Old soldiers don't fade away
Most high-ranking officers who retire from the military go into business or politics, but not all. Three former army officers show a preference for honey, feng shui and the fine arts.
What does a colonel in the reserves look like? Lyricist Yankele Rotblit imagined him in a soft armchair in a plush office, chewing on the tip of a cigar and looking longingly at the photo on the wall of himself in uniform. "It's a little hard and not so pleasant," Matti Caspi sang Rotblit's lyric, "but that's life, Mr. Reserve Colonel."
Many colonels in the reserves do indeed opt for a demanding second career. Some go into business, such as El Al CEO Haim Romano, a former naval officer and division head in the Shin Bet, or the CEO of El-Op, Israel Air Force veteran Yaakov Toren, who will soon be going back to his roots as the director general of the Ministry of Defense. Others head into politics, where they are destined to compete against countless other colonels and generals. Others embark on a second career in the educational realm, such as Dror Aloni, an Israel Navy retiree who became the principal of Tel Aviv's Gymnasia Herzliya high school (as did his predecessor, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai).
Like other countries, Israel enables those who served in its armed forces to retire after 25-30 years of service, at which point they can essentially begin a new life at a relatively young age, in their 40s or early 50s, with the bonus of excellent retirement pensions. Retiring officers can choose the road they wish to take, and it turns out that this crossroads can lead to fresh originality.
The only non-Thai
Colonel (Res.) Ilan Katsir can be found in a setting completely different from the one described in Rotblit's song. Try looking for him in the 18-dunam olive grove in Moshav Herut in the Sharon region, or along the dusty trails of India, or maybe in the classroom where he is studying to be a feng shui consultant. Katsir, 49, put in many long years in the intelligence community, headed the Israel Defense Forces' Foreign Liaison department and was the army's representative to the anti-terror task force of the Prime Minister's Office. He retired in 2001, already knowing he had no interest in immediately moving into the worlds of business or politics, as so many of his colleague do.
Feng shui hardly reflects the norm among high-ranking army retirees, and Katsir has a theory to explain why this is so: "People retire when they are filled with adrenaline, and almost always leave the army feeling hurt. When do you leave? When you didn't get a promotion. You leave with a lot of baggage, saying: `They didn't promote me to brigadier? Then I'll be a CEO in high-tech.'"
The move into agriculture and olive-oil production succeeded in fulfilling the needs left by his retirement. "If I didn't have the farm, maybe it wouldn't have been so easy," he says. "There isn't a dull moment, I am always under pressure to get things done, but I am the master of this pressure. Suddenly I'm working outside and not under the fluorescent lights, I find myself weeding with a hoe, the only one out there who is not Thai."
At the end of each day of the olive harvest, he brings the olives to the "modern oil press" in Bir Sika, a nearby Arab village, where he waits in line for his produce to be pressed along with the Arab harvesters, talking with them about olives and politics. Only the owner of the press, Anwar, knows of Katsir's professional background.
Through his wife Galia, Katsir developed an interest in Eastern disciplines, especially yoga and Buddhism, but even when he ruminates over these things, his words reflect the businesslike toughness of someone for whom the Middle Eastern reality was his primary occupation for decades. "We are not Himalayan monks who sit under a tree, with a butterfly flitting by every hour or so," says Katsir. "There is a way of seeing Buddhism through eyes that are appropriate to here." This search for a balanced and natural Israeli existence moved him in the direction of the unique lifestyle he developed, aided by the good conditions to which he is entitled.
Agents as fashion models
In 2003, Oded Ilan left a position in the intelligence community that - as per common practice among members of this community - he prefers not to elaborate on. He, too, chose not to join the private or public sector, and enrolled in art studies at Beit Berl College. Ilan is the scion of a German-Jewish immigrant family from Tel Aviv for whom art has always been important. Paintings of cats and lions, abstract landscapes and self-portraits, all of which he painted during his service, adorn the walls of his apartment in the city. They are very different from Ilan's contemporary work, which is dark, loaded and provocative. His studies at the college enabled Ilan to touch upon the customary images of the subject matter in which he engaged when he was in the security forces. Early this summer, he showed his final project at the college, which included pictures of fictitious Shin Bet and Mossad agents, photographed as fashion models above their resumes and a list of shops at which their articles of clothing can ostensibly be purchased. Alongside the photos, Ilan put together an installation that included a mattress on which the figure of a handcuffed person was crocheted onto the pillow placed on it and on the lampshade of the bedside night table.
Ilan insists that the nature of his work does not stem from his former vocation. "Art is not a bubble," he says. "I believe in art as part of life. I used to dabble in art as a need and a hobby. I did things that I liked to do, nice things. At art school, I learned that beautiful is not necessarily good, that you have to be interesting and, especially, you have to send a message. To my great regret," he adds, "wherever we look there is violence." He also presents works that are not related to his security past, including his own version of the Hebrew children's book by Fania Bergstein, "Nice Butterfly," whose upbeat illustrations were replaced by dismal photographs ? la Cindy Sherman.
According to Ilan, it is not rare for members of the intelligence community to engage in the creative arts, because the nature of the job necessitates creative and flexible thinking. He mentions John le Carr? and Graham Greene, both of whom served in British intelligence agencies. It is a little harder to find painters in the community. "It is difficult to translate the experience to the plastic arts," says Ilan, nevertheless mentioning the late Zvi Malchin, the former Mossad agent who was responsible for bringing Adolf Eichmann to trial, who exhibited his paintings in Israel and abroad.
Did you see yourself as a potential artist while you were still in the service?
"I knew that what I was doing came at the expense of other things," he replies. "I tried very hard for my family to be hurt as little as possible, and therefore I did not have time left for creating art."
When he turned 53, Ilan decided to retire from the draining environment, and devote himself to both family and art. He is happy with the decision. "I know I want to continue doing art. The how, what, who is not yet clear to me, but now I know that this is who I am."
The hornet front
Originality may also be found among high-ranking officers who nevertheless decided to choose a more traditional second career. While the IDF was evacuating settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, reserve Major-General Zeev Livne, 60, was preventing the formation of settlements in the Hadera region. In this case, "settlements" is a term used by beekeepers; it refers to the escape of bees from a beehive that has not been properly cared for, and their taking up position in a different location in the area.
Livne, who spent most of his early career in the armored corps, was the head of operations on the General Staff, the founder and first commander of the Home Front Command during the Gulf War in 1991, and the military secretary to two prime ministers. In his last four years in the army, Livne served as a military attach? in the U.S. and Canada. Upon his return to Israel several years ago, Livne was more prepared for the shock of retirement. "In Washington, I had time to think about what I want to be when I grow up. I took the strategic decision then of not to be a hired employee. Often, a general who leaves the army wants a position, here a CEO, there a director-general. I came to Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and said: `I contributed to the state, the state contributed to me, I have no requests.' He was surprised."
As a substitute, Livne prepared a "basket of pursuits and amusements" for himself. Under the category of pursuits was only one item: Setting up a company for strategic consultation to defense industries. The amusements section included a wealth of topics in unexpected aspects of agriculture such as grafting citrus trees so a single tree would produce both grapefruits and lemons and honey-making.
What's less complicated, commanding a beehive with hundreds of bees, or a unit with hundreds of soldiers?
"The beehive," Livne replies without hesitation. "The bees are very disciplined and know their job. The most important thing is to make sure to maintain the conditions they are accustomed to."
The beekeeping also demands know-how of strategy and tactics. One of Livne's hives was destroyed by hornets. Experience taught him to gain the advantage over his enemy, and he planted poisoned meat in a net as bait alongside the hive. The battle against the hornets notwithstanding, Livne exudes pure pleasure from his beekeeping duties. "Harvesting the honey is the greatest fun ever," he says. "The honey flows like a river, just like in the song."