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.



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.

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.

Rockets from Gaza

How does something so new grows so old in a few days? I can’t even remember when it was exactly that I heard my first rocket alarm. It must have been sometime last week.

Suddenly an alarm went off, different from all the sirens we have heard during the past months. Different from the Shabbath siren. We knew it had to be the rocket alarm. We picked up the kids and took them to the safest place in the house. The bathroom.

No rush, no panic, I think I might have giggled even. Upstair neighbors shrieked and ran. Hearing their running footsteps for the first time ever was the only sound that made me just a little nervous. 

We as parents of our little ones have been trained for weird situations. And having had numerous fire drills, war drills and what-have-you, it just felt like one of those. We actually felt a little silly in our bathroom. In fact, it made me want to clean it.

Or maybe it has something to do with having had five children in eight years. There is not so much that stresses us out anymore. If you can handle body fluids in the weirdest places, screaming and laughter, poo and vomit and very little sleep for years. What will a rocket alarm unsettle you, right? It’s just an alarm. 

I made a big deal out of talking the kids through it all afterwards. We made jokes, re-enacted those silly little firework rockets from Gaza falling down in places not intended by the ones who fired them. Kid #1 was Gaza, a little fox a rocket, #2 laughed and laughed. We hugged, smiled, I even handed out the Rescue Remedy lozenges the kids love but rarely get. 

So when the second one this week sounded yesterday, we sort of reluctantly dragged ourselves to that same old bathroom again. Now I really wanted to clean it. We sat and waited the alarm out. After a short while everybody was giggly and it was quite hard to keep the youngest ones inside the bathroom, too.

How does something so new grows so old so easily? I don’t know. But I did clean that bathroom today. Or actually, awesome child #2 did most of it. Awesome kid #1 cleaned the toilets. I guess they, too, thought we have been spending a little bit too much time in the dirty bathroom, lately…

I am learning Hebrew

I am learning Hebrew. And I must say, I think a higher power made today’s lesson fall out. Because boy, am I learning Hebrew. I am the only female in a class full of males. It has nothing to do with my sex but I am the snail of the class. And the Grandmother, too. I am slow and old. Once I was gifted, now my memory fails me and I write all the letters wrong.

A class full of Seminary students. Not only did they all learn Biblical Hebrew in the past which enables them to learn modern Hebrew at rocket speed (no pun intended…). They are also young, have all the time in the world and sanctify their lives by studying.

When I was still in the military, boys and girls were dynamic. Boys had a great sense of humor. Sexist jokes would make me slap my thigh. And at least half the class would spend a day dreaming of one night alone with me.

Now the best joke my class mates can think of is when the boys call each other girls. They want to act dialogues out in a romantic way with each other and I didn’t exist for the first week. Nobody, and I mean nobody, gave me the eye. I felt as if I was floating in a weird vacuum. I am not THAT old, thank you very much.

Finally, eleven other guys from my home country came to the rescue. My classmates and I had something to talk about. Soccer! But after this weekend’s finals, I might only be able to stretch that topic out for another week.

Oh well, we could always talk about religion, I guess. Like the joke one of them told me when I asked about celibacy:

One priest asks another priest: what do you think will happen to celibacy in the Catholic Church in the years to come?

The other answers: well, father, that is something only our children will be able to tell us.


I am on a mini break in my home country. And suddenly, this whooz of tiredness falls over me. I Am Tired.

When I take a sip of water from the tap and do not have to check the color of the water to know if I will drink it today.

When I do not hear bangs all day and do not have to wonder if it is gun shots or fireworks I am hearing.

When I do not hear helicopters or sirens at least for an hour.

When I am not stung by mosquitos, not startled by stray cats or roaches for a day.

When I do not have to wonder if I will bother or offend people with my clothes, my behavior, my faith.

When it is not foolish to be a Christian, or a moslim, or a Jew, but it is just who you are.

When I can read what is written and understand what is said. When the script is Latin and the words gentle.


And when nobody tries to jump ahead of me in line. I notice how extremely tired I am from those four little months in Jerusalem, Israel. Where all I have known is different. And I can not judge it as being better. Yet.

I am exhausted of not having to try, for a few days, to like it.

Jerusalem. I don’t know.

There is something about this town I don’t know how to describe. No. There are many things about this town, this city, I do not know how to describe. Jerusalem.

We moved here four months ago. With our five young children. With children, every day is new. Every day is a blessing and a struggle. With children in Jerusalem every day is… educational. Every day is different. Every day is a tournament in some way. Every day is a challenge.

Jerusalem. Centre of the world for many. The centre of my confusion.

Oh Jerusalem, do I love you? Do I hate you? Should I decide which one? Oh my Jerusalem, I just don’t know.