Over the last decade, I’ve been to a ton of kevarim, or graves of holy people, all over the place.

I’ve visited the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hevron; the tomb of King David in the Old City, the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, up in Meron; the Ari and Rabbi Yosef Karo in Tsfat; the grave of Rachel Imenu, near Bethlehem – and all the Ukraine lot besides, including Rebbe Nachman, the Berditchever and the Baal Shem Tov.

But there’s one grave that’s stood out as a ‘must visit’ – and because it’s in the middle of a heavily populated Palestinian town with pronounced terrorist tendencies, getting to it has been pretty tricky, the last 10 years.

Yosef’s tomb is in Shechem, and you can only get to it if you go as part of a midnight convoy on armoured buses, with the whole trip coordinated with the Israeli army.

Long story short, until last Sunday, I’d never been able to organize everything to go. But a couple of days’ earlier, someone told me about a trip that was leaving on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, and even sent me an email with all the details.

I called them up Sunday morning – still only half interested, if I’m honest, as I like my sleep and Shechem is a 2 hour shlep by bus from Jerusalem – and there was a place free. So I decided to go.

I get to the bus stop in Jerusalem, and the first person I see there is a former room-mate from Uman, who starts telling me the most amazing, miraculously-hair-raising true stories of sons who recovered from terminal illnesses after doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland; and people who dropped dead the day after they finished translating a particular Breslev book into English; and miraculous moving-apartments-with-no-money stories.

I took a breath of cold air, and I could smell Rabbenu all around me – it was that same heady mix of uncertainty, kedusha and surrealism that so often comes with me to Uman, when I’m going to visit Rebbe Nachman.

You start feeling like ‘anything can happen’, and it can be quite unnerving, if still exhilarating at times.

The bus showed up – and it was an old bullet-proof clunker with double windows so thick and scratched, you couldn’t see out of them at all. It was like being blind-folded and led off down an alley. I tried to fall asleep, and I mostly managed.

I woke up a few minutes before the convoy drove into Shechem (at least, that’s what I guessed, because I couldn’t see a thing through the window) and then the bus pulled over to the side of the road, and we got the order to move out. I stepped out of the bus, and into Arab Nablus at 2am.

It was a cold, clear night, and you could see Yosef’s tomb 50 metres ahead – surrounded by a whole bunch of army APVs and soldiers in all sorts of combat gear, many of whom were holding really big guns.

How cool! I thought. Then: How weird, to be visiting a kever at 2am with half a platoon of the IDF and a whole, very mixed, crowd of people from across Israel.

There were families with small kids, teens, chareidim, hill-top youth with huge payot, sem girls, Chassidic matrons from Monsey, yeshiva students from London, wives, grannies and everything in between, besides.

I tried to grab two minutes by the kever, before it turned into a tin of sardines, and then I spent the rest of my short time there standing outside the building, trying to take it all in. You could see dark Nablus towering up the slopes all around the tomb, and I thought this must look pretty impressive in the day time. (Maybe one day I’ll find out…)

I tried to do some personal prayer, but the truth is that between the trip, the tiredness and the surreal situation, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and speechless.

So I watched, and this is what I saw: secular soldiers and chareidi men laughingly posing for pictures together; hundreds of people playing musical instruments and loudly celebrating Rosh Chodesh; ‘hill top yoof’ digging up the ground near the tomb and putting up a big blue tent (I still have no idea what all that was about, but it looked distinctly naughty; two teenage girls sat on the floor wrapped in the same blanket, reciting tehillim.

And the last thing I saw, just before I left, was a couple of teenage boys lugging a six pack of coke bottles around with them. At least, that’s how it looked from a distance, until I noticed a whole bunch of tubes were sticking out of the coke box, and were attached to one of the boys. The boy looked really ill – he had that ethereal, angelic quality that a person can get when they’re physically very frail. His friend had ‘disguised’ his respirator, or whatever it was, in a coke box, so his friend wouldn’t feel embarrassed while visiting the tomb.

That sight brought tears to my ears, and I said to God: Who is like your people, Av haRachamam?

There’s me complaining about making this grueling trip in the middle of the night, but look at all the old people, and small kids, and sick teens that have showed up here today, just to celebrate with Yosef HaTzadik. Unbelievable.

A little while later, we were back on the bus, and heading back to Jerusalem. As kever trips go, it was pretty uneventful in some ways – I had no big flashes of inspiration, no massive insights, no answers to big questions. What I did have, though, was a renewed appreciation for my fellow Jews.

Who is like your people, Am Yisrael?

Will I go back? Maybe. Not soon. It took me a day to recover and I’m still a little ‘out of it’ now. But one thing I can tell you for sure: Yosef’s tomb reminded me a lot of Rebbe Nachman’s. It was the same energy, the same intensity, the same holy madness. So something tells me that sooner or later, I will be going back.

Before I threw all my secular CDs away, Queen was one of my favorite bands by a long chalk. The beats, the melodies, the guitar riffs, the clever lyrics. I loved Queen to bits. One of my all time favourite songs was ‘Under Pressure’.

Dum dum dum diddy dum dum. Dum dum dum diddy dum dum (oo-wa-oop).

Just now, my husband told me that since Chanuka, he’s been feeling like he’s been under non-stop pressure, without any let-up.

Thank God, we can pay our bills and nothing particularly ‘major’ is happening to explain this big build-up of tension and stress, but there’s no doubt about it: we’re under pressure.

And we aren’t the only ones.

As ‘the matzav’ in Israel continues to wind its way towards whatever Heavenly goal it’s being designed to achieve, I’ve noticed more and more short tempered outburst going on around me. People are honking more; they’re walking faster (or staying home…); they have less patience for people, they’re more out of it.

In short, they’re under pressure.

All of us are feeling the stress at every level of our being. That much is clear. What’s less obvious (at least to me) is what all this pressure is meant to be achieving. Because for sure, God is doing it for a good reason.

Is He trying to provoke a collective national melt-down, that will lead to a mass teshuva movement?

Is He trying to show us all that we simply can’t get by without Him any more, and He’s going to keep upping the ante until any semblance of arrogance and independence is crushed out of us?

Is He secretly working for Big Pharma, and has bought a bunch of shares in Prozac et al?

I don’t know – which is actually quite strange for me, as I like to think I at least have a small inkling of what God might be planning with all this stuff. But I don’t. Despite all my hours of praying, and all my efforts to talk to God, and all my attempts to read the runes and decode the hints He’s sending me, and everyone else, I feel that I’m currently sailing in unchartered waters.

To put it another way, I haven’t had a clue what’s been going on in my life, or around me, since Succot, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. I know the pressure is building – we can all feel it, and you’d have to be crazy to not recognize that ‘something’ is bubbling under the surface.

What the something is, or how it’s going to manifest in the world, is anyone’s guess. I hope its Moshiach. I hope its redemption. I hope it’s chanukat habayit (both personally and nationally).

But right now, all I really know is that I’m under pressure, and some days, it really feels like I just can’t take it anymore.

Today, half an hour before I meant to go out to do a bit of shopping, there was another flurry of sirens and gunshots nearby.

I don’t know if it’s a good sign (because you do actually have to carry on, and try to live while all this madness is going on around you), or it’s a bad sign (because maybe, it’s pointing to a level of spiritual exhaustion and apathy which is quite troubling) – but I’ve almost got blasé about all the craziness.

If all my family members are home, I don’t blink an eye now. If they aren’t, then it’s a little more concerning, but not the instant panic attack of a couple of months’ back. Thank God. So today, everyone was home and I wasn’t even going to check the ‘what’ of it all, except one of my kids has a kind of ‘need to know’ when she hears sirens going off.

I told her it was too early – that she should wait another 10 minutes, and then we’d probably get the first reports of what we’d just been hearing going on around us. 10 minutes later, Arutz 7 told us that a 15 year old girl had just been lightly stabbed (may she make a full recovery) up the road from us, about 10 seconds from where Rav Arush lives, and about 30 seconds from the Chut Shel Chesed yeshiva.

Like I said, I don’t know if I’ve just gone numb to it all or what, but curiosity satisfied, we put on our coats and headed into town.

Which is when I saw that Holy Bagel was gone, the latest economic ‘victim’ of the wave of terror.

Now this is the strange part: Holy Bagel closing down really upset me.

And it’s not like I was there every day, or even every week, or even every month. On the odd occasions when I wanted a bagel, that’s where I usually went, and over time, I half got to know the owners, but only in a very superficial way.

Before my own shop went spectacularly bust in the Old City last year, wiping us out financially, I never really appreciated the impact of a shop opening or closing. I never understood how much money people invested in these businesses, or how devastating it could be when one day they just disappeared.

As the perennial shopper, it was mildly interesting, a little annoying (if it was a shop I really liked) or mostly, completely not even on my radar. As the post-bankruptcy small business owner, Holy Bagel sinking hit me like a hammer blow. I really felt sorry for the owners, and found myself worrying about how they were going to make ends meet now.

I know it’s not going to hit the headlines any time soon, but businesses like Holy Bagel going bust is another, more hidden, pain caused by the latest Arab violence. Whenever I go into town now, I see more empty shops with ‘to rent’ signs stuck up on them, like ugly gaps in a row of healthy teeth.

It can’t carry on, I think to myself.

But at the same time, it is carrying on, and doesn’t seem to show any signs of letting up anytime soon.

It’s such a strange time, isn’t it? And I have no idea what’s going on, or what is going to be. A few months’ ago, you could smell Moshiach in the air. Now? You can’t. Or at least, I can’t. Where did he go? Is he coming back soon? Are we still heading for geula, or is all this Arab terror a diversion and a red herring?

I don’t know. But what I can tell you is that the Arabs aren’t just trying to kill people, they’re also trying to kill the Israeli economy. And if Jaffa St is anything to go by, the patient is approaching a critical state.

This Shabbat was pretty weird.

First, ten minutes before it came in, someone I don’t really know called me up trying to invite themselves over for Shabbat. My first impulse was to try to accommodate them, but then I realized:

  • I already have guests for Shabbat
  • I was planning to spend a bit of quality time with my oldest kid Shabbat afternoon
  • Being called up 10 minutes before Shabbat is actually NOT OK.

So I politely demurred, and requested more notice next time they wanted to check if they could come for a meal. Of course, I then spent the next 30 minutes feeling guilty about not being a balaboosta-ish ayshet chayil, despite all my reassurances to myself that I’d done the right thing. But it put me in a funny mood.

Friday night, we hung out at home instead of going to the Kotel, as two people got stabbed to death on our usual route down to the holy wall, just outside the Jaffa Gate, and one of my kids was a bit freaked out about it all. Also strange.

Then, Saturday morning I kept trying to do my usual hitbodedut session, but couldn’t stay awake.

I often daydream, but I very rarely completely conk-out. Two hours later, I think I’d managed about 5 lucid sentences, but I had to get up and go to hear Rav Arush speak at the yeshiva, so I called it a day. Weird.

On the way to the yeshiva, I suddenly started feeling so cross and annoyed with everybody – just stam, because. No obvious reason. I walked up to the yeshiva darting arrows at everyone with my eyes. I don’t know why, I just suddenly couldn’t stand humanity collectively, so I sat in the corner trying to listen to the Rav while fighting off a huge ‘I hate everyone’ yetzer hara. Bizarre.

I met my husband outside, and he told me that he’d also just got into two spontaneous small ‘fights’ with two different people, apropos of nothing. Hmmm. Clearly something in the air.

On the way home from the yeshiva, someone stopped us close to our house, to ask us if we were planning to continue on to the Kotel, because ‘the police have just closed the area because  there’s been another stabbing’. I haven’t yet checked the news to see what really happened, but in the meantime, the weirdness continued.

Our guests came and went, very nicely. Then, my kids got into the biggest argument they’ve had for about six months, complete with wrestling, slapping and punching. One wanted to go into the old city for her regular youth group meeting, and the other one was scared because of what our passerby had told us that morning.

It was a monumental struggle between ‘business as usual’ and ‘too scared to go out’, and I had no idea what to do about it all, or where I was holding myself with it all.

I ended up walking the one kid in to the Rova (after we’d managed to find the keys to the front door that the other one had hidden…) and we had a big, emotional chat about what was going on, which was good, but very intense.

Motzash, I came back and my husband told me: ‘There’s a lot of din in the air at the moment, isn’t there?’ I could only agree. I have no idea what it all means, or what it’s all about, but I really hope it dissolves soon.

In recent years, every time we get to parsha Mikeitz, where Yosef HaTzadik is finally freed from prison, and finally gets to see what all his suffering, loneliness and pain was for, I find myself getting in a funny mood.

You’re meant to find yourself in every letter of the Torah, somehow. Somehow, God’s put a coded message for every single one of us, into every nuance, every detail, every cantillation mark. Sometimes, you need to be a genius like Rebbe Nachman or the Vilna Gaon to have a clue about working them out. Other times, the messages hit you straight in the face with the force of a punch, and then you have to be a fool to miss them.

Yesterday, I read the parsha Mikeitz, and when Yosef starts sobbing when he sees his brothers, it struck me: the man went through a personal shoah. He lost his home, his family, everything he held dear, his status. He almost lost his soul, when enticed by Potifar’s wife, and then his faith in humanity (again…) when he was unfairly incarcerated as a result of doing the right thing.

How could he not lose his faith in God, when stuck in a hellish Egyptian prison for 12 years, all alone?

The fact that he didn’t shows how much he earned the appellation ‘ha tzaddik’. But existential loneliness, when God hides His face from you, and you have no-one in your life to love, or to love you back, is one of the worst punishments known to man.

Somehow, Yosef comes through all that. He finally gets out of prison. He finally rebuilds his life, albeit still all alone in his Egyptian splendor, with no old friends to reminisce with; no siblings to joke around with, or remember things with; no parents to encourage him from the side, and tell him how proud they are of him.

And then his brothers show up, and Yosef has to set a chain of events in train that will atone for their previous misdeeds against him, and rectify them for the future. And in the middle of all this, he suddenly realizes that these are his brothers. He’s reunited with his family physically, but spiritually and mentally, he suddenly realizes that what was, was. It can’t be regained, it can’t be rebuilt on the same foundations, because such a huge shift has occurred to the very foundation of who Yosef now is.

He’s a man who was sold out by his family, and treated mercilessly by the people who should have loved him the most.

He’s a man who had to face the most difficult, alien, exile alone, bereft of all sources of comfort except his emuna that God would eventually remember him, and turn it all around. He’s a man for who all the illusions and pretensions people like to have that ‘they are there for each other’, and that ‘they really care about each other’, and that ‘you don’t have to suffer alone’ had disappeared like smoke. And once those daydreams go, you can’t get them back, for all the wishing in the world.

So I think he was crying a little about what was, and what had been lost, and what had been done to him. But mostly, he was crying because even though they were all reunited again, really, he was as alone as he ever was. Maybe even more so.

The brothers could never go back to being true ‘brothers’ to Yosef, because even though he forgave them unconditionally, they couldn’t really forgive themselves.

Yosef was a permanent, and permanently uncomfortable, reminder to them of their own flaws and limitations and capacity for evil, and there was nothing Yosef could do to erase that knowledge, and truly regain his family.

I think this story has to resonate for anyone who’s a baal teshuva; anyone who’s made Aliya; anyone who found their life going in a direction that changed them fundamentally, even for best of reasons. The ultimate outcome is only good, the spiritual rewards are more than worth the pain and the effort.

But the aloneness of it all seems to stay with you forever.

One of the reasons I love going to Uman with a group, as opposed to on my own, or just with my family, is because I always hear such amazing stories from the other people in my group.

I want to share a couple of the ones I heard on my latest trip with you here, one today, and one tomorrow:

Story number 1

Ilanit comes from Tel Aviv. She showed up on the bus to Uman replete with fashionable UGG boots; fashionable pompom hat; fashionable stretch leggings; and a whole bunch of expensive jewellery, to boot.

She’d bought her three Tel Aviv roommates with her (also with their UGG boots) and this is her story:

Two years’ ago, after 30 years of marriage, her mother decided that she’d had enough, and was filing for divorce. Ilanit was 24 at the time, and she says she took it really hard, to see her whole family life being ripped apart.

She’d never been to synagogue in her life, but she found one in her neighbourhood, sat there, and cried her eyes out. While she was sitting there, she saw a copy of the ‘Tikkun HaKlali’, the 10 psalms that Rebbe Nachman prescribed for fixing our souls at their root, and said them. Then, she made a promise to Rebbe Nachman that if he got her parents back together, she’d come and visit him.

A few weeks’ later, she got a phone call from her mother, who was sitting having breakfast with her father, having decided to reconcile with him.

“What happened?!” a stunned Ilanit wanted to know.

“Don’t ask!” her mum replied. “I don’t really know! But we’re back together.”

That happened on a Monday, and Wednesday, she flew out to Uman, to keep her promise.

She came back this year with her three roommates, to say thank you for saving her parents’ marriage.

Story number 2

There was a frum couple, already in their early fifties, who showed up to the grave with a stack of fliers to give out, and two babies. The fliers told their story: They’d been married for more than two decades, and hadn’t had any children.

They’d tried everything: there wasn’t a doctor, a specialist, a rabbi, a segula that they hadn’t tried to merit having children. They’d literally spent hundreds of thousands of dollars flying all over the world, trying to find the person, the solution, that was going to enable them to have children.

One day, the couple met a Breslever chassid, who told them they needed to go to the biggest doctor in the world. The man was all ears: who was he? Where did he live? The chassid told him: ‘Rebbe Nachman, in Uman’ – and by his own admission, the man was pretty turned off.

After all, they’d already tried every rabbi, every Admor, and no-one had been able to help them.

“Ah, but Rebbe Nachman is a doctor, not just a Rebbe. He’s going to fix your problem at its root.”

The man was still not very impressed, but his wife felt it was worth a shot: why not? They’d tried everything else. Finally he agreed to visit the grave in Uman, but on condition that he was only going to stay for 10 minutes.

The couple arrived, and he reminded his wife to be waiting outside for him, promptly, after 10 minutes.

The man stepped into the enclosure around the kever – and immediately started crying. He stood there, sobbing from the depths of his heart, for two and a half hours solid, without keeping track of the time.

Suddenly, he looked at the clock, and realised his wife had probably been waiting for him, and wondering what had happened to him, for two hours already.

He rushed outside to find her – and just at that moment, he saw her coming out of the entrance to the women’s section. Turns out, she’d also stepped inside, and started sobbing hysterically. She’d only just come to her senses, and was rushing outside to find her husband.

A year later, the couple were blessed with twins.

They came back to Uman to say thank you to Rebbe Nachman for their miracle, and to share their story.

Before his passing in 2013, I didn’t know much more about Rav Ovadia Yosef than he always wore sunglasses, and that he was the spiritual head of the Israeli political party Shas, that served the interests of the frum Sephardi world.

After his death, more than 850,000 turned out for his funeral in Jerusalem, temporarily closing the capital down. I happened to be on one of the last buses headed out of Jerusalem just before the funeral, and all the way down to the Mevasseret turnoff, there was one coachload of mourners after another, coming to pay their last respects.

In the weeks that followed, even the secular papers were full of stories recounting Rav Ovadia’s selflessness, generosity, kindness, humility and vast Torah knowledge. Over the course of his lifetime, Rav Ovadia had been a staunch defender of the Torah world, and particularly the needs of his Sephardi brethren, and his sometimes uncompromising idealism had earned him a lot of enemies and detractors, particularly in the political sphere.

Much slander had been spread about the Rav in his lifetime, but when almost a million people made the effort to turn out for his funeral, it finally put those lies to rest, as story after story surfaced about how the Rav had sacrificed so much of his time, effort and even own meagre funds to help his fellow Jews.

Often, they were people who had been at the lowest rung of Israeli society

– new Sephardi immigrants, who often arrived penniless from their Arab home states, and then found that the virulently secular Ashkenazi ruling elite in Israel was not exactly pleased to have a bunch of poor, religious people turn up on their doorstep.

It’s an article for another time, but the Sephardim faced a great deal of antagonism and outright abuse from the Israeli establishment, who went to great pains to tear them and their children away from their ‘primitive, outmoded’ religious traditions.

Into this chaotic swirl of hardship and suffering, stepped Rav Ovadia Yosef.

Rav Ovadia’s own family had immigrated to Israel from Iraq around the turn of the century. His father has brought a fortune with him, but was swindled out of it by a dishonest business partner, plunging the family into crushing poverty.

Even though Rav Ovadia was a childhood prodigy in Torah learning – regularly learning with – and teaching – men more than three times his age, at the tender age of 10 – his family’s financial circumstances forced his father to pull his precocious son out of the Porat Yosef yeshiva in the old city, to come and help him with his grocery store.

When his teachers found their star pupil missing, they went to visit the father to enquire why. Once they realized what the problem was, one of Rav Ovadia’s rebbes told his father that he would work in the young prodigy’s place, for 2 hours a day, only his son’s learning shouldn’t be interrupted.

Even though his star started rising from a very young age in the Torah world, life was anything but easy for young Ovadia, and his new bride Margalit, who he married in Jerusalem in 1944, as the devastation of World War 2 was finally starting to wind down.

For the first 20 years’ of their married life, the Ovadias lived in abject poverty, barring a 3 year stint when Rav Ovadia accepted the post of deputy Chief Rabbi in Egypt, between 1947-50.

The Ovadias moved around frequently during that time, spending a few years in Petah Tikvah, and also in Tel Aviv, where Rav Ovadia started to gain much wider fame as the Sephardic Rav of Tel Aviv.

Everywhere he went, he continued to study Torah at every opportunity, to teach Torah to anyone who wanted to learn, and to try to improve the lot of the Sephardim in Eretz Yisrael. By the time Rav Ovadia become the spiritual leader of the Shas political party, at the age of 62, he’d already accomplished more than most people achieve in twenty lifetimes.

By the end of his life, Rav Ovadia had authored more than 50 books of halachic responsa, and he’d became the undisputed Torah decisor of the generation. His approach to making a ruling was to comb through all the many different sources available, find a consensus approach, and then to apply that logic to present day issues and difficulties.

While Rav Ovadia’s approach to Torah was one of impeccable scholarship and respect for halacha, his responsa were characterized by compassion and wherever possible, leniency.

He tried to make the Torah as easy for people to follow as possible, without ever compromising it – which was not an easy feat, especially in a world where pressure was mounting to find ‘solutions’ to things like insincere conversions, illegitimate children (not children born out of wedlock, but children who were the result of an adulterous relationship etc), and agunot, or ‘chained’ wives, whose husbands had either disappeared or were refusing to give them a get.

As each challenge was presented to Rav Ovadia, he went back to his 40,000 books (most of which he knew by heart) and poured over them until he found an halachically-acceptable response. But he wasn’t just dealing with dry laws, he was dealing with people, and he felt the pain of those who turned to him for help and clarity acutely.

Biographies of Jewish leaders are nearly always inspiring and uplifting, but often also a little unreal and ‘too perfect’. There’s an understandable tendency to gloss-over their challenges and personal difficulties, and to magnify their almost super-human achievements. Rav Ovadia was so well-known, and his battles were so often fought in the public arena, that in many ways, his biography just levelled the playing field by telling us more about his tremendous achievements and abilities.

He wasn’t just the sunglasses-wearing leader of Shas.

He was a man who from his early youth literally put everything he had on the line to further the cause of Torah in Eretz Yisrael, and to help out his fellow Jew. But his message to the next generation was clear: Don’t think that only an ‘Ovadia Yosef’ can make such a big difference to the world! Every Jew can do the same, if they only want to enough.

Whisper it quietly, but I actually really enjoyed this Artscroll Biography of Rav Ovadia – so much so that I finished it in one sitting. I didn’t come away feeling bad that I don’t know 40,000 Torah books by heart, or that I’m not ‘gadol hador’ material. I came away knowing that every single Jew can make a massive difference in the world, including me. And that’s something that every single one of us occasionally needs reminding about.

The other day, I was listening to Shlomo Katz in the car, when he started singing the intro to a song like this:

‘On the holiest day of the year, the holiest man in the world would enter the holiest place; and he would say the holiest name.’

He was talking about the Kohen HaGadol’s Yom Kippur service in the temple. Just then, I came round the bend in the road I was driving in the Old City, and the golden dome hit me full in the face. For a few seconds, all I could think about was the temple, and how we Jews are missing it so much, without even realizing it.

Just think of this: you could drag the most crazy person in the community off to the temple, give them the fattest bull you could find to slaughter is as an atonement – and that person would come out of that temple service a human being again, maybe for the first time in their lives.

Man, we are seriously in need of the temple, and the atonement and peace it could bring to all the troubled souls wandering around in 2015.

The same week I was having ‘temple envy’, I was also trying to find one of my kids a new school. It’s one thing to have demented lunatics trying to stab you on the way to school every day (God forbid), but it’s another thing entirely when you get to school only to find that demented lunatics have taken over the classroom, too.

I’m not going to spell out in detail what’s been going on, as a belated and pathetic attempt at minimizing my lashon hara, or evil speech, but suffice to say it got to a point that I didn’t know which matzav – the outer threat of physical violence, or the inner threat of emotional and spiritual violence – was really more scary or damaging.

I was praying on it for weeks and weeks, unsure whether to try to move my kid (again…) or just try to tough it out, and wait for the Arabs to calm down a bit, and the ‘difficult person’ in school to really cross the line, and get forced out by other parents with less patience and more gumption (and protektzia).

In the end, God forced my hand: my daughter got suspended for 3 days for complaining too loudly about the fact that she had 6 exams coming up in the next two weeks.

In the UK, you usually have to be caught doing hard drugs in the school toilets to get suspended, and even then it’s not automatic. My usually calm, level-headed husband tried to sort things out – and came off the phone foaming at the mouth and gnashing his teeth.

I’ve watched him stay calm around some of the most crazy-making people you’ll ever meet in your life, so his reaction to a 5 minute ‘dose’ of the difficult person showed me what my kid was really up against.

But moving is so hard!

For a few more days I was in an agony of indecision, unsure what to do, or how to even do it. I decided to do a long hitbodedut (personal prayer) session, and at the end of that I got the message loud and clear: get your kid out as soon as possible.

But to where?

Next thing I know, my daughter starts telling me about this newish school in Har Homa that she’d be happy to go to. One of her friends from class had already moved there, and another wanted to go, but wanted someone to come with her.

Long story short, we went, we had the interview, she sat the tests, and she starts tomorrow, together with her good friend from class.

A miracle! Thanks, Hashem!

But it’s still scary to move.

And it’s even scarier to tell the ‘difficult person’ in the old school that we’re leaving. Part of me feels so sorry for her, because I know she’s so hard on others because she’s so hard on herself, too. But I couldn’t risk her damaging my kid’s neshama any more.

This generation only kicks against harsh punishments, cruel words and power trips – and God’s made it that way, because ‘harsh discipline’ is not the Torah-true way of educating our children. It always should have been ‘education with love’, as Rav Arush writes about so extensively, but in this generation education with love is not a luxury – it’s the ONLY way to relate to our kids.

In the meantime, I think about all the children, all the adults, who have been so fundamentally warped and damaged by all the criticism, harshness, anger, shame and blame they’ve experienced, and it makes me very sad.

Only the temple can really fix this mess. I hope God gives it back to us soon.

God in His infinite kindness finally arranged it that after 10 years, we could afford to get a new car again.

The old Getz has racked up hundreds of thousands of kilometres, and served us very well down the years, but as it’s windscreen wipers got ever-more squeaky, and it’s steering got even more clunky and heavy to maneuver, about 6 months ago I stopped wanting to drive it far afield by myself.

What that meant is that trips to the Baba Sali, that used to be a monthly if not a weekly staple before I moved to Jerusalem, all but stopped.

But last week, we took delivery of our new i20 leasehold set of wheels, and I knew its first real trip had to be a visit to the Baba Sali, in Netivot. So today, I set out with a friend who’d never been to the Baba Sali’s tomb, and we headed down South.

You should know something about the Baba Sali and me: I had a bad car crash there a couple of years’ back, that sparked a chain of events that ended with me selling my house and moving to Jerusalem (as well as a massive nervous breakdown, but that’s a story for another time.)

The last time I went to the Baba Sali, a few months’ back, I also got into a minor crash.

We were trying to find the way to our daughter’s new school, and kept getting completely lost and driving past the exit for Netivot. The third time it happened, I told my husband we should just go visit the Baba Sali already, and while we were sitting at the lights deliberating on what to do, someone rear-ended us. (Did I mention that the Baba Sali has a sense of humour?)

After we’d got our crash out the way, it was a no-brainer to take the detour and make the trip.

The Baba Sali’s grave is probably one of my favourite holy sites in the whole of Israel: I know this sounds a little strange, as I’m actually describing a graveyard, but it’s one of the most vibrant, ‘alive’ places you’ll ever visit. There’s always people there celebrating some simcha or other, screaming into their phones that they’re ‘By the Baba Sali!’, trying to stuff their homemade cake into your face, or BBQing up a storm in the outside area next to the tomb.

Man, it’s a party place, in the best sense, and I always love being there – but since my crash, I’m always a little wary of the drive there and back.

So I got there, settled myself in my usual spot, and started to feel instantly calmer and just ‘good’ again. Life was good. Everything’s good. I’m good. Baruch Hashem, my family’s good. I got a few insights into a few of the more taxing issues I’m dealing with at the moment, and I also got a nudge from a big poster on the wall to stop talking on my mobile on the street.

Apparently, poskim have come out to say that it’s not a tznius thing to do, and should be avoided at all costs. One of the things I came to pray on was that I should manage to be more tznius now I’m back in the ‘real world’ again, so I was happy to find something that I could try to do, to up my tznius standards a little, and show God that I still want to do better than I am.

I collected my friend, drove out, and made my way back to the highway. On the way out of Netivot, this white cat suddenly appeared at the side of the road, and proceeded to stroll very slowly straight in front of my car.

The cat committed suicide. There’s no other way of describing it.

I tried to brake a little, but I was going so fast (but still legally…) that slamming on the brakes could have caused an accident, and risking human injury to save a cat didn’t seem like a good idea.

So the cat died, and I sat in the car a little unnerved, wondering what ‘the message’ was with this latest car incident involving a visit to the Baba Sali (as far as I remember, I’ve never killed a cat, or any other animal, while driving.)

Suddenly, I got it: slow down!

The same message I’ve been getting again and again and again, recently.

Slow down! Live life a little more, savour it, stop rushing everywhere and thinking the world is going to end tomorrow.

So I’m trying to do that, even more than I was. It’s a shame the cat had to buy the farm to give me that clue a little louder than usual, but clearly it had its own tikkun going on. How I actually slow down without causing a pile-up, I still don’t know. But BH, I’m planning to go back to Netivot soon, and I hope to get more guidance then, that won’t revolve around my car in any way, shape or form.

That’s the message God has been trying to give me for months already, but it’s proving easier said than done.

Every time I realize I really do need to slow down a bit, some other crisis or issue erupts, or some other idea takes root in my brain and I feel compelled to get on with it before, well, ‘the end’.

That’s how it’s been for years, actually, that I’m rushing to get everything done before ‘the end’, presumably when Moshiach shows up, and redemption occurs, and all my answering activities on Quora grind to a halt.

But the last week or two, I’ve been having this strange idea that maybe, just maybe, it’s possible for at least some of my main issues to get resolved without Moshiach doing it for me. That notion, bizarre and alien as it first sounded when it popped up in my head a little while ago, is actually helping me to get quite a few things ‘unstuck’, while at the same time encouraging me to slow down.

How’s it doing that?

Well, for the first time in ages I’m actually starting to think in terms of beyond next week. I’ve been living in this Moshiach-ready crazy reality where he really is coming – if not today, then tomorrow. And if not then, it has to definitely be by the end of the month. On the one hand, this belief has paralysed me from doing things I really should be getting on with (like arranging braces for my kids, or starting to think about how to buy my own home again, practically without Moshiach-induced open miracles).

And on the other, it’s been a harsh taskmaster, screaming at me to publish 4 books already, and write 10,000 words a week while I’ve still got a computer and electricity…

But I can’t carry on like that, by turns pressured and working like a lunatic, or apathetic and trapped, waiting for God and Moshiach to resolve all of my issues. I have to live in the here and now. I have to believe that life will continue for a good while yet. I have to stop holding my breath on the one hand, and stop ceaselessly cramming in more and more things on the other.

I have to slow down, so that I can actually start to get some stuff that doesn’t involve my keyboard done.

That much is becoming clear to me. How I actually go about doing this is still hidden in the mists. I’ll continue asking God for some clues and guidance; I’ll practice trying to stay off my computer at least some of the time; and I’ll hope that God will show me how I can really be the ‘me’ He wants me to be, just the calmer, more productive and more relaxed version who believes that even though Moshiach really might still come tomorrow, that’s not the end of the world as we know it, but actually the beginning.