Jerusalem hands you gifts when you most need it, and when you least expect it. As I walked down the street this afternoon bundled up against the chilling winds, my face being warmed by the sun. I saw an old woman with a stick, hitting an olive tree, one of the many olive trees that line Hizkiyahu Hamelech street. She was dressed in a colourful purple silk dress, with gold embroidery, it was old and worn and muddied like her face. It told her story of coming from another time and culture, perhaps from a Kurdistani background from across the Zagros mountains or Northern Iraq. And she was hitting this tree with all her strength. I stepped around her to avoid the black olives falling on my head. I had to speak to her, I asked her if she was collecting olives. ’Yes,’ she replied in a thick guttural Hebrew. ‘Olives.’ She gestured to her checkered shopping trolley which was full of freshly harvested black olives from the ground, with a beautiful, wide smile which showed off her missing teeth. I felt like I had been handed a gift. The simple happiness of collecting olives on the narrow, public streets of Jerusalem.

The encounter with this simple smile warms my heart every time I think of it. Simplicity is something I’m craving in the craziness of everyday living in a city, bringing up a family, keeping up with everyday pressing demands. My theme has been finding my centre in the centre of a city which is considered the centre of the world. Yet you couldn’t find a metropolis of greater extremes. It’s climate for starters. Auburn Autumn days were scarce this year as the weather turned from boiling hot to bone chilling cold as fast as a leaf falling from a tree.

Jerusalem is also the social frontier of all peoples, Jewish and Non Jewish. It’s the polestar of the Ultra Orthodox, Chassidic, Secular, French, Anglos, Sephardim and Middle Eastern Jews as well as Arabs, Christians, and all shades of people and religions in between.

Economically it has the poorest of the poor of Israel living in it’s golden sphere and the wealthiest Jews from all over the world pushing real estate prices up so that the ground you walk upon is equivalent to bars of gold.

All these opposites create a dissonance in the city of God, which is enough to cause anyone to develop the dreaded Jerusalem Syndrome.

So in some ways I feel the irony of looking for serenity in this pivotal city of paradox. Where the best and the worst of religion, people and self comes out. Ever the optimist I focused on the simple moments, condensing complications into a cappuccino and ticking the never ending to do list in Hebrew. I was getting on top of my game.

And then the fires happened. My friend who lives in Yad Hashmona, a Moshav in the Judean Hills arrived in Ulpan class flustered and worried about her dog, as the perimeters of her moshav were being flushed with water to prevent the raging, merciless fires, that had already evacuated the neighbouring moshav of Nataf, spreading.

All equilibrium flew out the window into the ash filled air as I and the nation confronted arson, the new, fierce face of terrorism.

The Haifa fires were devastating, and on Shabbat as we watched firefighting planes fly across cloudless sky towards the North of Israel, (we were in Yad Binyamin, where they get the best views of all aircraft activity) our stomach’s twisted, with the lack of news, with the knowledge that those fires may be licking up houses as we stroll equanimously through one of the most peaceful yishuvim in Israel.

So much for my tranquil epicentre. I’m certainly not living in Sydney, Ausralia. This period has left me wondering where is the ‘peace’ of Jerusalem, which its very name promises? It’s forcing me to realise more and more that peace is not tangible. It’s like gold dust that flies through our days, to be caught with our hearts. Ephemeral moments that pause time like the smile from an old woman from an archaic world, harvesting olives from olive trees with a stick and a creaky, granny trolley, as the hustling, bustling Jerusalem cars whizz by.