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.


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.


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?

Rocket alarm in the Netherlands

We needed a break. And even though a cease fire had just been declared and wonderfully maintained, the kids and I really wanted to just leave Israel for a bit.

So we booked a flight to the Netherlands to rebreathe for a couple of weeks. To remember how it is to not be afraid. Not alert. Not cautious.

The Netherlands is a funny country. When you open the tap, you can actually drink the water that comes out. The largest insect in the house would be an ant. Or, okay, a tiny silverfish. Kids play in the playground all day long because the jungle gym never gets too hot to handle. When we see a dead fish floating in the canal, we call the municipality to complain. And they will show up shortly after. And believe it or not, people throw their trash in trash cans. Weird, I know.

The first couple of days we were like sponges. We sucked up everything we saw, wordlessly. Seeing my husband enjoy his country silently proved me right. If I hadn’t joined him to Israel six months ago, I would never have understood his need for home. I would never have understood his thrill seeing cows and inhaling the cold morning air.

No helicopters circling above our house. No shots fired in the not so far distance. I found it impossible to believe how easy life felt. For the first couple of days. Then, it felt as if we had never left. And we started complaining about the weather again. About politics in the Netherlands. About taxes. 

Until I was at the GP’s office this morning. My hair had been falling out the last couple of weeks. My muscles ached, I was tired, I had headaches and nausea. To rule out anything more serious than stress, I figured some blood work might be a good idea. A television broadcasted the news in a corner. I couldn’t see the images. But I heard an item on Israel come up and tried to listen in.

The sirens cut through the waiting room. Rocket alarm. From Jerusalem delivered straight to my GP’s office in the Netherlands. I cringed and knew: I do not have to seek shelter. 

But inside, I did. I tried to hide.

Almost three thousand miles away I hid for a rocket that would never reach me. Or hurt me. And I am pretty sure none of the rockets from Gaza will hurt me after going back to Jerusalem, either. There hasn’t been even one rocket found coming from Gaza that has a war head on it. There is not a lot to be afraid of.

But still, I am.