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Post Purim musings

By SIMONE COHEN SCOTT Jerusalem, March 9th, 2023 Purim in Jerusalem was different this year. Before Kovid the festival was exciting and fun; costumed people would be everywhere. Children, of course, coming from their school Purim parties are a given, but adults too would carry on normally at their jobs, dressed like Darth Vador, Pocahontas, King Kong, Queen Esther, Davy Crockett, and others. A tangible excitement would be in the air, beginning almost a week before the reading of the Megillah. Isolation during the plague dampened all that down as it did everything else, but this year it’s the general distress, dissatisfaction, dissent, and disruption, that has placed a pall over the celebrations. That, and the intense terrorism, with parents losing not only sons but pairs of sons..
So this favourite holiday of mine had a different tone. Actually, my whole stay in the Holy City this time around has had a different tone. I was away for a year. The moment I returned to my apartment, I spotted trouble. The tenants had taken away all my stuff, leaving only the heavy furniture! Most of it has since been returned, but I was devastated. Friends advised me to go to the police, and perhaps I would have if the police weren’t busy enough handling everything else that’s going on. Crowds of people are creating mayhem pushing against the government, snagging up traffic, seriously inconveniencing people who just want to live their lives. The police, monitoring these mob-like efforts to halt the government and so forth, pretty much have their hands full. At the same time, there’s the incessant terrorism danger. As many terrorism fatalities as there have been, many more have been intercepted. I feel guilty kvetching about my losses, when there are so many people grieving. Here’s where you see the other Israelis, the ones who reach out to the families of the murdered. There are so many stories circulating of empathy and compassion; everybody has one. My friend’s grandson’s entire class made Mishloach Manot (Purim gift baskets) and took them to the bereaving families, with their condolences.
We wonder where all these people come from who gather and act badly around locations like the president’s house, the prime minister’s house, even his wife’s hairdresser’s establishment. Don’t they have jobs? Don’t they go to work? Don’t they have commitments elsewhere? I heard somewhere that they are bused in and get paid. I wouldn’t be surprised. Funny thing, Canadian truckers wanted to meet and talk to Prime Minister Trudeau; he wouldn’t. Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to meet and talk to the leader of the opposition Yair Lapid; he won’t.
Don’t get me wrong. I have had some wonderful treats during this visit.. The weather has been nice, occasionally quite warm, like over 20. The country still needs rain, but the period in which to pray for and expect rain isn’t over yet, so there’s still hope. One really nice thing I did was go to Efrat with a friend and visit Rabbi Benarroch and his wife Elana. The rabbi very kindly gave us a tour of Efrat, explaining the area as we drove along. We went back to their condo for tea. It is indeed a very beautiful setting. I spoke to the Rabbi a bit about the unusual choice he and his wife have made. They live in Israel, but he is home only one-quarter of the time, apportioned generally as nine weeks in Winnipeg, three in Efrat. He told me that in Jerusalem, because there are so many synagogues (and there are, trust me), rabbis cannot function the way they do in North America. He wanted to have a congregation that he could bond with, build rapport, and always support its members as needed. He said Jerusalem doesn’t have that; congregations shift and their rabbis mostly are part time, working also at something else. I guess being jet-lagged more than average is a price he’s willing to pay . I’m sure there are other costs too.
I asked Elana how she felt about her husband being away so much on a regular basis. Apparently, her friends ask the same question. It’s quite satisfying, she tells them, because the time spent together is very rewarding. I thought about our conversation, short as it was. I likened the situation, not to a military husband, but to a merchant sailor, and thought of the wives in old novels, watching the horizon and waiting at the seashore. Quite romantic when you think of it. No time for petty bickering; make every moment count.
Efrat (Efrata) is much, much bigger than I had envisioned, with seven neighbourhood clusters, each named after one of the seven species spoken of in the Tanach as being special to the land of Israel. In fact, Efrat is mentioned several places in the Tanach: Genesis; Ruth; Chronicles; Psalms; Micah. Our matriarch Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin on the way to Efrat, and was buried in nearby Bet Lechem. Actually, the materials used in this latest reincarnation of the town blend in well with the spirituality of the surrounding landscape. The stone structures are repetitive, red roofs, all very new, although the town is very old, as is also borne out by recent archaeological finds.
Bus drivers in Jerusalem are in a class by themselves. Back in early television, Bob Newhart did a skit about bus driver school, where they teach drivers how to maximize the jerks and wobbles of the vehicle, as an old woman tries to get into her seat. I am now that woman, except I think the drivers here are trained in the IDF tank unit. Usually I say thank you in Hebrew as I’m getting off the bus. I never get an answer. The other day the driver gave me such a rock and roll he had me swinging back and forth from the overhead straps. I decided to skip the Canadian politeness. To my surprise, he spoke to me instead. I didn’t understand, so I just gave him a look and got off the bus. Then “Have a nice day,” he said loudly, and flashed me a beautiful smile. Probably it meant that he (or I) had just passed the exam. I blew him a kiss; what else could I do? I was pretty shaken, but I won’t stop taking the bus regardless of the risk. You see, I’ve hit the level where I no longer need to pay the fare.

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