Shopping as a statement

Sure, when you buy a T-shirt with a print on it, it can be a statement. When you chose to buy organic, or from farmer’s markets, it can be perceived as a statement. This is true wherever you live.

Here, shopping is a somewhat different experience for the ones that would like to be environmentally savvy or politically correct. Here, every purchase feels as a vote. A vote pro or contra. A vote for one or the other.

It gets even more complicated being nice to the people and the planet.

Let’s pretend one wants to eat mostly organic. But one is also opposed to settlements. Or to teenagers working long days for 10 dollars a day. Let’s pretend one can not read Hebrew. Life will get very complicated…

We spent a couple of evenings with the map of Israel on the table and a long list of producers next to it. The CSA we wanted to get a weekly vegetable box from had several partners we were considering buying goods from. But we wanted to make sure that the honey, goat cheese and fruits came from Green Line Israel, and not from settlements.

When it comes to daily shopping, things are not so easy. The water I buy at the Arab side of town will not be accepted by my Haredi friends in the park. And even though the fruits and vegetables I buy at that side of town have stickers in Hebrew on them, my friends will not share in the fun. They only eat food I buy on the Israeli side.

Oh, the irony! I want to buy from the Arab guy across the street to help him make a living. He sells Israeli goods coming from a settlement. Where Palestinian teenagers are employed long days without a contract, insurance and severely underpaid. But if I buy there, my food will not be trusted by my friends. Even when the exact same brand is sold in the Israeli shop down the road!

When we need a new equipment or appliance, I hesitate to buy it here when I can postpone the purchase until back in Europe. Taxes paid here will support the local government policies concerning housing newcomers in the occupied territories. Something I do not want to chip in for.

Alright, alright, I lost you: when even shopping become political it does get kind of boring. I agree. It’s not as if I would buy everything fair trade in the Netherlands, either.

Sometimes living here is just one big Catch 22. But it is also an eye opener. It is educational beyond words. Next time when I decide to buy the cheapo cherry tomatoes in the Netherlands, coming from “Israel”, I will think twice. I now know I am actually supporting child labour. Or settlements. Or both.

That’s more in a tomato than anyone could bargain for.


Yom Kippur

IMGP3233 Possibly our best day in Jerusalem so far. Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The day all Jews must stand before God and apologize, sincerely, for all their wrong doings over the past year.

No, let me correct that: not all their wrong doings. Anything they might have possibly done wrong towards another person is something between people. Something Jews do have to correct by saying sorry for. But not to God. This day, Yom Kippur, is something between God and the person.

The past week was fun. We got unexpected phone calls from neighbors we hadn’t seen for a while. Wanting to apologise for things we couldn’t even remember. When we didn’t pick up the phone, they would not try again. I guess trying once proves your intentions well enough.

The day itself, Yom Kippur, is spent fasting. Not for us, of course, even though we avoided lovely cooking smells drifting from our kitchen, tickling the nostrils of those living around us. Not for most children either, who we saw happily munching away from their now almost iconic bags of snacks. As always.

The best part of Yom Kippur though? All the roads are shut down. You are not allowed to drive. In the minds of many an ultra orthodox Jew even ambulances and fire trucks are supposed to stay in the garage. Roads are blocked and traffic lights are flashing orange.

The kids make the most of it by playing in the streets. Massively. Our youngest turned two on Yom Kippur and tried out her new doll stroller in the middle of the highway. Our oldest raced his remote control race car over the streets. Our fourth risked his life going downhill on a trike as fast as he could. Indeed, the only traffic accidents in Israel yesterday were among children.

The city was quiet, but for the singing coming from the many synagogues. We could hear birds sing, the wind blowing through the trees. It was lovely.

It was, for the first time in months and months, the first day that felt Peaceful.

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?

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. 


A week ago we packed our things up and left for the Netherlands. Cabdriver Daoud, who calls himself David to get more clients, drove us to Ben Gurion airport.

There’s a check point at the airport. Until now we passed it by saying hi to the checkpoint attendant and go on. Now things were different because our cabdriver was Arab. Daoud was asked to pull over and had to hand over his ID. Three different checkpoint people came over to open the doors of the cab, ask us where we came from and where we were going to.

I thought it was humiliating. Daoud thought it was nothing. Not even a ripple on the surface of the lake of Galilee. Just a week ago he passed with a bus full of teenage girls with Canadian and Australian passports. But Arab names. The checkpoint people made him wait for one and a half hours. Everybody had to get out. Luggage was opened, the bottom of the van checked. A canister with some kind of gas was thrown into the car to check for explosives. 

Nothing disturbing was found. And yet, Daoud and the girls’ entry to the airport was denied and they were sent back. Just to try the whole thing again some hours later.

Daoud didn’t even bother to get upset about it all. I had steam coming out of my ears and foam coming out of my mouth. And the same futile question arose that I have asked myself a thousand times since arriving in Israel: How can people do this to each other? 

It all boils down to fear. Dogs that are afraid, bite. And people? People humiliate, check, force, deny and kill when they are afraid. At least in this country. The fight or flight response reduced to just fighting.

Not being one of the fighting parties, I will flee.

Is that a gun in your pocket?

The Netherlands prides itself in being a country where free will is practically the main religion. The Dutch want people to think things through. Thoroughly. If you have, who can keep you from doing what you really want to do?

Abortion, Prostitution, Euthanasia, Cannabis, just to name the most well known. If you follow the rules, if you are an adult and are not bothering others, the Netherlands is the place to be.

When it comes to weapons, the Dutch are not so soft, though. Sure, if you love to shoot, you can sign up and become a member of a shooting range. After a year, you may apply for a license to purchase a gun. But even then you may only carry it on the way back and forth from the shooting range to your house. Even toy guns that look a bit too realistic are illegal.

There is no wide spread hunting tradition. Basically, except among gangsters and criminals, guns are not considered cool. People found at shooting ranges and hunting societies were rarely the most popular in school.

Actually, I had always been a little afraid of people that love guns. Like one can be afraid of the unknown. I just hadn’t seen that many. I thought, as most Dutch do, guns belonged in the righteous hands of law enforcement and the army. And that’s it.

Until a rifle stroked my leg when I was walking the streets of Jerusalem. It dangled off a long strap over the shoulder of what looked to me like a civilian. I had gotten used to all the uniformed people in the streets carrying guns. But this was new.

It turned out I just hadn’t paid attention well enough. Because guns are everywhere. Tucked in the back of people’s pants. Happily swimming in a lady’s handbag. And dangling off young father’s shoulders. Even looking differently at people now, I am sure I am only seeing a fraction of the amount of weapons being carried around by people.

I learned the question of the guard at one of Jerusalem’s largest shopping malls, Malcha Mall, wasn’t that weird after all. Even before I could enter the parking lot, he made me open my window to ask me if I was carrying a gun. At first I didn’t even understand the question. He wanted to repeat himself, and stopped short when he saw the bunch of blond kids sitting in the car with me. I still don’t know whether it was the kids or the fact my Hebrew is still very crabby that made him decide to stop his interrogation.

When we went to the playground today, a young couple was sitting on a bench, obviously very much in love. They were fondling, not even kissing or heavily making out. Still, they were the talk of the town among my Haredim girl friends. It enraged them. These could only be Arabs. How could they do this, in front of the children?

One of the ultra orthodox women got up and went to the couple. She told them to leave, or else.

In a country so full of guns, one can not help but wonder “what else”? What could have happened if the couple hadn’t been wise enough to leave the playground. If they would have replied in an unwelcome way. If things hat gotten nasty.

Or is carrying a heavy weapon around in the scorching heat of summer, just something that people need to do in order to feel safe?

I’d rather meet people that are glad to see me. That’s for sure.