I knew, for sure, you had fled

Lately, I have spent more time in the park with the kids. Before the war broke out, the park had been our favorite spot for a mid morning PE class, or a late afternoon chat with my Haredim friends and their numerous children. My friend Sara and I would sit down on a plaid and hand out fruits and treats to all the children that happened to be there at that time. Sometimes, we would feed as many as fifty kids at a time. Their five or six mothers would sometimes join us for a chat, but mostly would stay put. Their wide skirts and black capes too heavy and hot to move around a lot.

But when the war broke out it was too hot and uncomfortable to be out. The jungle gym in the playground would scorch tiny hands. The ground would burn bare feet. And the sirens, true or imagined, would hurt our ears. So we stayed hime, in the shade, hidden from the fear and tension.

My reappearance rose many an eyebrow. The last few weeks I have heard the same line over and over again: I knew, for sure, you had fled.

My heart knows the truth when I eagerly announce we had just been at home a lot because of the summer heat. I can not help but sounding proud and local when I state my courage. A little situation here and there will not keep us from staying till the end of our contract.

But when I lower my head and look at my hands in my lap, I sometimes add: I didn’t like the war.

And it is this last sentence that brings on a large variety of responses. With one similarity: acknowledgement and understanding. Who does like war? Nobody likes war.

Gone is the muscle talk of a few weeks ago. Gone the body language that speaks louder than words. Gone the fear, the anger, the screams of pain when one of theirs had been killed.

Suddenly, I hear more wise words than I have heard so far. From Amir Ran, who is the only Haredi man that will look me in the eye and talk to me. About Politics. About faith. About his trips to Goa before he became religious.

We are born as wild donkeys, Amir Ran told me today. And it is our duty to become what God wants us to become. We are born opposite of what we should be. Are capable of being. And sometimes it takes a lifetime to tame the donkey. If we manage to at all.

His words ring true to me. And are welcome, calm thoughts, when raising young kids.

And a hopeful thought when thinking about grown ups in parliaments.


Colder weather

These days, the breeze cooling off Jerusalem is almost chilly. Chilly to our skins, that have been fighting the scorching summer heat the past months. It feels so good to know autumn must be around the corner.

Some days are just as hot as always, though. Or seem to be just as hot. We pull out the homemade popsicles with mango and pomegranate juice. Our youngest one takes off all her clothes and we try to keep her indoors not to offend the neighbors. It’s a weird mix between super summer and almost autumn, these days in September in Jerusalem.

We can almost start counting the days to our departure, too. And it makes us less antsy, less nervous about offending others. We used to leave the house on Shabbat, not wanting to wake up our neighbors from their naps. And we dressed our girls in tights and long sleeves going shopping, afraid we might offend our Haredi neighbors.

Not anymore. Bare legs on a 6 and 8 year old are fine. And after having been kept awake until the wee hours of the night with loud music, we do not mind the Shabbat nap so much either, anymore.

I try not to worry about what happens if the cease fire does not progress in to a truce by the end of the month. I am hoping for the clashes in Jerusalem to stop.

I hang out with Sara with my already rusty Hebrew and talk about the new collection of girl’s clothes having arrived in our favorite dresses shop. Sara is a fashionista, when it come’s to children’s clothes. She tries to enjoy the little time she has to dress her children colorful to the fullest. The few years, before they will have to get “serious” and start wearing black and a little white for the rest of their lives.

My husband’s rib is slowly but surely healing, too. He still can not lift heavy things, let alone children. But his pain is considerably less and his mood a lot better.

We enjoy the morsels of remarkables that life in Jerusalem throws at us. When we bring the car for a polish and vacuum to a car wash in Jerusalem. To pick it up with Quran FM playing loudly over the car stereo. The huge exhibition of tanks at Latrun memorial where a boy’s dream comes true when he is allowed to climb on dozens of them.

But other than that, things are cooling off. remarkably.


Tami’s ticket

When in Clil last weekend, we had a talk with the owner of Hippie Cafe Clil, Tami.

Clil Cafe is one of the great places on earth. We love  the Israeli breakfast there, consisting of more dishes than we can count. Rolls and fresh goat cheese, olives and jams, honey and butter. Tahini, sometimes scented with rosewater. Salad made with cucumbers, tomatoes, a little sea salt and some olive oil. Eggs any way you like them. And Tami remembers how you like your coffee.

Even though the kids detest the scent of cigarette smoke, I can not help but love the way Tami holds a butt between her lips while maintaining long conversations with guests. And she’s quickly forgiven by my bunch when her sun wrinkled hands put a pot of freshly brewed herbal tea on the table.

Clil Cafe itself is a gem for the hippie at heart, too. No windows, and few matching chairs. Mostly carpets and futons on the floor that invite you to take your time and relax. In a place where small children easily stay happy and relaxed for two hours just for breakfast, there must be a special vibe.

When we left, Tami wanted to know more about my husband’s work.

We try, always and everywhere, not to offend anyone. That’s a lucky trait in our nature where we live now. It is easy, much too easy, to offend someone here.

Luckily, the explanation about my husbands work can be bended a little to suit everyone’s taste. We adjust the actual work to Figs or Olives, depending on our audience. This time, we could stick close to the actual work.

Tami’s face lit up. She clearly wanted to talk about equality, freedom, loving thy neighbor. Tami told us about a great thinker shortly after 1967. When the first settlement was built, he said it was like a tumor. And that if not taken care of, it would spread. And make the whole country sick.

Boy, was he right. One look at the most current map, and one can see what takes this country down. Unfortunately, she said, she was not sure if the patient is aware of the root cause of it’s pain, yet.

Tami also said that in the old days, she would get sad, and upset, and even very angry. She would join manifestations and demonstrations. But now she would not anymore. And that made her even more upset.

The simple realization that the injustice did no longer touch her to the point of action, broke her heart. The fact she acted as if she didn’t care anymore ate her from the inside.

My husband nodded in understanding. Told Tami that we still cared, but that was why we could not stay in the country much longer. That what happened here caused us too much pain. That we had to return to the Netherlands to keep our sanity.

Tami looked him in the eye. And like I had feared someone would tell us someday soon, she said it: “You are lucky”, she said. “You can leave”.

In that, she said she found herself paired with her brothers and sisters on the other side of the wall: caught in the conflict, hating every minute of it and not being able to leave.

On the way home my ten year old son asked how much money he had in his piggy bank. He asked if it was enough for a ticket for Tami. Wanting to buy her her freedom in a world where political asylum is not granted to Hippies.

And I, moron that I am, started to explain him about citizenship and visa, in stead of praising him for his borderless kind heartedness.

As soon as we have another house in the Netherlands, I should grant my son what he wishes for most. I should give him what he wants to give others: a ticket to the absence of sorrow and pain. A ticket to freedom of fights and fear.

A ticket back to the Netherlands.


Friend only to the undertaker

Remember Edwin Starr? Well, neither did I, actually. The guy’s name, I mean. His song has been playing in my head all day, though.

We decided to take refuge in Hippie Heaven Clil for the weekend. Booked weeks in advance, we thought it might calm our senses and give us a reason to come back here after our break in the Netherlands.

This time around, it was slightly less heavenly, though. Two events clouded the weekend over.

The yurt was still there, alright. But on the first evening, my husband took the baby on his arm and in to the swimming pool. To slip on the algae covered steps, fall backwards and injure himself badly. With his last strength, he held the baby up for me to take over. Crawled out of the water and couldn’t move for minutes. Then, he crawled back to the yurt, moaning and panting.

Believe me, I am the first to mock men and their ability to endure physical discomfort. After having birthed five babies, I do not envy the guy who tries to compare anything to my labour pains. But this time, it was me trying to look up medical websites. Cursing Clil for the poor internet reception on my cell phone. My man was in a very, very rough place.

A tiny ray of wifi told me bruised and fractured ribs are most commonly cured with pain killers and rest. And so, Cli was a little less relaxed than last time for me. My dear old husband could hardly move, so I ended up being super nanny and super nurse.

Super nanny by the favorite attraction of the place. The Pool. Let me elaborate: the pool where my husband seriously injured himself. With five small children. Three of them with no swimming abilities whatsoever. I think the kids would have voted a prison guard over my presence anytime.

Super nurse probably created the same wish. If patients get better sooner because of the ever grumpy, cursing, rough and cranky nurse, I might be the perfect candidate for any hospital. Our four year old learned a whole new array of curse words just over the weekend. 

Still, there were sparks of wonderful everywhere. The donkey and her baby in the field. The owner of Clil Café we discussed politics with. My tears when I heard a flute play a flute sonata by Bach. The fish that tickled my husband’s feet when he finally dared to wade through the pool again.

And then, half an hour of continuous thunder on a bright and sunny day broke loose. Just above our heads. Fighter jets, helicopters, back and forth. We could not make ourselves heard. Roar and thunder made conversation impossible.

Later, my husband explained IS is just behind the Golan Heights. No less than 40 UN soldiers from Fiji are held captive and nobody even talks about them. Israel is making it’s presence felt, making observation flights. Makes sure IS will not even think about entering Israel anytime soon.

I had to think of all these tons of fuel being burnt for nothing above eco village Clil. I had to think of the ongoing fight that will not bring peace.

And that’s why, from that moment on, I couldn’t get good old Edwin Starr out of my head anymore.

War. What, exactly, is it good for?



Adam and Eve spoke Dutch

We spent a wonderful therapeutical fortnight in our own holy land: Holland. Also known as The Netherlands. It was lush, it was green, it was a tiny bit rainy for the time of year. In fact, I don’t think we had one dry day. But who cares. We were in heaven.

According to a 16th century Humanist that went by the name Goropius, Adam and Eve actually spoke Dutch. The garden of Eden is not to be found in Israel but rather in the South of Holland. And after these two weeks, I think the man was right.

It’s not just the wonderful scenery. Of course, there’s the hypnotic effect of staring at the flat land, broad horizons, endless lakes and canals. The peacefully grazing cattle on the green grass makes one lower one’s pace and rebreathe. 

All those things help to clear the mind and relax the senses. But with a heavy conscious and a sad heart, all of the above would not help that much. What really makes the Netherlands the garden of Eden is the mystery of, let’s call it, innocence.

Before I left for Israel I had tried many times to understand what was really going on here. But one way or another, I never really got what happened. Who did what to who? What war was started when by who? And who won, anyway? What parts of the country belonged to which party and who colonized, excuse me, occupied, excuse me, disputed about what part where?

I asked people who knew about it, but without failing, I always drifted off halfway their story. What shall I make for dinner or oh my word I still have to send that birthday card…

I am not that poorly educated, either. I tend to get things quite swiftly. But this, it just never stuck. And it didn’t bother me at all that I didn’t know that much about it. Actually, I even thought I understood. Ah, innocence…

Then we got here. I do not want to claim I understand now. But I do see what is happening. And it makes no sense at all. Let me try something on you:

So there’s two people living on the same stretch of land. Or actually, one people lives on one side and the other on the other side. Sort of. Let’s call one people the Olives and the other the Figs. So the Olives live on one side. But they get to decide if they want to take a piece of the Fig side. The Olives are the only ones who can have a police force on most pieces of the Fig side. Figs can not show their flag on most of their side, but Olives can. Figs can not build permanent houses on most of their side, but Olives can. Hello, people? Are you still with me?

The more I tried to wrap my head around what was happening here, the more it upset me. A country that didn’t just have one snake trying to get me to bite in that apple, but a deep pit full of them. And then, all uptight and fed up, we went on our summer break to Eden. 

I looked at the green. I watched the cows. I had wonderful long nights with the awesomest people of the world, flushing all my anger and my fear out of my system. Each time I spoke about it, stress and anxiety left my system with every word I said.

And Whoosh, the Dutch Miracle happened. By the end of these two and a half weeks I was clean. Back to innocence. I had no idea why I had been so upset lately. It all felt like a faint, distant memory. I still tried to explain to people how things had been for us, failing miserably. By the end of our break, everyone I met and I were on the same page: smiling idiots that knew there were things going on in the world that were unfair. But hey. Isn’t it weird it’s so cold and rainy in August? 

And it was good. It was incredibly comfortable. The mystery of innocence is a gift. It unwinds, settles down, protects. It was just so darned temporary.

We’ve been back for a little over 24 hours. Back in Israel. The kids have been sad, angry and obnoxiously misbehaving all day. I don’t blame them. It’s not so much fun. Yet, for them, the gun shots in the neighborhood are still fireworks. They don’t even know Israel has decided last week to build a new settlement the size of 800 soccer fields. Claimed another 1000 acres of land that used to be Fig territory. Something that in innocence wouldn’t even have reached me. And now, it makes me sick. Makes me want to pick everything but the cockroaches up and leave. 

In innocence I might not win the parent of the year award. And luckily the competition is less strong here, but I am not even a runner up when I have lost my innocence. That, above all makes me even sadder. I want the kids to remember this odd year as awesome, different, leisurely.

Different, it is. But we also feel like exiles and outcasts from our heavenly home in Eden. And slowly I am starting to contemplate on returning before the year is over. Sure enough, moving back with just the little ones while my husband is still here is far from perfect. In the Netherlands we will have to move soon, too. Moving house twice in two months with five small children and my husband far away does not equal Paradise. 

I can’t help but wonder, what happened to the snake in the end, anyway?