Sarah Tuttle-Singer
A Mermaid in Jerusalem

Do angels even EAT hamantaschen cookies?

When those first Purim baskets arrived after a long winter, all she could offer in return was a smile

It was our first Spring in Israel, and I was cold inside. I passed slender poppies growing in the cracks in the sidewalk. I overlooked bluebonnets blooming in the fields behind the cafe. I ignored new leaves sprouting on the small pitanga tree we bought from the plant nursery near Ramle, my first “roots” in this new country planted in a clay pot.

But I was still so very cold, and, small, and unyielding, a crumb of stone, and not a seed, after the shock of that first winter in Israel, so far from friends, from family, from the familiar.

So while there were the signs of Spring all around me, I didn’t really see them.

And I remember a night quite like this one, in the last gasp of that very long winter that first year, when our neighbor Tami came by with a basket brimming with an assortment of hamantaschen cookies, their centers filled with chocolate, apricot jam, poppy seed, and halva, all wrapped in clear cellophane and tied with a pink ribbon.

Hag Purim Samayach! Happy Purim!” she trilled as she burst in the room, smelling like baked sugary deliciousness, and Angel perfume.

And you know what? She was an angel in the doorway, the porch light flickering through her hennaed curls, her smile glittery and wide, bringing with her warm light and warm cookies on that chilly night at the end of Winter.

And I was sunk deep on the big red poof in our old living room. My son was sick (again) with Pneumonia (again) and we were both covered in the bubblegum pink antibiotics he had thrown up (again.)

She placed the basket on the table, and handed me a hamantaschen.

“Try this one,” she said as she gave me a small triangle shaped cookie with sweet apricot jam in the middle.

(Fun fact: I love cookies. And I love people who give me cookies)

And I was grateful. So, so, SO grateful to have a kind neighbor and to live in the kind of community where this was normal — where people pop over with a basket of goodies, just because it’s Purim.

But… I was also a little embarrassed that I didn’t have a basket of Purim sweets to give her and her family.

“It’s ok, right?” I asked my then-husband. “We’re still new enough here where no one expects it?”

Yeah, no one expected it. And good thing, too, because I was still having panic attacks in the grocery store. I was still bursting into tears at Bank Leumi. The kids were sick — a cold for her, Pneumonia for him, and I was sick —  a deep and gnawing soul-sick home-sick, stoically refusing to shake it off with the dead branches of winter and the frost on the ground sick,  sick sick sick inside, and frigid like the earth before the thaw. And  I didn’t even know this Purim goodie basket thing was a thing until it was there on my doorstep in the arms of a caring neighbor, this angel of a woman with her warm cookies and warm intentions.

So it was OK, right?

And It was OK.  And I promised myself that next year, we would be whole enough to do this ourselves, to go to Supersal, and buy flour, and sugar, and eggs, and butter, and apricot jam, and heat the oven to “3” (How do you say 350 degrees in Hebrew?) and wrap them up in baskets with cellophane and ribbon, with pretty cards designed by the kids, if we could just make it one more year, just one more year, one more year.

And one more year, we made it — but we weren’t whole anymore: We were two homes, cleaved, instead of one, and while they split the time between my caravan in a village just beyond the green fields, and their father’s house back on the kibbutz where we had all lived together just that year before, I spent each morning digging through the seat cushions on the couch looking for enough shekels to the ride the bus to school, or buy bread and cheese for dinner, or a stuffed camel from the shuk that the kids really, really wanted.

There was no  time for thinking ahead from one holiday to the next, when every single day was a question of survival, of abstract terrors in the night with each creak and groan outside while I slept with my arms around each child, analyzing each sound between the silence.  There was no time for thinking ahead with each phone call from the bank or the landlord, the bounced check, the declined ATM transaction, the smokey sigh of the tired bus driver when he said “It’s 10 shekels, 9 agurot. Your three short, but OK , fine, lady, you can all ride this once.”

There was no time.

So first Hannukkah and then Tu Bishvat passed in the throes of that next winter, the candles burned low in other window sills, and the almond trees blossomed and the ground softened, but I was too busy digging between seat cushions, and asking friends for rides, and avoiding the bank, or the bus driver’s eyes to look around and see these things.

But we were lucky. .

God, we were lucky

The warmth – the kindness – the angels all around us, from my ex husband’s family and who buffered the blow for my kids, to the friends who fed us, and brought us chocolate on our long, cold weekends together,  to the neighbors who took us to school and gave us a huge bag of clothes, to the woman who would drive on wintry afternoons to take us home, to the doctor who would answer my SOS texts — even on Shabbat, we were so, so lucky and lifted up… but during those days of survival, how hard it is to see clearly beyond each stumbling block, each stone. When you’re teetering on the snake-path round the rocky ledge — wow, view into infinity is  sublime.  But you can’t see it then because if you stop to see it,  you’ll surely stumble, and you may not survive.

So I didn’t stop. I didn’t see.  And there were no cookies for the angels who kept us from falling.

So all I could offer in return was a smile as I ducked my head, touched and aware that I couldn’t return in kind.

Not yet, anyway.

(Hell, we didn’t even have an oven.)

“Next year, it’ll be different. Next year, we’ll be whole,” I told my kids while we lay tucked in the bed we shared in that tiny space just beyond the fields.

And another year, and how we grew — the kids in inches and intentions, and me in knowing there don’t have to be limits when you’re creating a life you have to live with.  Some nights I couldn’t sleep.  Some days, I missed entirely.  There are lines around my eyes now that I never knew before, but the only reason I can see them is because I’m smiling more.

This past year, a year of adventure, and of miracles, of finding friends and finding footing, finally in this country I’ve grown to know in all her seasons.

And it’s the end of winter now, again: A soft night here after a year of such miracles… A home, finally — next to our fields, still.  A place with rooms for each of us, and a dining room table, and a kitchen with enough space for me to sprinkle flour, and break eggs, a stove to melt butter, and an oven to bake hamantaschen cookies… finally.


And earlier today —  spotted against the sky:  Three  red berries on the Pitanga tree.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel. She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems, and she now lives in Jerusalem with her 3 kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors, talks to strangers, and writes stories about people — especially taxi drivers. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.
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