Living in a third world country

Before we moved here, I seriously thought Israel was a developed country. In no way comparable to other countries of the Middle or Near East. With a higher standard of development even compared to Southern European countries. Comparable to the US and Northern Europe.

Ha.

Let me write a little disclaimer before I get myself started. Because it is, of course, a possibility we should not ignore that we live in a dump. That the house we rent is unusually prone to breakage, leakage and infestations of non-human kind.

And it is also possible that my eye is drawn to shortcomings in town that I tend to overlook in the good old comfortable clean ‘burbs that I left in the Netherlands. And that other places I lived in Europe and the US happened to be pristine compared to here. I have lived in South America and the state things are here comes quite close to the memories I have of the state things were in South America. Twenty years ago.

But…
Since we moved into this place we have had rainwater flood down the walls, with mold growing on the ceiling and walls soon after.

Some locks can not be used, and thus we have two doors that are perpetually semi-open. Do not tell anyone thankyouverymuch.

The fuse of the hot water boiler burnt through, black melting plastic and all.

A shower head broke off. A toilet got blocked. A shower tube broke off the wall. The shower floor now seems to be leaking water into the neighbor’s kitchen right under it.

In a country where drinking water is scarce, we seem to have a little bit too much of a good thing. A week ago we woke up at six AM to the sound of rushing water. The entire apartment had an inch of water on the floor. A tube under the sink had snapped off. We could only stop the water by turning off the main tap. That we found around the corner in another street. Since it was stuck, we accidentally broke off the entire meter. Causing the water to gush out and cover the whole street. When we cut off the apartment complex nobody even seemed to notice the oddity of not being able to use water for a while. I guess it is not such an oddity here.

But then again, water might not be used that often: recently we were warned not to use the “safe and delicious” tap water for drinking because it had been contaminated. For days. And when we do not get warnings about contamination, the water is often brownish.

The door to the balcony broke off it’s hinges. The balcony itself can not stand water on it or it will leak through the balcony floor right into our downstairs neighbor’s house. Needless to say the neighbors living underneath us love us.

Our middle daughter surprisingly enough still begs for a pet, while there are so many already living with us: cockroaches crawl over our counter at night, ants tend to think even bedrooms are a great place to live, mosquitos and flies are everywhere.

And it is not just our house that has a third world country-esque ring to it: It seems to be perfectly acceptable here to have electricity cables going from one place to another held up with sticky tape only. Cockroaches roam the streets even with broad daylight. Garbage is everywhere. As are stray cats, or the occasional dead rat, dead dog and many a dead bird.

For the sustainable at heart this was a country that forced me to adjust a little. To say the least. Green living is possible, but hard in a city like Jerusalem. And with the war going on, I just can not bring up the energy to throw my garbage in different and far apart recycle bins.

I am not saying it is wrong or weird, I am just saying it is not what I expected. I thought Israel and the US were in the same league, developmentally. My mistake, my bad.

And maybe, just maybe, this also explains why at this time, the political situation in this country is as it is.

Jerusalem Syndrome

I love cults. There, I said it. I love to learn about lifestyles that tend to adhere to a certain kind of absolutism. Groups of people following strict rules or beliefs, living a rigid or more seemingly free flowing lifestyle, fascinate me. Not only do I want to understand what drives them. I also tend to think that life like that must bring a wonderful sense of simplicity. As long as  you live it according to a strict set of rules.

Maybe “cult” is not the correct way to describe the object of my fascination. Because I would also love to visit a country under dictatorship before it turns to democracy.

For someone who is hoping to wake up one day knowing what her calling is, this sounds like pure bliss. Inner peace and true serenity must come to those that do not have to figure out how to live life to the fullest or what direction their bliss went that “they should follow”.

Of course I realize I would find the opposite of inner peace. I would fight my way out. And that paradox might be the core of the fascination to begin with.

One of the wonderful aspects of living here. Hardly a day goes by without some kind of Religious Extremism. First of all our ultra orthodox Haredi neighbors. It took me a couple of months of learning to get to understand them . A couple of months of diving as deep as I could into their rites and traditions. Buying artifacts, reading books.

Judaism is quite an obvious part of every day life in Israel. So it was not just easy to learn more about it. It also felt as an necessity to understand more about the country I live in now. But here’s the fun part: Jerusalem tends to attract a wealth of religious fanatics.

Coming from a country where Free Will seems to be the religion, It almost feels like heavenly intervention to be here for a while.

I took my Hebrew classes in a place that is -very- closely related to Opus Dei .

During the walk over the old city walls we met “watchmen”. Dutch people who have dedicated their pro-Israel lives to reading the Bible on the old City Walls. Because they believe that that is what God calls them to do.

Or how about “God’s General” on Jaffa Street, who is saluted by several “soldiers of God”. The General knows for a fact that the war Israel is currently fighting is actually brought on by the sinful lifestyle of the Tel Avivians.

I want to believe every single one of them is right. Mostly because by nature I want to do everything as I should. I want to do everything right. But it’s hard. Having a book in my house that will protect our family from rockets sounds like superstition to me. Superstition that is forbidden by the same religion our Book Seller Aaron is faithful to.

Living life in celibacy with some other people from Opus Dei seems unnatural and unnecessary to me. Not to mention spending long and unpaid days on the City Wall to read the Bible out loud to whoever wants to hear it.

But then again, wearing a wig because you believe you should cover your hair, is that cheating or is it wise? And another favorite of mine: the mitzvah of wearing of TzitzitThe sole purpose of that Mitzvah is to not forget to fulfill all the other 612 mitzvahs.

The beauty of it all? Jerusalem Syndrome, the mental illness that hits some people visiting this city, has no preference for Jews, Christians or Muslims. Anyone can get it.

I wonder if the affected knows he is affected. Or she…

Tear Gas

It is so much easier to be a regular customer in a place where haggling is common custom. I am not a good haggler. In shops we visit for the first time I end up paying ten dollars for a jar of local chocolate spread.

Even in the shops we go to more often I pay 30 Shekels for a bottle of Grape syrup. A week later my husband pays 30 Shekels for a bottle of Grape syrup, twenty bananas and four eggplants. 

After the first two weeks our bakery sold us his Pita’s for 70% of the price he asked the weeks before. Winking, he said it was a discount. But obviously the price hasn’t gone up since then.

So by now we have a couple of shops we visit regularly in East Jerusalem. One of them is one of the few places that sells alcohol. So when we run out of beer on a Saturday, when all the shops on the Jewish side are closed, we tend to visit this shop. 

Saturday was hot and had brought on a whole new set of worries and thoughts. We longed for a cool beer in our little Ginah, our back yard. So we loaded the youngest in the stroller, and marched our little troopers off to Nablus Road.

We like Nablus Road a lot. It has been under construction since we moved here. It is a dusty mess. But it miraculously is also cleaner than most other streets in East. It leads via the Garden Tomb to Damascus Gate. Two sights we love to visit when friends or relatives come over.

My husband was paying for our groceries, one of the kids by his side. I was waiting outside with our youngest ones, when a man collapsed on the street in front of the shop. A tall, strong man, in his late twenties. People tried to help him up, but he kept on falling down.

The man was dragged into the shop. And then, dragged further into the shop until he was out of my sight. I didn’t think much of it. I concluded the holy month of Ramadan had been too hard on him. It was so hot and the poor guy had probably not been eating and drinking enough for the past month.

Then, another man collapsed, a few meters from the shop. An older man this time. By now I was thinking it must happen a lot, these last few days of Ramadan. And I started to feel lucky I was able to witness this cultural phenomenon.

Suddenly things changed. A man without a voice but eyes filled with terror and anxiety was gesturing wildly while looking at me and the kids. He tried to move us in the direction of Damascus gate. His throat covered with some kind of medical cover, unable to speak, but with immense power in his eyes. 

I did not want to leave. My husband was still in the shop, and so was one of my kids. I wanted to stay together as a family, but our silent helper was very persistent. Women and children first. I started to walk in the direction of the Old City. Cursing myself for not having made more clear arrangements with my husband in case something might happen. Something like this.

Young boys, not much older than my ten year old son, were bumping into me. Walking quickly in the opposite direction. Picking up rocks and stones. Preparing themselves.

My husband rushed out of the shop, joined us. We practically ran home, now understanding the severity of the situation. The men I saw collapse hadn’t fainted because of thirst and hunger. They were in severe pain because they had gotten tear gas in their eyes.

Damascus Gate is a favorite hot spot when it comes to clashes. We always check the security updates wherever we go. These days we also tend to approach Damascus Gate with great apprehension. But this happening didn’t even make it to the security updates. 

It made me realize how suddenly situations can change. How poorly prepared I am. How lucky we were that things didn’t blow up while we were there. All seven of us.

It made me fear going back there anytime soon. And that, in itself, is frightening.

It’s scary to fear for one of my favorite places in town.

 

Skunk

We don’t have a parking permit for Musrara, the area where we live. So we park our car in Palestinian East Jerusalem. It’s not that far away, but it’s the other side of the world.

Before we left the Netherlands, a Jewish friend of ours jokingly said it it doesn’t smell that good in East, while in the Jewish West side of Jerusalem, it smells like roses.

And it turned out to be true that the Eastern side is often a whole lot messier than the Western side of town. Walking to the parking lot, we hurry over dusty roads, messy alleys and heaps of garbage. But it is also a colorful area, with many wonderful shops. It is an area where we have encountered helpfulness and kindness over and over again. It might be disorganized, but is friendly.

On our walk to the parking lot today, the smell of East gradually became worse. And then, unbearable.  At first I thought we were passing a garbage container with the remains of deceased animals in it. But we never seemed to really pass that container. Street after street people hurried to where they had to go. Covering their noses. The friendliness vanished into stinky air.

The shop owner of the favorite shop of the girls was holding a fragrant herb under his nose. He offered us a whiff. Until now his long and awkward beard had taken me aback a bit. Now the stench was so awful that we gratefully accepted his offer. All seven of us. The shop full of tiaras, perfumes and glittery shoes seemed to be breathing out the foul smell when we continued to the car.

The dust on cars had little spots on it, as if it had rained just a bit. But it hadn’t. Most of the cars in the parking lot, just like all the street we had just passed, had been sprayed. Sprayed with what I learned later was one of the innovative weapons of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Sprayed with Skunk.

Skunk. That’s right. Like the animal that sprays a foul smelling odor on you when you threaten it. Apparently the IDF was scared enough last Thursday  to spray Skunk on many streets, shops and undoubtedly people in East Jerusalem. Streets and shops and people that will not get rid of the smell easily. The nauseating, horrible smell of an allegedly harmless liquid developed for crowd control.

Developed to scare people away. Resulting in empty restaurants, empty markets, empty shops. For who can eat or think about food when you smell something so putrid? And who would want to go fun shopping when all you want to do is leave?

I am a newbie to riots and clashes and crowd control. What do I know about how to tame the masses when they turn against you? But I do know that making life barely possible for days after the clash is humiliating and hurtful. It is as if I would put a child on a naughty chair for days in a row after the child has done something just once. I couldn’t help but wondering what was wrong with the good old water canon, the smoke bomb or maybe even tear gas.

The Jasmin bush in our street is blooming. Even just passing it the smell is lovely. Before we went back to East this afternoon, we all picked a couple of flowers to take along. And one extra. For the bearded shop owner.

 

 

Bomb-bombs and marbles

Yesterday night I was trying to study for my final Hebrew exam after a month long intensive summer course. I totally felt thirteen again, unwilling and unmotivated, easily distracted and doing anything but trying hard.

Granted, there were some real distractions. It started with the all too familiar sound of helicopters. During the day, this is something I am getting used to. At night, it usually means trouble.Sirens followed, and then numerous loud bangs and shots. It lasted several hours. Nothing new? Well, it felt like a whole new thing maybe just because I was doing something different: studying.

And to top it off, I started to hear drums and chanting.

I can hear you: drums and chanting in her head. You think I am going crazy. While going crazy is a not entirely remote possibility, there really were drums and chanting. I promise. The crazy part? I thought the noise was coming closer. I started to think angry crowds of people were approaching, fed up with the war, fed up with their lives.

Thank goodness I was wrong. It was just another group of neighbors getting ready for the weekend, albeit a bit early. When I decided to put my books away after midnight, they were still having fun. Loud fun.

This morning, only two people out of a class of fifteen showed up for the exam. The rest had gotten stuck not so far from their house at the other side of town. Checkpoints and barriers had made their walk to school impossible. Half the city had been shut down because of last night’s riots.

My children cheered.

With most of my class not present, there was enough reason for their happiness. The kids had been invited to the end of course-party. Students had prepared a play and some songs. The best part for the kids was that there would be snacks afterwards.

Mommy! My oldest daughter exclaimed. Now that there are not so many people, can we have a second round of bomb-bombs? Because, you know, in France people eat bon-bons, but here people eat Bomb-Bombs…

Back home, candy was on my red list of rarely handed out items. Here, sugar is one of the common pleasures in a child’s life. And like alcohol numbs the nerves for the adults, candy does the trick for the kids. So while I was setting up a whatsapp group with newly found drinking buddies, the kids stuffed their cheeks with sweets.

When we walked home after the party, we ran into the most progressive neighbor in the entire neighborhood. Since the last time I saw her she had aged beyond her years. Every wrinkle in her face carved in it by sorrow and pain. She holds out her hand and opens it. In it, four marbles nestle themselves comfortably in her soft skin.

“These I took home. I found them at the end of our street. Among the many stones and bricks still lying there”. She leaves it at that. But I understand what she is saying. The look on her face is so deeply sad, I want to hug her fragile body. She is referring to the riots last night. Coming ever so close to where we live. Riots with the Israeli’s shooting and the Palestinians throwing stones. And now, with marbles. Quite a hefty thing to run into when shot at you with a catapult, I assume.

A woman my age feeling like a teenager, anxiety over the sound of drums, children renaming candy and an innocent toy turned into a dangerous weapon. If it weren’t here, it might feel like a theme park.

 

Whose side are you on?

Some afternoons I like to sit on our porch. I drink a local Goldstar beer, and try hard to read the paper. It’s always a disappointment to try and read because my one year old will try even harder to fall, anywhere, while I read. Last Friday I tried again.

One of my neighbors, a school teacher, comes home. Ido is wearing a slightly too tight uniform. It’s the first time I see him in a uniform. I look at him, the question in my eyes louder than words would be. He nods.

I try to laugh it away: and here you were getting ready for your long summer vacation, right? He laughs along with me, but we both know who can hear us. His pregnant wife is due in a month. I look at their door.  He follows my gaze and says, optimistically: “The war will long be over by then”.

My husband steps outside now, too. Ido high fives him: Someone needs to protect you, buddy! They, too, laugh it off. Ido is home for Shabbat, being an observant Jew they gave him a job in a hospital. Or so he tells us, and his wife and three year old son. I am not sure if it’s true.

There is no way we can not talk about the political situation now and another neighbor happily comes outside to join in on the fun. This neighbor has recently moved in. He is the headmaster of a Yeshiva, a religious high school. His payot or side curls are dangling while he runs down the few steps from his front door to where I try to drink my Goldstar.

“A thousand rockets!” He cries out. “Only two hundred intercepted by the Iron Dome and the rest? Fell in inhabited area!” And then he carries on: “Do you see inhabited area over here? Every little piece of land has been built on! It’s a miracle! God loves us!”

I scoop up my one year old. I do not have an appropriate reaction up my sleeve. Whose side am I on? I do not believe in a God that loves some people more than others. And I wish for Ido’s wife that he returns safely from wherever he is stationed. But I can not say either thing. Because I am a guest in this country. And I appreciate the protection the Iron Dome and Ido and his friends are offering me.

Maybe, one day, I can explain my one year old that protection is unnecessary when nobody starts a fight. But until that day, who am I when it comes to peace keeping? Because this mother of more than one child knows like no other: territory -and possession- is ground for endless and daily battles. Maybe the Kibbutz system wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

As many friends as the world stands still

Those words, “I have as many friends as the world stands still”. Then tears accompanied the words said next: “that means zero”.

My poetic middle daughter who just turned six has a way of saying things.  She could’ve said: “as many friends as we have bananas growing in our back yard”. Or: “as many friends as I speak Arabic”. But she didn’t. She used words that are more important to her than anything else. She used a planet.

Not so long ago my middle daughter wanted to become an astronaut when she grows up. Until she realized that astronauts are only chosen from scientists and doctors. Then she decided she wanted to be a vet first. And even though the pink phase has kicked in heavily, stars and planets are still more important to her than princesses and castles.

When the earth does not turn it means a very important nothing. It means a none more heavy then a milky way. It means a Zero as in Zero Kelvin.

When we left home half a year ago, she had a few good friends. But when five year olds are friends, they are friends because they do tricks together on the jungle gym. They are friends because they dress up together, play tag together and fight together.

Skype is horrible on a jungle gym. Facetime doesn’t pull it off while dressing up. And Hangouts are coolest at twice her age. So slowly but surely the few good friends of before have found other lions to play circus with. Different mermaids and knights, different buddies and pals.

How about the locals? Aren’t kids finding new friends wherever they go? Not so much. The playgrounds closest to our house are solely in use by Haredi, ultra orthodox Jews. For a future astronaut, boys are perfect playmates but here, boys will only play with other boys. The girls tend to get a bit too warm with their long dresses and tights to run around wildly. And a fight is most fun when you at least understand each other’s lingo. Playing with Arab kids is hard when there are few to be found and other expat kids all go to school during the day.

As many friends as the world stands still. Every time I thought about her saying that this morning, tears welled up in my eyes. I asked her: wouldn’t you rather go to school here? Not if schools don’t have animals like home. Would you like to go to day camp? Only to the eleven day horse back riding camp that is too expensive to back out off after a couple of days.

Maybe my little astronaut is training to be the perfect candidate to inhabit a far away planet years from now. Maybe I am setting her up for a life of social struggles. Maybe the family will prove to be her core. I do not know. All I can hope for is that she will always be able to find refuge in poetry.

And she is not that far from the truth anyway. The world, here, in Israel at war, has stopped turning for many.

Shabbat

Shabbat oh Shabbat. It was on the seventh day that God rested. He looked back to what he had created in six days and he saw it was very good. Jews are required to perform the Mitzvah of keeping Shabbat. Isn’t that a wonderful idea. One Full day of rest and peace and quiet. One day of nothingness. One day to retreat, reculer pour mieux sauter, rebreathe and recover.

It is a brilliant concept, Shabbat. The first months of our stay here, I would dwell over it. I would go to the most orthodox of ultra orthodox neighborhoods and pretend I was preparing for Shabbat, too. There, in Mea Shearim, people would get ready for their big day. The Big Day that returns every week. They would make arrangements for Shabbat, clean and shop. They would bathe their children and dress them in their prettiest clothes. They would cook for the day to come and set the table with clean linen and beautiful utensils.

Shabbat is like a bride that should be welcomed in pretty clothes, with the best foods and the happiest spirit. A good Jew should live frugally and not indulge, except on his Holy Day. It all sounded so wonderful to me.

Of course, being the homeschooling mother of five young children, a day of absolute and obligatory rest equals a peek in to heaven. But it was also the happy spirit that seemed to surround this wonderful day of the week that made me love it. It had such a different feeling compared to the seemingly endless and boring Sundays of my youth.

But then reality knocked on my door once again. Knocked, because on Shabbat one is not allowed to open or close and electrical circuit so ringing the bell is a big no go. You can ask others to do it for you, though, as long as they are not Jewish. And since we still haven’t converted to Judaism yet, we have turned in to our neighborhood’s little Shabbat helpers. Our son has been asked numerous times to plug devices in and out and turn switches on and off.

Shabbat starts at sunset on Friday and lasts till sunset on Saturday. Of course we tried our best to keep the kids quiet on Saturday morning, just like we have always done on Sunday mornings back in Europe. We always tried to be as quiet as we could possibly be with five early risers. What we didn’t know but apparently is quite a golden standard, is that we have to shut up between two and four pm, too. And because it is virtually impossible to keep our bunch quiet for two hours during the day, we chose to leave our house now. Every Saturday we try to go places with them, so that we will not offend our neighbors.

Hard work? Yes, it is, because on Shabbat most things are closed. So we flee the city of Jerusalem to go to the beach near Tel Aviv. Or we visit a museum with liberal opening hours. And every time I get in to the car I also realize how lucky I am not Jewish. I can travel on Shabbat.

Shabbat is for the people, the people are not for Shabbat, a wise Rabbi once said. And I notice how hard it is for some to remember that. True, it is hard to find the perfect balance. But if you are afraid that ” An Arab is about to beat his wife up”, would you rather call the police yourself, or would you wait until you find a non-Jewish person to call the police for you? Making a phone call would close an electrical circuit and is formally forbidden on Shabbat. A panicking couple my husband met on the street last week decided the latter. And my husband decided to not call at all but just talk to the guy screaming at his wife.

Or how about our very pregnant neighbor who’s brothers are called back in to the army to fight in Gaza? She fears for their well being every day, not a fraction less on Shabbat. So she will come to our door to ask us whether we have heard any news from Gaza. When we look the Israeli news up on our laptop, she is not allowed to read it. And since our Hebrew is still crappy, we can not reassure her. When she starts crying I can not help thinking this Shabbat is in no way beneficial for a pregnant woman. So we inform ourselves through English languages news sites and casually tell her as if we looked it up for ourselves.

Often, on Shabbat, my dear Haredi friend Sara comes by. Always with her husband, sometimes with other family members. She brings sweets and smiles.The couple is dressed up in their most beautiful attire. Sara’s husband Rami wears a large fur hat. Sara herself is in white and gold. I still can not really talk to her and when her husband’s translation services aren’t fast enough for me, I want to use my translation app on my phone. On Shabbat, she can not read it unless I have written it just for myself. That’s when Shabbat gets too complicated for me and I put the phone away.

On the way out, last Shabbat, Sara leans against the wall while her husband kisses our Mezuzah. She accidentally leans against the light switch and lights up the whole room. An expression of true horror and shock darkens her face until her husband reassures her it is ok because it was an accident. I hug her and laugh. And I whisper in her ear: It’s ok, Shabbat is for the people.

 

613 rules that rule the world

Jews were given a set of rules from God. Where Christians were given ten, Jews were given the same ten. But, because all animals are created equal, Jews were given an additional 613 to live by. That’s right, 613 rules that rule the world of my Orthodox Jewish friends.

Each rule is called a Mitzvah (and talking about more than one you would use the plural Mitzvot). To make it extra fun, one can fulfill one Mitzvah in more than one way.

Ready to convert to Agnosticism? Not so fast. A lot of these Mitzvot are things most Christians, Muslims and Buddhist already tend to do anyway. I am all in favor of sexual freedom, but as far as I know most people refrain from having sex with their mothers. And that is just one of the mitzvot about sex.

A whole bunch of other Mitzvot are things that come to mind when one thinks about ultra orthodox Jews. Like the side curls, or payot, that stem from the Mitzvah not to shave the corners of your head. Circumcision and not working on the seventh day are two other well known Mitzvot.

A good Jew can only pass the ultimate trial at the Heavenly Court after his death if he has done two things right. He has to have Emuna (more on this in a seperate post) and he has to follow and perform all 613 Mitzvot. Did I say two things right? Make that 614…

And here comes the tricky part: How does one perform all the Mitzvot correctly? That’s a hell of a job! A job that my Haredi friends struggle with every day.

When little three year old Nathan doesn’t want to share his Pretzels, his mother will call out to him that it is a Mitzvah to share, and so little Nathan will share. When men in my street turn their heads and eyes away from me to look at the wall, I know it is not because they are too rude to greet me. I know it is a mitzvah not to look at other women. I am well aware of the rules my friends live by.

I know they are so afraid to eat anything not-kosher, I will buy the watermelon I want to share with them only from the Jewish store. If I buy it from the Arab store they will not eat it. We take the plastic wrapper with Arabic on it from the napkins before we offer them one. And shame on me when I offered one of the kids in the park a sip of water from a bottled water company called Jericho. The mother gently but firmly pulled the water bottle away from the child. Jericho is an Arab brand. 

Men should not wear women’s clothes and women should not wear men’s clothes. Shopping for clothes has never been less fun then in Jerusalem because there is so very little we can buy and wear everywhere we go. Hotpants are a waste of money, but even regular pants can only be worn by the girls when we go out of town. If I want to be nice and approachable for my friends in the park, I will have to cover neckline, knees and preferably elbows. Some days, the girls and I just don’t want to leave the house because we don’t want to change in to less offending clothes. I am fine with that. If I want to live here, if I want to be friends with people that can not go to heaven if they do not follow certain rules, I should oblige.

But then a severely disabled man who suffered from spasticity needed help to get off the bus the other day.  Two Haredi women were standing right beside him. He held out his hand to them, so that they could grab it and help the man off the few steps he needed to take to get to the sidewalk. And in stead of the Mitzvah to help this man in need, they withdrew. Both women took a step back from the man. Thinking they could not touch his hand or they would burn in hell touching the body of another man that did not belong to their family and was not their husband. 

In Ashdod rockets were threatening to kill it’s inhabitants. When the sirens went off, men were directed to a shelter, but women could not enter and had to go to a separate room. Sex segregation might be a great way to prevent adultery, but during a rocket attack we might want to stretch the rules a bit, maybe?

I love the idea that in order to live a good life, 613 rules will lead the way. But I can not live a life that consists of rules only, without the freedom to think and apply. My friends can. They think about what is right, but only according to these strict rules. That. I think, is worrisome.

And what worries me most these days: It is a Mitzvah, too, not to panic and retreat from battle. 

Fireworks? Gun shots?

So here I was this morning, walking to my Hebrew class and reading messages on my phone. One is from my sister, asking me to keep her updated more regularly because I live in a, as she put it, war torn place.

So I decide to send her a little video of my peaceful neighborhood as I am walking to school. That way she will be able to see how quiet and peaceful my direct environment is.

As soon as I push the record button on my phone, I hear loud bangs. In the past, long before the current havoc with Gaza, we used to hear sounds like these. But never this close.

I decide not to send my sister the video but send her a voice note in stead and try to make myself heard without the bangs.

In class, minutes later, it is hard to concentrate. The bangs get more frequent and even louder. What are they? Does this have anything to do with the police we saw galloping by on horses just hours ago? Or is it indeed fireworks, as my Arab Christian fellow classmate hisses in my direction when he sees my worried expression?

Then, I secretly, half tucked under my table,  check an incoming message from the expat forum. We keep each other updated about clashes, incoming rockets and other alarming every day occurrences in the Holy Land.

“In case some of you are wondering what all the loud bangs are about this morning”, it reads. I take a deep breath, finally, now I will know how far away these early morning clashes are from us.

Then it continues: “Today, Palestinian High School students throughout the country receive their year-end test results. Be aware there may be concentrations of students at various locations celebrating or bemoaning their scores. ”

And what do they use to celebrate and bemoan? They will shoot guns in the air and light up fire works. Awesome. Am I the only one who is jumpy enough to think this might have not been the most brilliant way to express emotions this week?

Probably. In the land where nothing is as it seems. I guess I am.