18 Tamuz 5779 / Sunday, July 21, 2019 | Torah Reading: mattot
 
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The trip with her two daughters to London for a family simcha seemed to be a spiritual crash landing; it was so difficult to find Hashem over there...

 



I was dreading the trip ‘back’ to the UK from the moment I found out about it. My youngest sibling was getting married, and it was the one occasion I said that I and my girls would leave Israel for.
 
But I hadn’t been back for almost five years’, and I knew what was waiting for me there: big cars; designer homes; shops and shopping galore; a culture where ‘doing’ is the only thing that counts, and ‘being’ is completely discounted.
 
I have a very porous personality – I pick up on whatever ‘vibe’ is going on in the environment around me, and it can really affect me. In Israel, it usually works in my favour, especially now that I live in a community where there is so much great Torah going on.
 
But I knew the UK was going to be a tremendous challenge.
 
Even as I stepped off the plane at London Luton airport, I could feel that G-d had kind of receded, and become a murky half-idea, as opposed to my waking reality. That feeling intensified throughout my week-long trip.
 
The first few days, I tried to wake up early, to keep doing my hour of talking to G-d – but it was like speaking through fifty bags of cotton wool. From Israel, I knew G-d was out there, listening, but I simply couldn’t feel it in London.
 
By the third of fourth day, I started to get quite despondent about just how cut off I was feeling, spiritually. And once that feeling of being ‘disconnected’ intensified, it got even harder to try and do the mitzvoth, especially the ones that are really trampled on or ignored in many apparently ‘religious’ communities outside of Israel.
 
All of a sudden, I was forgetting to say blessings after eating food. All of a sudden, it got too hard to stop my kids from watching all the kiddie TV that was blaring at them from the five different TVs attached to the walls of the house we were staying in. All of a sudden, I couldn’t stop this uncle and that uncle from doing the ‘mwwah mwwah’ kissing the cheek thing – things that I’ve really tried so hard to avoid the last couple of years.
 
There were two things that kept me going: firstly, I’d spent months and months praying that G-d would protect my kids from all the nefarious influences they’d be exposed to in London, and I knew that G-d would deliver. The second thing was that I’d tried very hard to get out of the trip, and I’d even asked my Rav for permission to not go – which I didn’t get. What I got instead was a few pertinent guidelines and a blessing, which kept reassuring me when my kids got pulled into watching yet another stupid cartoon, or hearing more non-kedusha pop music, or seeing yet another ad or picture of an almost naked person.
 
They seem to have come through it all in a protected bubble, thank G-d.
 
But me? I feel like I left a bit of my soul on the airplane out, and I’m still not quite sure how I get it back.
 
For a whole week, I felt like I was talking to Nothing, G-d forbid. For a whole week, I didn’t talk about Hashem, or emuna – there weren’t the words to say, or the ears to hear. For a whole week, it felt as though mitzvoth don’t really matter; that all my efforts to strive for a better relationship with the A-lmighty were pointless; that I was wasting my life on ‘prayer’ when I could go and get a proper job and have something concrete to show for myself.
 
Yesterday, I went to Jerusalem to try and ‘detox’ from the whole disturbing London experience. I didn’t go to the Kotel, or anywhere holy – I was too far away from doing that still – but I walked around Machane Yehuda, the outdoor market, and I bought a kosher spelt flour bagel and a cup of fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice.
 
It doesn’t sound like much, but we’ve been on such a tight budget recently that for me, it was an almost unheard of luxury.
 
I was so grateful just to be back around Jews who knew that G-d was real; that jobs are just a means, not an end; that there is more to life than earning and spending. But then, after that first euphoric hour, I got very introspective and insecure.
 
What am I doing with my life? What are my prayers really achieving? How was it that I couldn’t keep my connection to G-d going in London, in any tangible sense? Maybe I’m fooling myself that all this talking to G-d, and waiting for Him to help me is the right path?
 
Maybe, I should just chuck all my principles out the window, arrange some wireless internet in the house and get a job to help pay down the ever-increasing overdraft?
 
Maybe, maybe, maybe…
 
I started to feel really miserable. So I did what I always do in those situations, and phoned my husband. My husband had also had a tough time in the UK – his father died unexpectedly a few days’ before my sister’s wedding, and he’d been sitting shiva with his unobservant relatives in Liverpool.
 
Strangely, though, his experience was better than mine, albeit a lot more tragic. When people die, it really jolts the people they leave behind out of their every-day complacency and spiritual laziness.
 
Despite themselves, they start to ask a lot of the awkward questions: what’s it all for? What’s the point? Why does life have any meaning, if it all ends in the grave anyway?
 
Those questions lead quite naturally to discussions about G-d and emuna. So Baruch Hashem, my husband came back with a lot more of his soul intact, albeit a bit battered.
 
I told him I was feeling down, and lonely, and pointless, and that I was second-guessing whether I’d really done anything at all the last five years. All those hours of hitbodedut; all the effort to work on this character trait, that character trait, the other character trait. All the attempts to dress and act more modestly, and to get all the secular culture out of my home.
 
I felt that one week in London had undone everything.
 
I was back at square one, wandering aimlessly around Jerusalem and wondering again what on earth I was meant to be doing with my life.
 
“We have no idea what our prayers achieve,” he told me. “You’ve been building spiritual castles the last few years.”
 
I wasn’t convinced. If that was true, how could it all disappear in five minutes once I got on a plane back to London?
 
“We can’t see it from here, but it’s making a big difference. Really.”
 
I hope so. I’m still not 100% convinced.
 
I’m better than yesterday, and I’m feeling a bit more ‘connected’ today, but there is still quite a big hole where my emuna used to be. I feel I’m so far away from G-d, at the moment. I feel like I’ve worked so hard to get close to Him the last few years, but now I hit the London ‘snake’ and I’ve been sent back to the beginning.
 
G-d, please have mercy on me, and send me a ladder! G-d, please help me to get nearer to you again! And while you’re at, merciful Father in Heaven, please help everyone else stuck in Galut – in London, in New York, in Tel Aviv – and send them a ladder as well. 





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  5 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
  1.
  London Emuna
David Dome1/9/2012 4:49:42 PM
     
 
  2.
  the same thing happened to me on my recent trip to the U.S.
zeisel1/5/2012 7:00:59 PM
     
 
  3.
  RE: Rivka bummed about London...
Joy1/5/2012 4:32:15 PM
     
 
  4.
  pretend!
lea1/5/2012 1:17:30 PM
     
 
  5.
  Don't worry - it's all for the best!!!!
Anonymous,1/2/2012 5:27:58 PM
     
 

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