As we follow the terrible situation in Israel, closer to home there is the ongoing worry about anti-Semitism, as our family grapples with the demands of ageing and illness in our midst. We live in a state of angst and sadness, a bleakness. Darkness is a dramatic, sometimes beautiful, contrast to the light; it comes and goes with the cycle of the day and night. Bleakness is an ongoing greyness that dominates our thoughts and pervades our waking hours and sometimes even sleep. Our early-summer Melbourne weather has produced endless grey skies and rain as a fitting backdrop. With the end of Channukah, and its eight opportunities to shine more light into the darkness, we rely on memorable moments and beautiful sights to lighten the bleakness. To give us hope.
My five-year-old grandson asks his unsporty savta to play kick-to-kick with his soccer ball in Landcox Park on a rare sunny day. We both have great fun kicking with abandon as we smile and laugh about his good and my not-so-good efforts.
Meanwhile his twin sister is taking members of the family to the fairy tree at the end of the park. Unlike the iconic Fairy Tree in the Fitzroy Gardens, these fairies and their houses are sweet and naïve, and my granddaughter, at an age when she aspires to be a butterfly princess, is totally enthralled. Let her believe in fairies that bring goodness to the world. Let her believe that all princesses live happily ever with their Prince Charming in a palace.
We go for a walk in the glorious Botanical Gardens one late Sunday afternoon. It is peaceful except for a duo entertaining wedding guests in the distance. The purples of the early-summer agapanthus, jacaranda and hydrangea add touches of vibrant colour to the grey day.
Jacaranda trees in flower are a sight to behold. I find a seed pod on the ground that has fallen from one of these trees in front of my mother’s place. There is only one seed left in the open pod, and, not expecting much, I try to germinate this single seed. After a few days a fine root emerges from the seed, then days later there is a tiny green shoot. The seedling has been planted in a small pot and placed on my kitchen bench top. I tell my mother about the progress of the seed, and she bowls me over when she tells me that her auntie, my grandmother’s sister Regi Pfeffer, was a botanist and university lecturer before the Holocaust. Tragically, not one of my grandmother’s family that remained in Cracow survived. I tend to my tiny jacaranda every day with small drinks of water. New life brings me joy.
When my son borrows my car while he is here from Sydney, he leaves the radio tuned to J-Air. I listen to the songs from Israel as I drive down Orrong Road, and I marvel at the massive range of beautiful music from such a small country. One afternoon, after I pick up my grandson from school, we listen to a lecture on the radio about Australian Jewish history. I am first while he is third generation Australian, but we are fascinated about the colourful Jewish characters from Australia’s past.
A small Channukah miracle. My oven conks out the day before I plan to bake another batch of gluten free doughnuts for a family dinner. The next morning, before I go through my emails to check the warranty on the last element replacement, I test the oven in case it works. I switch it on, the fan starts whirring and, sure enough, within a few minutes it heats up. I smile as I whip up a batch of cake batter and fill the circular cavities of the pan. The next day the grandchildren enjoy their doughnuts with a scoop of ice cream in the centre.
As I make doughnuts, I reminisce about my childhood. The doughnut shop at Chadstone Shopping Centre was right next to the bus stop where we waited for the brown bus to take us home. My sister and I watched with fascination the circular doughnut conveyor belt, strategically placed in the corner-shop window. Batter was extruded from a nozzle into sizzling oil and then halfway along flipped over to get an all-over fry. I can still picture the mural on the outside wall of the shop: two medieval characters facing away from each other, one holds a thick doughnut with a small hole and the other holding a thin doughnut with a corresponding larger hole. I can’t remember the exact wording of the poem in gothic script but probably the last couple of lines were, “… keep your eye on the doughnut, not on the hole.” I was too young at the time to understand the significance of this message.
A lesson in optimism for bleak times: be aware that even when there is a dark hole of conflict and hatred, illness and pain, there is light, goodness and beauty all around us─if we chose to find it.
And hope (Tikvah), always hope.