stupid. I think back to all the Russians who came into my class in Sydney, not knowing English and how they endured social isolation and confusion, until they mastered it. I think to my children now and how they’re having a similar experience. I hope they learn kindness and compassion as they learn first hand what it is to be an immigrant.

Of course there’s Ulpan. My husband and I chose the Ulpan at Hebrew University. For us it’s been a great decision, as it’s an academic environment that’s refined the art of teaching Hebrew with excellent teachers. (I think all Hebrew lessons should be modelled on their methods. Take note Jewish Day Schools!) As we learn the basics of Hebrew grammar, I wonder at the fact I know English let alone Hebrew. Grammar is tediously logical. A Hebrew word is like a Chinese acrobat that can twist and turn into a thousand different words and meanings.

As I write my essays, read articles and practice speaking, finally learning to take care of the gender and tense, I see bit by bit that the language is coming. Slowly, painfully slowly and with many mistakes and funny incidents, such as ordering a ‘parcel’ instead of an omelette for breakfast. And being told that I can’t have a ‘Chatich’ of pizza, which I though was the correct word for ‘slice’; And the guys behind the counter said that they’re ‘the chatichim’, slang for cuties.
Red faced encounters is my style of learning. Deep crimson blushes ensure that I don’t repeat the same mistake twice. I find the more I try, the more I learn. Israelis are more than forgiving as I blunder along. One of the best pieces of advice was given to me by my Brazilian friend in class. He chastised me for translating everything in my head into the Queen’s English. ‘You’ll only learn if you think in Hebrew,’ he said. And so I’m thinking a lot, in my broken, pigeon Hebrew.