On Sunday the streets were full of people hoarsely shouting "we are all Moshe Silman." The Ayalon Highway was blocked as people got out of their cars to proclaim the name of the man who had immolated himself the night before at the social-protest rally in Tel Aviv.
But the name Adrian Nimkoff, the man everyone called Andrei, has been completely forgotten. Andrei, who was born in 1975 in St. Petersburg, had been homeless for some time before he found a home at the Rothschild tent camp last summer. He set up close to the Habima Theater with his two pit bulls, his great love.
As for other homeless people, the tent camp made Andrei feel wanted and loved. He made friends with another homeless man, Ariel. The two decided to share an apartment on Tel Aviv's Ruppin Street, and Andrei began working as a security guard.
At first they paid their rent, but later they defaulted because a friend took their money. They asked the landlord for an extension, and according to Andrei's family, the landlord agreed, but then called the police and said the pair were squatters. When they didn't leave, the landlord turned off their electricity, so they lived there in the dark.
Andrei's fragile mental state deteriorated further. He couldn't find work and began begging at Dizengoff Center with his two dogs; his sign said "donations for the dogs." Andrei hanged himself and left no suicide note, Ariel said.
"He reached the same place as [Silman] when he understood he had no future, that he had nothing in life," his cousin Natalie said. "I couldn't help him except a few pennies for a meal. I'm a cleaner. The day he decided to do it he called my mother and said he couldn't be like this, living in the street and begging."
Andrei committed suicide at a low point in the social protest, in April, so he was of no interest to the media. Hardly anyone came to his funeral; there was no quorum to read Kaddish. Only later did his friends decide to hold a memorial evening at the place where he lived, on Rothschild Boulevard at Habima Square.
I was invited to read a poem. Otherwise I wouldn't have heard of him either. It was a strange evening. Screeching voices of a heavy metal band, tears, candles. A passerby, a lawyer, said how easy it was to become homeless in Israel. Other passersby wondered what we were doing. Some shouted "get a job." Everyone read Kaddish together.
Karin Netz, one of the memorial's organizers, had befriended Andrei in the tent camp. She says she understands why Andrei and Silman did what they did.
"Andrei said he approached all the agencies and no one helped. I understand the frustration," she said. "I also tried to ask for help; I was passed from office to office. I'm 36 years old and they told me 'go back to your parents' house and work for minimum wage, you don't deserve help.'"
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