Archives for the month of: March, 2017

Today Jerusalem is still sleeping at 8:00 am. This is because the clocks have gone forward an hour, which means we’ve all lost an hour of sleep, unless of course you have the luxury of sleeping in. This may not be the only reason Jerusalemites are lying in bed listening to the birds’ morning chitter chatter, welcoming the Spring blooms. Last week Friday was the Jerusalem Marathon, this week has been the music festival, Sounds of the Old City. Last week we ran the 10 km, last night we rocked with the best of Israel’s musicians. It’s no wonder the streets are silent this morning, besides for the random bark of a passing dog.

For New Yorkers, Jerusalem is a quiet city. For someone come from Sydney and Johannesburg especially, Jerusalem is well and truly happening. There is nothing like these big events that get your adrenaline pumping and running or dancing with all sorts of people that you wouldn’t normally see. And that’s the connection between these two big events. People gathering to celebrate Jerusalem.

When you run a Jerusalem marathon, and I dream of one day running the full thing, (although that may just remain a pipe dream at this stage) you are running for something more than a run. I think any marathon run, or yes even 10 km group run, has a special energy of people joining together in common purpose and goal. It’s not competitive unless you want to come first, and there’s a camaraderie that enlarges the heart and keeps your legs pumping, even when they want to stop. Running in Jerusalem takes on a special significance as you sweep past the monuments of Israel, the Knesset, the streets in town and power down Jaffa. When you reach the hill ascending into the Old City, the blaring music that adds that extra beat to your feet gives you wings as you hit the cobbled stones, which are a runner’s nightmare, but you don’t mind because you’re running history. Something my great grandparents never would have imagined possible.

It’s a run that proves that dreams are possible. Not only because it’s in Jerusalem, but because so many are running for charitable causes. They announce themselves with big, colourful signs, matching shirts and the scampering teenagers who run back and forth to each other. Many of these runners are pushing wheel chairs, with disabled want to be runners, up the precipitous inclines. Complete strangers share the load with them cheerfully pushing up, up and up. This is an event that everyone should come to. Either to run in, or sit on the sidelines at a stylish cafe on Emek or in Town to cheer the runners on.

Speaking of dreams, walking through the Old City to the rhythm of different bands from all parts of the world is a dreamlike experience. It was on all week, and we went for the last night not really knowing what to expect, walking from the entrance where old Israeli songs about Tiberius and Haifa were crooned the high stage overlooking the lit up Old City walls, to creative installations of interactive musical instruments, flags of material you could press for an electrical musical note, floor piano keys you could walk on or, if you wanted a fun tune, dance on. Wall drums out of glass bottles, kiddie drums, saucepans hung high on the wall, making me think what a pity I didn’t bring the kids. This was quickly forgotten as we came to the Mizrachi music, where the crowds were swinging their hips to Iraqi music I grew up with. I wondered if everyone grew up with it and were reliving memories of records turning round and round in the 80’s living room. The melodic blast from the past continued into the Rova square. Where there was a Chassidic band playing lively chassidic niggunim, with dancing, circling whirls of people in front of them. It was a like a big farbrengan bash from Flood street, only this time in Jerusalem, with all types of Jews and not just black hats.

That for me is the best part of these events, the coming together of all different Jews, from all different backgrounds. You just had to dance at the ‘thunderous’ (as the programme described it) headphone music party to see this. A headphone music party is where everyone boogies to music on headphones. And boy was it a party in the narrow Old City alley. It’s quite a scene of people listening separately to their music and yet hopping around exuberantly, at times singing the words out loud together into the silence. Soldiers in olive fatigues, black hatters, girls in tight pants, boys with necklaces and that new hair cut, shaven on the sides and a tuft of hair in the middle. You could even hear Arabic in the mix of Hebrew singing, It didn’t matter who you were, this was the party to be at. How I loved that thunderous silence.

And maybe that’s what Jerusalem is in many ways, a thunderous silence, of so many people all together doing many different things. Each to their own rhythm and beat. You can’t always see or hear it, but when we’re all brought together for a common cause outside of ourselves, a run, a music festival, Jerusalemites can forget their differences and just enjoy being! It’s really there it just depends what you choose to see and more over listen to.

It’s been a very joyous month of Adar in Jerusalem. This week the streets have been filled with clowns, soccer fans, fairies, super heroes, ferocious tigers and cuddly crocodiles. Outrageous hats, face paint and glitter are the norm. This is the national holiday of joy, and Israelis need no encouragement to be happy and party. The streets feel light with a continuous song in the air welcoming this month that is the harbinger of happiness. It’s swept away the bitter cold grip of winter with a shining, warm sun, literally and figuratively. There is nothing like happiness and joy to break barriers as absolute strangers find themselves smiling at each other and sharing their childrens’ costumes on their phones.

Purim is not one day here; it’s an entire week at the schools of street parades, carnivals, dress up parties and Purim markets. It’s the festival of children, and as my son’s kindergarten teacher said, ‘We are all children on Purim.’ And she walks the talk, dressed up as a fire woman and parading down Emek Refaim with her gaggle of nursery school kids, dressed up in their masks and princess dresses, skipping and singing along. They greeted and sang to everyone they meet, from the blind man’s Labrador, to the local grocery shop (where they march through the aisles), to the relaxed couples sipping their cappuccino’s on Emek, to the Pizza shop, where they ordered their lunch, and then went on, as a final stop, to the Saba of the Gan’s home ( his teacher’s father)to sing and dress up with him. The children had the best Purim parade, with no music, no accompanying school, which they usually have and no balloons or police, as they had last year. They simply were happy and made everyone else happy as only three and four year olds can.

And that’s what this month has been about, being simply happy. Yes, there is a whole story of Purim, which is why we are happy. The Jews were saved from annihilation. Jewish survival is a fabulous reason to celebrate. However there’s more than that to the injunction to be happy. Simple joy is a concept we struggle with as we go along our daily lives, which has its hard moments, like sick kids vomiting in the night. (For those who have not yet been plagued, there is a horrid stomach bug going around Jerusalem.) I’m learning that I need to get beyond my preoccupation with what I think is important; assignments, essays, work dead lines, fancy Shabbat meals, burnt dinners, picture perfect homes and clean walls (that four year olds have not penned their master pieces on.)

I look at the happy Jerusalemites around me. I know that many are struggling to pay the bills, exhausted as they balance their numerous jobs, their children, or are looking for that special someone and are lonely. Everyone has their sad story, and that story has been put on pause this month, as we are all swept up in the energy of being happy because this is the time to be happy. Because this is what we choose to be, as we wish everyone a Happy Purim.

In a way I wish Jerusalem could always be this way. Simply happy. Able to forget its horror stories, and ghosts of winter and embrace happiness, joy, connection and giving which the month of Adar brings. The harsh edge of city living, as everyone vies for space would permanently disappear and we could all smile at each other and in that moment be happy as we connect on that basic human level. Realizing that at the end of the day that’s all that really matters. As three and four year olds already know and understand, and the rest of us have simply forgotten, and need the month of Adar to remind us. Happiness is a state of being, a choice, indeed the road worth taking.

This seems to me the reason why the Rabbis teach that “Yom Kippur is a day like Purim”, a day approximating Purim, because it’s not the fasting and sacrifices that God ultimately wants, as Isaiah (Chapter 1) candidly points out, rather it’s our smiles, joy and connection in our everyday lives with ourselves and each other, which naturally leads to social justice and enduring happiness and peace. No one says it’s easy, sometimes the best things are the hardest, but it’s definitely something to aim for, one smile at a time, beyond this happy month into many happy, happy months.