One of Rebbe Nachman’s followers was once asked whether he could recount any of the open miracles that Rebbe Nachman was reputed to have done. He turned to his questioner and told him:
“Me! I’m the biggest miracle of all. You had no idea what Rabbenu did with me!”
I have to admit that when I first heard that, I wasn’t so impressed. I mean really? What’s the big deal that now someone started eating kosher, or even grew some impressive side-curls? Lots of people do those things without Breslov, so how was that meant to be a proof of Rabbenu’s
These days, I have a different view.
Around three years’ back, at the time when I was writing The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, things seemed so very bleak. Me and my husband had been broken into a million pieces by everything we’d gone through, from the finances turning sour through to losing our home, through to having no-one to talk to - at all! - because we’d both turned into holier-than-thou martinets.
By God’s grace, we managed to hang on to our marriage, our kids and our sanity, but it was a very close call.
I look back at that awful, absolutely awful, time, and I wonder: How on earth did me and my family come through all that in one piece? And not only in one piece, with more equanimity and genuine simcha than we had before everything fell apart.
How did that happen?
Or more precisely, following the advice of Rabbenu, which includes talking to God for at least an hour every single day, knowing that everything that happens is 100% determined by Hashem and for our own good, and going to Uman every time you think you’re really going to crack up because you simply can’t take it anymore.
There’s other stuff in there too, like working on your bad middot, understanding that everyone, even the psychos, are just a mirror reflecting your own ‘uck’ back at you, and doing your darndest to have no despair in the world, even when really, you’re drowning in it.
All that stuff really, really helps.
But ultimately, it’s Rabbenu that got me through the last few years, and into a space where things are really starting to turn around, BH.
Yesterday, we signed on a house in Jerusalem.
We can’t move into it for another six months (long story…) so I have to go live somewhere else for a while, but who cares?
A home of my own in Jerusalem!
I had really given up on owning a house of my own anywhere, let alone the holiest city in the world. Let alone, one of the holiest neighborhoods. Let alone, a place where you can literally see Har HaBayit out your window if your apartment faces in the right direction. (Mine doesn’t).
But who cares?!
My husband sighed a big sigh today, and told me he couldn’t believe how far we’ve come the last three years, what miracles God has done for us.
There’s a mitzvah to publicise the nes¸ so let me end with this: Two days ago, after two months solid of wrangling with our seller, it really looked like our house was going to fall through. Her horrible lawyer wanted to put a clause in the contract that no person in their right mind would ever agree to, as it basically amounted to underwriting a blank cheque.
We’d given in on every other matter, so our hopes weren’t high that our seller and her horrible lawyer would back down, and for once, we simply couldn’t be the ones to compromise.
We really needed a miracle for things to move.
Luckily, we live in Musrara, so my husband nipped over to Rav Berland’s shteibel and amazingly managed to get near enough to his podium to ask him what to do, and whether to continue.
“Continue!” the Rav told him.
Although frankly, we couldn’t see how that was really possible.
The next day, all by herself, the seller came around and pulled the impossible-to-agree-to clause so we could actually close the deal.
We got the house.
But the biggest miracle is still me.
It’s so true that you sometimes only appreciate what you have when you don’t have it any more.
For three long years, I’ve been bewailing being stuck in my current apartment, the so-called ‘rented dump’ which was a third of the size of my old house in the village, and that has only one toilet.
And no bath.
That bath thing upset me so much the first two years because I have had some pronounced germ issues, and the thought of having to use the bath at the local mikvah was pretty challenging, to say the least.
Especially that (thankfully unique…) time when I got there and someone’s clipped toenails were still scattered around everywhere. I almost left… but couldn’t. I came home in such a bad mood, that this was my lot in life, having to bathe surrounded by someone else’s mouldy toenail clippings.
Uck uck uck.
So the bath was a sore point.
The one toilet was also a sore point, for similar reasons. In the West, it’s de rigeur to have a guest toilet for other people, and one you keep just for you. My germ issues loved this arrangement! To bits!
And then suddenly, there was one toilet for everyone: me, the rest of my family, my kids’ 15 girl-friends that would show up for Shabbos, my landlord, the charity collector who knocked on my door, the rare Shabbos guest.
Uck uck uck.
But after nearly four years of this, I have to report that most of my germ issues have reduced greatly, so there is a silver lining to that cloud.
But then, there were other issues like having just one working electric socket in every room. For three years, I had to literally wrap myself in electric cables to be able to print anything off, or to have a light on concurrent with my CD player.
We’d trail a cable across 20 metres of floor to plug in a radiator in during winter. And I’d trip over it every single time I walked around. That’s just how it is.
Then, there was neighbors’ insistence that I should sponga the outside stairs every two weeks, which I just couldn’t do. I have many talents, but housekeeping barely makes the list and sponga is completely off it.
The first time, it took me an hour, I soaked the bottom of my (long) skirt in bleach water, and I couldn’t figure out how to whisk all that water down the stairs and out the entrance fast enough to:
a) actually clean the stairs
b) prevent the dirty water from seeping under my downstairs neighbour’s door.
She came out with an extremely displeased expression on her face, and I could see this sponga thing was just not going to work.
So, I’ve always had one neighbor or other upset about the stairs - both on the rare occasions I tried to clean it, and the far more frequently occasions when I didn’t.
Then there’s the location. Musrara. So close to the Old City, Meah Shearim, Downtown - and the Rav.
So busy. So crazy. So intense. So lonely.
And yet now that it looks like I have to leave, at least for a few months, I’m starting to really appreciate what I truly have in my neighborhood. Even the crazies that have been driving me bonkers for three years.
People around here are alive, they’re real. And I have my place in the pantheon of neighborhood characters, I’m the crazy ‘English’ person that no-one can quite figure out.
They see me pop up at the Rav to read tehillim with my beach chair, then they see me wearing weird hats that no-one else within 5 miles of Meah Shearim would touch with a bargepool.
They hear me blasting out Gad Elbaz (occasionally….) and then hear my household blasting out Tyler Swift, and a few other things besides. I see the obvious confusion on their faces not infrequently, because whatever box they’ve got handy, they can’t quite fit my family into it.
So, we’re kind of famous around these parts, as the weird, semi-frum English family who are into the Rav but whose kids have blue hair.
Wherever we go next, we’ll be anonymous again.
So, the point of this post is that I’m understanding that because I didn’t appreciate my apartment, and because I also didn’t appreciate my neighborhood, at least for long swathes of time, I now have to leave, at least for a few months.
We’re still hoping to stay in Jerusalem, but nothing is coming up for rent remotely close to Musrara except places that are up four flights of stairs in the ‘gay’ area of town where you have to put your oven and fridge on the balcony as there’s no space for them in the kitchen.
And that’s too much of a stretch, even for me.
So dear reader, mea culpa for not appreciating my rented dump enough.
I learned my lesson, the hard way, the same way I always seem to learn my lesson.
But BH, that also means that hopefully when we return to Musrara in the Summer, I’ll have a renewed appreciation for this mad, crazy, intense and amazing neighborhood.
Where Breslov rebbes and crazy chilonim rub shoulders, where you see chassidim on motorbikes, payot flying, where your apparently ‘secular’ neighbor quotes passages of the Zohar by heart, and where every preconceived notion you ever had about life in Israel is challenged head-on.
I’ll miss you Musrara.
But BH, I’ll be back soon.