'When a Rocket Hit Near My Parents' Home, I Knew There's No Escape. Not Even Abroad.'

An Israeli southerner describes how she found inner peace; a Croatian shop owner describes being 'grabbed' by kabbala.

Adi Uzhn.
Adi Uzhn. Tomer Appelbaum

Adi Uzhn, 33, from Netivot; flying to Frankfurt

Hello, what will you be doing in Germany?

It’s a work trip. We’re taking part in one of the big exhibitions in Frankfurt. We have a booth and I’m the graphic designer.

Who is “we”?

I work for a Sderot company that manufactures plastic products, like the plastic containers we take from Mom, except that ours look good. All kinds of cool things: containers with a knife and fork inside, packages for sauces, a box that goes into a bag that’s like an iPad case. We mainly export to big companies like Walmart and Target. It’s a really fun job.

Did you always dream of designing containers?

I got into it totally by chance. I was a freelancer and they approached me. I was very happy, because it’s hard to find a good job in the south. But, as we say: Every pot has its lid. I’m a bit nervous. Was there some sort of [security] incident or anything?

No. Why?

On the train coming here, the app of the woman sitting next to me lit up with a “Red Alert,” and I got uptight. I’m from Netivot, so I’m sensitive to that. I don’t have an app like that anymore. We’re full of fear as it is.

Southern post-trauma.

I can tell you that I have been treated with pills on a daily basis. I’m married and have two daughters, and before the girls were born, I wasn’t afraid like this. The first war after our eldest daughter was born was [Operation] Pillar of Defense; the second one was born during Protective Edge. I started to experience serious anxiety, the situation really got to me. Because of that, even the sound of the app is enough to make me jump – that’s the “gift” I got from the security situation.

Have you thought of moving to a less volatile place?

During Protective Edge, I went to Be’er Sheva to be with my parents, and then a rocket landed there, next to us, right next to my parents’ house. I understood that there was no choice, there’s nowhere to escape to. Now it’s not safe even abroad.

So what’s the solution?

I participated in a very meaningful workshop that changed my life. I understood that you have to do a switch in your head. That’s what I’m working on now. A red alert still has an effect, but less than it used to.

What kind of workshop?

With Alon Ulman, three wild days. He’s someone really worth googling. The workshop is defined as one that bursts boundaries, the boundaries of yourself, in every way. You take the “self” and hurl it upward, to cope with tough situations in life. It’s not one-on-one, there are 200 people in every workshop, but it’s intensive and dynamic and it did wonders for me.

Can you give an example of one wonder?

For example, since the workshop I don’t shout anymore, not at the girls and not at my partner. Even if I’m really angry, I find other ways to deal with it. It’s not that I hold back, I just understood that it doesn’t help, I don’t feel the need. Everything took on better proportions – relationships, family, friends. I came out of the workshop feeling that I’d been given an existential slap, as he calls it.

How did you get to Ulman?

I’m not a person who usually buys clichés, coaching, things like that. But my brother-in-law did the workshop and I saw the changes he underwent – work, family, weight – and it was significant. You say, “Walla, I want that, too, let’s see if it’ll work for me.” These days I wear the workshop’s rubber bracelet.

What does it say?

“To live with power,” and I can stretch it and let go and wake up from the snap whenever I stray from the path I chose.

Which path is that?

I chose satisfaction of spirit. I was uptight about a lot of things, a control freak, and I let go completely. With my daughters, too, everything had to be spit-and-polish and organized, so they would turn out the best they can be. I’m not one of those mothers who’s around her children all day, but I felt that I was doing something wrong by not being like that. It was tiring and exhausting. Today I can say that I left too little time for myself.

Now you’re even traveling without the girls.

I’m going to work my butt off in Frankfurt. It’s really hard work, but I feel good about it and it’ll be fun in ways I can’t even describe. No diaper will be in my face in the morning, I’ll sleep more comfortably, I won’t get up in the middle of the night, and I won’t give a damn.

Visnja Marusic.
Tomer Appelbaum

Visnja Marusic, 32, from Omis, Croatia; arriving from Budapest

Hello, is this your first time in Israel?

I’ve been coming here every year for the past five years, around the same time, for the Kabbalah Congress. 

What’s that?

It lasts three days, in Tel Aviv. There are lectures and workshops, and everyone can join. You sit with people in a circle and get advice, and when others ask questions you listen as though they’re talking to you, because they’re speaking from the heart. I arrive a little before to help and stay on afterward.

How did you come to kabbala?

I have a store that sells natural cosmetics in Omis, and I sold Dead Sea products. I worked with Israelis, who told me I should give it a chance. I was already into spirituality but everything sounded the same to me. I said, “I’m familiar with all that, do you have anything new?” They told me there’s more to it, that kabbala is disseminated in a free way, that I should give it a chance. So I went with them, and it turned out that I made it to the big thing, to the congress. It was amazing.

You mean the congress in Israel?

No, the congress I went to was in Budapest then; it broadcast the events at the real congress, which was in New Jersey. The talks were shown on huge screens in real-time, between 1 A.M. and 5 A.M. in Budapest. To listen to a pleasant old man talking and talking at 5 in the morning is maybe a bit too much, but something interesting happened there.

What?

I felt that something was grabbing me. I didn’t know if it was the material or the teacher, Rabbi Michael Laitman, but something told me that I had to dig deeper. So I started to take it seriously and today I’m studying in a group, taking classes, and I listen to a lesson by the rabbi every morning. About two hours of kabbala a day. That’s the daily dose.

Tomer (the photographer): Wasn’t Laitman Madonna’s teacher?

When I started, all I knew about kabbala was Madonna and a red thread. But no, the rabbi lives in Petah Tikva, and his center, Bnei Baruch – Kabbalah La’am, is in Israel. He’s less commercially oriented than Madonna’s teacher, and that’s part of what I like about him. Israelis are good at teaching and they have something to teach.

What have you learned so far?

For me, the kabbala talks about a link between people, about how to connect. It’s hard to connect. Let’s say you love someone, your partner, for example, but something interferes with your reaching him. You have to go beyond that thing.

What thing are you referring to?

The ego, the wicked ego. The kabbala talks about how to go beyond the ego. That’s what’s different in the kabbala. The first thing I heard in the congress was you don’t have to destroy the ego, as other sources say. The goal is not to meditate in the Himalayas and not to avoid speaking with anyone. Nature gave us the ego, and it’s not something that’s necessarily bad.

Lovely.

Something else important that I learned is that all this is not supposed to be easy.

Bummer.

It’s the truth. We hope that spirituality will make our lives easy and pleasant, and that’s legitimate, but sometimes you also have to overcome obstacles. 

I don’t understand.

There are two forces in nature, receiving and giving, and we want to receive. Even with someone very close to me, I first of all want attention for myself, and only then am I ready to give. That’s normal. You have to think a lot about whether you want to be truly capable of giving without thinking about getting something in return.

How do you get to that point?

What helps is having a group. A person doesn’t see what his problem is by himself. It comes up only in connection with other people, who want to get to the same place. When I have a problem I will bring it to the group and the group will give me perspective. These days I have stability in my life. There’s no way to know if it happened naturally or because of my studies, but I feel inner satisfaction.

You haven’t said a word about God.

We don’t talk about God, ever. Through the kabbala I’ve met Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Christians. I am from a very religious country, and as a child I was very pious, but today I am not religious. You just search and search until you find the place where you feel inner tranquility.

Have you found it?

I think I’m still searching. Today I’m simply at peace about the place where I’m searching.