Being whole.

We are reading such amazing Torah portions these weeks. The stories of our patriarchs are coming alive in front of us as we study and learn these familiar texts again as part of our yearly cycle.

I know we are well into a new week, but there is a thought from last week’s portion that is still going around in my mind. We were reading about Jacob returning to the Land of Israel after having been gone for such a long time. He had fled from his brother and the mess he had gotten himself into, he had married two wives (or kind of four, really…), and had eleven children. So much had happened in his life. And then it says in Genesis 33,18, – Jacob came to Schem WHOLE… (I never noticed it before!) He came back WHOLE. Meaning, there was more of a lack when he left. He had been on a long journey, he had gone through a process, he had become WHOLE.

Fall in Jerusalem

We are all on journeys through life. May our journeys be processes that make us more and more WHOLE! Sometimes we don’t understand why something was needed, or why it needs to take so long, – but maybe it is part of what it takes to make us WHOLE!

I don’t know if I even manage to explain this well enough. But to me, this struck a cord deep within me. This is what I want! I want this for me and my family, for my children. May we grow into becoming more and more WHOLE!

To me, being WHOLE, means being who God meant for you to be when He created you. Fitting more and more into the mold that is YOU!

With the Bible as our History-book

The wintery weather has made its wonderful arrival to Israel, bringing blessed peace and cosiness and all kinds of good things! (Yes, it is almost funny how rain brings peace, but it really does, – I guess stone throwers don’t want to get wet and cold!)

Candles

Right now I am sitting here in my warm home listening to the rain pouring down outside. In here it is so nice and cozy. Lots and lots of candles lit. I have fresh cream of butternut squash soup and yummy hot cider. Life is good.

hot soup

The last few days have been really nice. The children have majored on puzzles, we have enjoyed knitting and sewing, and I have been reading out loud to them from a book that was read to me (several times) when I was a child.

puzzles

I have to share one little conversation that developed from the reading. We heard about a girl who really liked the subject “history” in school. My children do not at this time have a subject called “history”, so they were trying to figure out what this would be. I suggested a subject they have where they learn about our country and our people, – because in “history” you sort of learn the history of your people, I explained. – Ah, they nodded in understanding, – that is what we call “Bible”! That is the history of our people! How precious, don’t you think? What a privilege to get to grow up with the Bible as your history-book, and that is where you find your ancestors and your identity!

sewing

The reality is that the messages in the Bible are really central in so much of what is going on here! Recently I was at a race with runners from most of the schools in Jerusalem, our son was a participant from his school, and I was a parent coming along to help out. I was really impressed with the music chosen at this event, – it had such depth and content! To give you an example, one of the songs went like this: “Israel! Israel! Trust in the LORD!”  And another one was the whole psalm 121 “I lift my eyes up unto the mountains, where does my help come from?” 

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I really am thankful to get to raise my children in a country where faith and the Bible are given such a focus, and are seen as really relevant for our lives! There certainly is no place like Israel! Am Yisrael Chai!

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Shabbat prayer

This Shabbat’s combination of wintery weather and day-of-rage-promises from our enemies close by, did not make it hard to come up with reasons to just stay home. But, really, in difficult times, it is important to stand together, – that is the way that we are strongest, and that is the way to keep on really living!

Jerusalem

So we went as a family to pray in the synagogue this morning, – and it turned out to be one of the most uplifting mornings in a long time! Each one of the prayers just stood out as such a strong and fitting one at a time like this!

Just think of all the times that we call God “Magen Avraham” or “Magen David” – “The shield of Abraham” or “The shield of David”! He really is our shield! It was just so helpful to regain perspective of this, and be reminded of just who God is! Listen to this;

True is the eternal God, our King, Rock of Jacob, Shield of our Salvation.

He exists and His name exists through all generations.

His throne is established, His kingship and faithfulness endure for ever.

True, You are the LORD, our God and God of our ancestors,

our King and King of our ancestors, our Maker,

Rock of our Salvation,

our Deliverer and Rescuer!

Rock of Israel!

Arise to the help of Israel.

Deliver as You promised, Judah and Israel!

And how about this:

Blessed are You, LORD,

who blesses His people Israel with peace.

Amen! May it be so!

The One who lifts up my head

As we were having breakfast yesterday morning, the news ticked in on both my husband’s phone and my phone about the terror-attack that occurred in a synagogue. Ever since then, the horror of what happened has never been far from my mind. The pictures are awful! The pools of blood in combination with prayer shawls, prayerbooks and tfilin-straps, – the contrasts are just appalling! How can someone enter a sanctuary with a meat-chopper and just start slaughtering people?!? It is so beyond human understanding that we have no words to describe this kind of evil.

At school the children are told not to go around outside by themselves these days. I received an e-mail with pointers as to how we are to cope with this situation of ever heightened security-levels, and we are told to report anything suspicious. They will make the educational institutions even more secure than before, for example.

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A rainbow I saw in Jerusalem this week. Such a wonderful reminded of God’s faithfulness!

At the same time, life goes on. Really, it does. There is work to do, homework to help with, laundry to be folded, and floors to be washed. Our son had a friend over, and they had fun playing with the soccer-table. We made pasta for lunch and pancakes for dinner. We are enjoying the cooler winter-temperatures, and turned central heating on for the first time. Yet, at the same time as we have this type of normal day, there are these constant thoughts of the nightmare that some people in our city are going through right now, and how the whole situation also applies to us.

I am not the only one with those types of thoughts, – the children definitely have them too, in spite of playing and all. As they went to bed there were many questions regarding the safety of our home and our neighborhood and so on. And no wonder why. Really. What makes us any safer than the victims in this last wave of terror?

As I put together a pumpkin loaf after the kids went to bed last night, I heard them call out from their beds. – “What was that noise? It wasn’t thunder, was it? It sounded like gunfire.” I started saying that maybe it was just the noise of building, but we all realized that it could not have been that at that time of the day, so I went with the truth that it is probably just people celebrating (with gunfire) in one of the neighboring Arab villages. Not the easiest of truths to live with either, but there could be worse alternatives.

One can be tempted to just close oneself and ones dear ones up inside the house, order groceries online and just not go outside. But if we limit our lives like that, we really hand the terrorists their victory on a silver platter. That is exactly what they want! They want us to be paralyzed with fear. They want us to stop living. And however challenging, – we are not going to give them that victory! We are keeping on living here in our homeland, – and that is victory!

This morning, – the day after, – I kind of woke up with a heavy feeling from yesterday. And I  thought I should replace some of the news-updates with Psalms, and I am telling you, – it was like balm to my soul: – especially Psalm 3 spoke straight to my heart: 

LORD, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me.

Mamy are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.”

But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head.

I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.

I lay down and slept. I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD, Save me, O my God!

For you have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone.

You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.

Salvation belongs to the LORD.

Your blessing is upon Your people.

May we always keep finding strength and perspective from Him who still sits on the throne! He certainly was the One who lifted up my head today. May we all live close to Him, feed on the real source of Life and go around with our heads lifted up!

Surreal realities

Tensions are building all throughout my beloved country. I can feel it in the air. And, – I get constant updates about it on my phone! And while I read about the seriously injured woman succumbing to her stab-wounds this afternoon, I also help my 8 year old daughter with her math homework. Because life goes on quite normally next to these very surreal realities, – which unfortunately are way too real!

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Two stabbing attacks just today. How can you defend yourself when your enemy comes against you with cars and knives as weapons? Willing to give their own life as long as they get to take some Jewish lives with them in the process? It is so evil. It is beyond sickening. There are no right words for it. It is so inhuman, it is so hard to relate to, we just don’t even know where to start! One thing we can learn from these days, is that there is certainly NO partner for peace to be found among the leaders who encourage such acts!

Then, at the same time, – life goes on. For the past week or so I have been traveling around our beautiful country with a small Norwegian group of tourists. I love being part of the process where people get a connection to the Land of Israel. We had many first impressions, learning experiences, beautiful moments, good conversations and yummy wine!

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Today we walked around Jerusalem. Mostly around the area of the old city and the Mount of Olives. And it is funny how it works out, – wherever you go, there are stories to tell! So much has happened right here! There are many layers packed with history under the ground we are walking on! Amazing! And, – I get to call this city my home! What a privilege!

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But then, when this city takes up a big part of my heart, it is so heartbreaking when it goes through its deep struggles. Like, when last week I was touring Har Bental on the Golan and all of a sudden got the news that another terrorist attack happened in my beloved Jerusalem! It is like someone punches you in the stomach! It is like someone wants to take away your hope for a future! But, don’t you worry, – we are not going to let them! We have a hope and a future here, – and we know it! Life in Israel teaches you to grow stronger through those moments. We learn to stand together, because that is certainly the way we best can fight the powers of destruction that come against us. Most of all we experience our dependency on the God of Israel! He has brought us this far, – He will bring us through this too!

Here I sit in my own peaceful livingroom, candles lit, hot cider in cup, slippered feet on the coffee table. And I think of – and pray for – the families who have been hit by the recent waves of terror! I pray for the protection of my beloved city and my beloved country! And I am clinging to God’s faithful promises of a future and a hope, – in spite of everything!

Joyful temporary dwelling

Here I am, past midnight, looking up on the palm-branches, decorations and lights that make up the roof of our Sukkah. We have been living out here for the past week. Really, – we have slept out here, eaten our meals out here and hosted several parties of guests out here.

sukkah

Such good times. A whole week of it! Before actually entering this time, you live in the illusion of it being a long time, but once it actually starts, it sort of flies by! Now it is the last night already. And I find myself sitting here trying to stop the time, or at least really hold on to the moment.

sleeping in the sukkah

The children have a friend over for a sleepover party in the Sukkah, and are still talking in the sleeping-bags next to me here. They LOVE Sukkot. All of us together all the time! What could possibly be better?? It’s like camping, just that you have all your comforts right there.

sukkah

One of the main commandments concerning Sukkot, is to be joyful! And to tell you the truth, it comes naturally. We have prepared for it. We have just come through the period of Rosh Hashanah, the ten solemn days, and Yom Kippur. Hearing the Shofar-blows marking the end of Yom Kippur is always such a relief. And after having something to eat, the first thing we do that very evening, is to start building our Sukkot. And the joy just becomes part of it. The relief, the thankfulness, the happiness, the playfulness of the whole idea of a Sukkah, hearing the neighbors building their sukkot next to us, the light atmosphere surrounding it all.

sukkah

Looking back at this past week, there are many wonderful moments coming to mind. Sitting around the holiday tables together with dear friends and family (in our sukkah or in theirs), eating tasty food, seeing the candles flickering, enjoying good conversation. Being at the synagogue and seeing all the lulavim (palm-branches) being shaken while hearing and joining in the hallel (worship). Very special experiences indeed.

Samaria

We have also made some short trips during chol hamoed. Today we went out to Shomron, which really can be called the heartland of Israel. Such views! Such a place! It is the like stones start talking and telling the stories of all they have seen over thousands of years!

Jerusalem

And just being downtown Jerusalem is a great experience at such a time as this. There are so many people out and about! So much fun stuff going on, so much to see! Look at this old map with Jerusalem at its center:

map of Jerusalem

And here we are at the Sukkah outside of City Hall:

sukkah

Tomorrow afternoon we are moving inside again, and tomorrow night we will sleep in our beds again. My princess just begged me for another night outside, – just one more, since we are enjoying it so much! But I am of the opinion that there is a time for everything, and tomorrow will probably be the time to go in the direction of normal again, and at least start sleeping in our beds. We still have one more holiday, – Simchat Torah, but that means Sukkot will already be over.

sukkah

It is kind of strange how both Sukkot and Pesach remove something very basic from our lives, – Pesach takes our bread, and Sukkot takes our homes. So then, once the holiday is over, and you get back what was removed, – you have gained a new appreciation for it! All of a sudden we don’t take our regular homes and beds for granted any more! We start noticing them and being thankful for them. Pretty genious, don’t you think?

Rosh hashana preparations, and napkin ring challot

Here we are at this time of the year again, – Rosh Hashana is right around the corner! I am sitting here in my holiday-decorated home, feet up, candles lit, wine in my glas, – yes, life is good!

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For the last few days, we have done a bit of preparations every day. The majority of the shopping we did already last week, – sooo happy with that decision as the supermarkets get pretty crazy in the days leading up to a major holiday like Rosh Hashana. (It is like we think we will never be able to shop for food again!) Yesterday I drove by a couple of supermarkets on my way to a wedding, and just driving by the parking-lots was stressful!!

Anyway, this year’s rosh-hashana-shopping was a breeze for me! I just wrote a detailed list, sent it with my husband who went to a supermarket late at night after work, and brought everything home on his motorbike! (He is amazing, I know!)

bringing home shopping on bike

And then on Sunday I started the cooking. I made a huge pot of chicken soup that day, and a lot of challot, because all of that does fine with a few days in the freezer. I tried something new with the challah this year. Always for Rosh Hashana I make round challot, as it symbolizes the circle of a year, we end one and start a new one. (By the way, – here is the recipe!)

round challot

So, in addition to two large challot on our holiday-table this year, we will each have a mini round challah as a napkin-ring! It was so easy too!

braiding challah

I just made these looong thin braided challahs (with nice help from the princess), and then connected them in rings to foil-covered empty papertowel-rolls.

challah napkin rings

I brushed them with an eggyolk, and baked them for about 12 minutes, let them cool slightly before disconnecting them from the rolls, and they came off really easily. Fun stuff!

challah napkin rings

And while I am showing you my productions, – here are some of my Rosh hashanah gifts:

raspberry jam

Raspberry-jam made from the raspberries we picked in Norway this summer, and then froze and brought back home with us to Jerusalem. Yummy, and fun to share! :-) And I must say, – just the smell of the jam as it is being made…. I can just close my eyes, and I am back in Norway for a moment…

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As I have been busy preparing for this after work for the last few days, it is helpful that the kids have started to help with lunch-preparations. This was the princess´ turn at it:

cooking lunch

No worries, she was only in charge of the pot in the front, – cooking pasta. I was making chicken soup and jam in the back pots.

While it is nice to have big kids who can help out and stuff, I am glad my kids are still young enough to enjoy crafts in preparations for the holidays. We have had our craft-station set up at the diningroom-table, creating a really fun atmosphere.

kids craftHere we are, at the day before the holiday, and I woke up this morning with a feeling of that today will be an efficient day. So the first thing I did was write a long list of everything I was going to get done after work. And let me tell you, some things on that list were so much more tempting than other things. I like baking, cooking and decorating soooo much more than cleaning and ironing… So the kids and I made a plan in the afternoon, that we were going to finish cleaning the house before opening our Rosh-Hashana-decoration-box. They both worked well on their rooms and put away laundry, while I vacuumed the house, cleaned the bathrooms and changed the beds, – and then came the prize of decorating! Fun fun fun!!!

Of course we put on the right music to put us in the mood, and then it is always fun to find the crafts that they have made the previous years, and all the other decorations that we keep from year to year. It is all simple stuff, but it is still the things that we use year after year, so it has a certain value to us.

Tomorrow I will cook the meats and some side-dishes. Desserts were made today. And then there is the special prize for tomorrow, – the setting and decorating of the table! My sweet mother in law kindly offered to come set the table for me to help me out. But I explained to her, – that is why I invite people, so that I get to decorate a nice table!!! ;-)

We are going to have long tables for both nights of the holiday, and then plan on a more relaxing shabbat afterwards. I am really looking forward to all of it! Planning to enjoy it all!

Our family photo from the kotel this year

Our family photo from the kotel this year

I am hoping to stop by the blog again tomorrow, and maybe show you how the napkin-rings look at the actual table and stuff, but in case time does not allow, – I wish you all a shanah tovah u’metukah – a good and sweet new year!