Archives for the month of: May, 2017

What colour is the colour of tears? Of a parent’s grief? Of tragedy in our midst? All the philosophical questions come up. As my son said, ‘It’s not normal for a teenage boy to be on life support.’ There are too many murky colours, questions and emotions. I feel old this Shavuot as I see how good people suffer and suffer and suffer. The very best of us, truth be told.

Meanwhile life in Israel goes on. On the radio yesterday I heard Shavuot referred to as the ‘Festival of White’. It’s a festival of wearing white clothes, of little girls running in sparkling white dresses running through the streets, and of eating all types of cheesecakes, the favourite Israeli classic is made from smooth white cheese. Another take on the whiteness of Shavuot is that it’s like Rosh Hashana, as was explained at our Shabbat table by a guest, opening my mind to a completely new perspective on  the Festival of White.

Shavuot makes sense as the Festival of Tikkun. We have Tikkun Leil Shavuot, as we learn Torah all night. With Chaim Zeev ben Nicole Elizabeth fighting for his life, Shavuot cannot be just about cheesecake.

We are all praying. Every friend I tell the story to is shocked into praying. And as I pray there are many, many questions with no answers. Life isn’t simple. When we are taught the Torah in our good Jewish day schools, it is taught simply, forgetting to relate what it must have been to actually leave Egypt, to enter a desert with nothing more than faith in Moses and God as their steady companion. They saw plenty of death, destruction and hardship, and somehow they carried on.

Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson of Matan Torah. The giving of the law to a very human, imperfect people who were ‘stiff necked’ with a national hobby of complaining. Why? Because they needed it, they had enough faith to see their need for law and order and faith in one God, and what can be created from it – a utopian society of justice, loving kindness and peace, a healed world – Tikkun Olam. Has it been achieved? Not quite.

Have I achieved this utopian vision of Matan Torah in my own home? No. Not even in my own soul.

This is the tikkun of Shavuot. The audacious challenge to refine ourselves, to rid ourselves of our blemishes. Our ego, jealousy, gossiping, slander, unkindness, evil eyes, dogmatic judgements that disunite our souls, families and communities. To live the Torah authentically we have to adorn white, pure clothes. Get rid of assumptions of what a Jew is, what Torah is and really look at what it is to be an accepting human being first and foremost that creates more smiles in a day than frowns.

No one said it’s easy. Life is clearly not easy. Blessing and living a joyous, appreciative life is harder than the stiff necked, complaining variety. It takes banishing cynicism, as Rachel Fraenkel says, and believing in the greater good of people, no matter what shape or form they may take.

For me it takes the form of being kind at home to my family. Biting my tongue as my son empties his dinner plate half on to the floor as he misses the bin, as another son eats all the peaches in one sitting, or the other drops our stray, adopted, Jerusalem kitten onto the floor. It’s hard work and I don’t always win. Real life is in the nitty gritty small acts of patience and kindness.

Chaim Zeev ben Nicole Elizabeth is a real boy, a very good mate of my son, who liked a good sleep over with pizza, a soccer game on TV, liked to argue about what boys like to argue about and then make up the way boys do with a friendly punch on the shoulder. When we left Johannesburg and moved to Israel it was hard to say goodbye to our friends. It’s even harder now when tragedy strikes. But we are a people of the Book and we by definition believe in and live by miracles.

May we all pray together for the speedy miraculous recovery and healing of Chaim Zeev ben Nicole Elizabeth, and in his merit may we don white clothes internally and externally this Chag HaShavuot as we face the innate fragility of life which we all share.

Today commemorates the day Jerusalem was reunified in 1967. It’s a wonderful day of pilgrimage to the Old City and Western Wall, of Jews and people from all over Israel and the world. For me it’s a day of gratitude for living in Jerusalem. For being able to march through Mamilla and through Jaffa gate, power walking into the Jewish quarter to join the Mizrachi walking group tour, with confidence and a sense of I live in this city. It feels wonderful not to be a stranger. To know exactly where to get the best coffee in a one kilometer circumference of where ever I am. But Jerusalem’s not only my home, it’s home to every Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrim that gather from far and wide. For some reason Jerusalem is a magnet that attracts people, as it attracted me, and despite the excellent coffee, the captivation defies rational.

Yes Jerusalem is a beautiful city, of weathered old stones, which have been recycled from century to century as each capturing army reuse and recreate the city of David and Solomon. But it’s also expensive, hence people joke, that’s why it’s called the city of Gold. It’s a city of extremes, of very poor Haredim and Arabs, and the very rich Chutznikim, who’ve raised the house prices so that real estate here is also at a gold premium. It’s a city littered with refuse that make the German tourists gawk, and a city where every one is trying to get the best deal, and not be made a fool of (like the rest of Israel). It’s a city where shopping for food is a journey, especially if one chooses to go to Machane Yehuda (which isn’t much cheaper than the local supermarket by the way), where wages are lower than Tel Aviv, and parking requires a science degree.

Yet everyone I speak to who lives here (unless they’re cynical Olim) love it here. They wouldn’t live anywhere else. Not if you paid them. And when you ask why? They say because it’s Yerushalayim. It’s the dream of one taxi driver’s grandmother from Kurdistan, who walked here on foot in the early fifties. You don’t throw away dreams.

The question I’m left with as I’m privileged to live in the city of dreams, is what is the next stage of the dream? The answer is obvious as I walked through the Old City, through the Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters. Where everyone was at peace, or as peaceful as the narrow streets of bazaars can be, more concerned with selling their colorful Armenian ceramics, fragrant spices and religious icons, than politics. It genuinely felt like the whole city was celebrating reunification. Which may sound naive (especially as security was high). But dreams are built on naiveté. Cynicism didn’t reunite Jerusalem. And the real dream is the world dream of peace in our times, in our streets, in our city, between different faiths, cultures and people. And the city that it is literally happening in is this city. Jerusalem is truly the City of Peace, in opposition to many people’s projected perceptions of discontent and strife (which of course it can also be).

Peace is a utopian vision worth believing in and investing in despite extreme elements which would have you think otherwise. Beginning in our hearts first, our homes, our streets and our cities. Jerusalem is the symbol of this peace, between all people, all religions, all cultures. And you can see it in the Ulpan classes at Hebrew University where there are North Koreans, French and Italian priests, Spanish Latin teachers, Arab speech therapists, Jewish Olim and Chinese and Japanese biblical students study Hebrew together, and that was just in my class. Where the streets are multicultural and multilingual. Where everyone is free to walk in their religious vestments unharried. This is the gift of the Jews to the world. This is the gift of Jerusalem. A haven of peace in the Middle East. And peace isn’t rational. It’s a dream, and day by day we live it, and have security forces protecting it, and today we are celebrating it with full joyous gratitude to the Creator of all people, faiths and cities. As my Japanese friend who’s a Christian Priest profoundly stated, ‘When there is peace in Jerusalem, there will be peace in the whole world.’

Jerusalem Day is Remembrance Day for Ethiopians – Marching through the Old City to the Western Wall.

I’ve been washing black ash from my children’s hair. Lag Baomer was two days this week and Jerusalem took full advantage. The real day was pushed off so that people wouldn’t prepare their bonfires on Shabbat, so Sunday night was officially Lag Baomer and you couldn’t miss it. Thick smoke filled the air with a blazing bonfire on every corner, raising the already hot evening temperatures. It was definitely a night to walk around with Burnshield in my handbag.

Of course being Australian it is unimaginable that so many unsupervised bon fires are allowed outside every park, parking lot and all across the winding bike path that leads to the First Train Station. As parents we sent our children to their youth group bonfires with a prayer on our lips and dire warnings against playing with fire. But we had to let them go, we couldn’t prevent them from their night of charred potatoes, burnt sausages and roasting marshmallows until two in the morning.

This is where you enthusiastically exclaim, ‘Only in Israel.’

It’s not that no one cares about safety. It’s just that everyone is given space, including the children to learn on their own and build their fire safety muscles independently. They’re not scared of working hard, getting down and dirty and learning new skills. There is no whitewashed reality here. From the crooked shelves of supermarkets which could be more sterile and fluorescent to the green play grounds which have signs that announce the law that children under six must be accompanied by an adult. Which astoundingly means that children six and above can play at the park unaccompanied.

Undoubtedly this is a country that fosters independence. Where children learn about bus schedules and have their own Rav Kav bus cards from a young age. Where ‘not knowing’ is no excuse.

As the bonfires smoulder into ash piles throughout the city, I’m reminded what makes Israel special; its chutzpah, its Do It attitude, that gets people setting up folding tables piled high with drinks and BBQ food on the Jerusalem sidewalks on Lag BaOmer night. Laughing and singing into the wee hours of the night around their improvised bundles of burning wood, ignoring any fire engines that drive past. And miraculously I don’t hear any whining sirens that smoky, hot night.

Here’s a video my son sent from his group. It’s way too long. Watch the first two seconds so you have an idea what a lovely, heated, balagan it was. (And so that you can see that I am really not exaggerating.)

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Memorial at my son’s Gan – Kindergarten

Where do all the tears go? Is what I ask myself as I stand in the beating sun at the Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day ceremony for the fallen soldiers and victims of terror at my children’s primary school. It is a commemoration run by the school children. Together they present and tell the stories of fallen soldiers, call everyone to silence for the siren at 11:00 am, raise the flag, blow the trumpets and march with flags in preparation for Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. Parents, children and old people from the area stand and sit together in commemoration of those who fell in battle, who were murdered by terrorists, who were at the front line for us to live as we do in Israel today.


Grade 6 Leading the Memorial Ceremony

Freedom and independence comes at a price, as the principal of the school reminded us this morning.

Watching the future generation pay solemn tribute to the broad shoulders that they stand on is a very moving event, and the tears couldn’t stop falling. All the mothers wept behind their big sun glasses. (Just like last year which was my first experience of Yom Hazikaron.) No mother wants her son to go to the army. No mother wants their child to know of such evil in the world, of senseless killings of the innocent which we have to defend ourselves from. And yet we take our children to the ceremonies, they run the ceremonies, they know of their inheritance.


Grade 3 – Flag Ceremony

The Jewish story is a story about process. Just as it was with Pesach, which we finished celebrating a couple of weeks ago, where we left Egypt to become a free people, and yet it took us forty years of wandering to reach the Promised Land, so too today with our modern Jewish story. We are a nation in process, and our modern commemoration and celebrations days reflect this.

Yom HaShoah was last week where the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust were mourned. It’s in their merit that we have a Jewish country of our own today as the founders of Israel and all who invested their lives in it declared, ‘Never Again!’

Today on this Memorial Day the flag of Israel is at half mast. We are mourning 23,544 fallen IDF soldiers and terror victims since the establishment of the State of Israel. Each with their own story, their own family, their own mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, who are now privately mourning their loss. And they are not alone, as all of Israel has gone quiet today. Licking its wounds, trying to salve the nation’s bleeding, sad soul.

Already as the afternoon progresses and the sun begins its steady descent into nightfall, the flags have risen again. Everyone’s spirits are roused as the celebrations begin, and the switch from intense sadness to equally intense joy begins. The dissonance is hard to bare. Both bring forth tears.

The only way I can explain Yom Haatzmaut and it’s ecstatic happiness in the shadow of the deep loss of Yom Hazikaron is that they are about the same thing. Those who died, sacrificed their lives for us to live in peace and security. Not to celebrate our country, our nation and our children on this day, is to say they died in vain. We need to celebrate, be it through prayerful songs of gratitude to God with the special Yom Haatzmaut minyanim that take place throughout the country, or through getting together with family and friends and barbecuing, which is the national custom of the day.

Unity, gratitude, and happiness are the biggest acts of gratitude that we can undertake for our dead. We dance and sing on Yom Haatzmaut not despite the sadness but because of it. Because we appreciate the great sacrifice that establishing this country has taken. And we all know that living here and investing in our country as Jews we are making sure that the tears for the 6 million and the 22,544 are not shed in vain.

Chag Yom Haatzmaut Sameach!