Marcos Meresman, 23, lives in Buenos Aires; flying to Barcelona
You look a little overwrought.
I can’t get used to the security measures in Israel. I got here by bus, and a lot of people were worried, because there was a bag on the bus that didn’t seem to belong to anyone. I understand that people here live in constant fear that something is going to happen, and that makes sense, because of what’s going on. But to people like me, who come from a country where such things don’t happen at all, it seems abnormal.
What were you doing in Israel?
It was my first visit here. I’ve been a counselor in the Masorti [Conservative Judaism] youth movement Noam in Buenos Aires for the past six years, and I was here now with a Birthright group.
What is the Masorti movement?
It was founded by an American rabbi, Marshall Meyer, who did amazing things for human rights in Argentina, where so many people disappeared.
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Disappeared to where?
Between 1978 and 1983, during the dictatorship, 30,000 people disappeared. No one knows where to; there aren’t even bodies. If you went out at night and looked a little “leftish,” you were taken away in a car and disappeared.
What does it mean to look “leftish”?
Long hair on men, for example, or if you walked around with a book. My parents lived in Buenos Aires then and it was insane. There was in-built anti-Semitism, because the army was trained by Nazis hiding in Argentina. So, if you were Jewish, you had to keep a low profile or immigrate to Israel.
You are Jewish, then?
My father is Jewish. My mother did not convert, but accepted the Jewish religion.
I did a conversion when I was 13 – I had to, because Judaism is determined according to the mother. I was circumcised at 13.
Yes. Looking back, it does seem to me a bit crazy, because when you’re eight days old, you don’t remember anything, you don’t complain, but I sometimes remember the pain. But I had lived as a Jew all my life, and I felt that it was something bureaucratic that I had to do.
Is your father religiously observant?
My father isn’t, but my grandmother observed the customs and insisted that I go to a Jewish school. Buenos Aires is the city with the largest Jewish community in Argentina, and we try to help one another – when we’re not engaged in internal political quarrels.
Just like in Jewish tradition!
Two Jews, three opinions. Here too, no? I was in Israel two weeks, and after Birthright, I went to a kibbutz, to see friends – outside the bubble.
What did you discover “outside the bubble”?
When you’re a student, you’re told that Israel is the greatest and most ideal place in the world. And it’s true, Israel really is terrific, and we love it, even if it’s not perfect.
Since when is perfection a value?
Well, even left-wing organizations in Argentina – which think that Israel is a dictatorship that does horrible things to the Palestinians – don’t necessarily know what’s happening here. To them, Hamas are poor babies who haven’t done anything [bad], and also they compare Israel to the Nazis. But in the school where I teach, what’s taught is that Hamas and the Palestinian terrorists are bad and don’t care about people, not even about the Palestinians. But things aren’t all that clear.
What do you think?
Everyone thinks they have a monopoly on the truth, and everyone spits out their ideas, without allowing a space for discussion, and it’s all in terms of black and white. I think there’s lots of gray, that Israel is investing a lot of time in an effort to make peace and that the Palestinian population is hungry and despairing, so they’re easily persuaded to hate. Not a great situation.
To put it mildly.
When I came to Rabin Square [in Tel Aviv], it was very powerful. I really felt it. I admire [the late Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin. He was a politician who didn’t get stuck in one place; he knew how to be flexible and how to analyze things. He preferred peace over the territories.
Careful, it’s starting to be dangerous to be a left-winger here, too.
Rabin’s assassination is a wound that’s hard to recover from. If you ask people where they were when the murder happened, they’ll say what they feel about it and where they were. I was less than a year old when it happened. An Israeli guy that I talked to about it said that peace is not a piece of paper, peace is a state of mind, and that after the Rabin assassination we can’t get into it anymore.
Nira and Adam Shocket, 43 and 41, respectively, live in Netanya; arriving from Budapest
Hello, can I ask what you were doing in Hungary?
I had to go on business, to work on a certain deal – or at least that’s what Adam thought. He drove me to the airport, and when we got there, I told him that the bags were packed and that he was coming with me.
Adam: She packed everything. She knew I didn’t have any lectures.
Nira: Lucky thing he had a birthday, that way I had an excuse to pamper myself. And because of the birthday, we even got a suite.
How did you celebrate?
Nira: We sang karaoke.
Adam: 4 Non Blondes.
Nira: We did “What’s Up,” but no one joined us singing “Hey, hey, hey, what’s going on?” I told him to go for it.
Adam: And left me by myself!
Nira: It was incredible. We were also in a place with outdoor hot baths, you get into the water via snow.
Adam: Public baths is part of their culture.
Nira: And it’s amazing. There’s even a place that has a beer Jacuzzi.
Adam: With foam!
Nira: But we went for the standard one. I was afraid it would be cold, but we had good weather. Budapest is an incredible place, and going back there is like going back home for us. We lived there for seven years.
What did you do there?
Nira: We were married when he was 19 and still in the army, but then he went abroad to study medicine. I was a “sun girl” from Netanya, and it meant leaving everything and going to a winter of minus 25 [Celsius]. It was a real shock.
Adam: We felt as though we’d gone back in time, to something from old movies about Europe, gray, with all the trains, like in Holocaust films. Tough police. Unknown language.
Nira: There was a vast bureaucracy, and if you didn’t have a visa, you had to leave the country every three months, wait an hour and return with the permit.
What did you do while Adam was busy studying?
Nira: At first I was a Hebrew teacher, and afterward I found a job with Israelis as a real estate agent, because many parents whose children came here for six years of study, bought them apartments. In the end, one of the company’s owners asked me, “Do you want to work in entrepreneurship?” I told him, “Yes, I feel like bringing Keter Plastic here.” We approached them and proposed that we be their exclusive agents in Hungary. You sit there with a poker face, we had no experience, and they say, “Okay, well, give it a try.” And we succeeded. I was CEO and a partner in the company, and after that we lived much more comfortably. It was a great time.
Sounds like it.
Nira: We didn’t have children yet, and we were the only married couple. All our student friends regarded us as home. Every Friday, 30 people came to eat at our place – Hanukkah, Purim, celebrations before and after exams. The Chabadniks passed by us and heard the singing through our window and shouted “Shabbat Shalom” to us.
Why did you come back to Israel?
Nira: In 2006, the [ultra-Orthodox] Rabbinical Center of Europe approached us: “You sold plastic? Now sell the Jewish idea.” We came back to Israel in 2009, and we’ve been here ever since.
What do you do now?
Adam: I manage a medical clinic that combines alternative and conventional treatment, from elbow pains to anxiety or depression.
Nira: I’m an entrepreneur and I also do workshops and coaching. I have a room in my husband’s clinic and I do therapy.
How did you get into coaching?
Nira: It all started from our house being a place where people came for consultation. And Adam said to me, “You’re taking in all the ones who are in pain.” And I saw that I really did have the ability to help. I don’t spend energy looking for clients; people hear by word of mouth and come here.
How do you help?
Nira: Self-empowerment. I believe that in every person there is a spark from which he can recharge himself, and that if you love yourself you can cope with anything.
How do you learn to love yourself?
Nira: Self-love begins from looking into a different mirror. I think that we develop a dependency on external approval, on parents. That’s the normative pattern and it’s one we shatter in order to arrive at a situation of non-dependence. I don’t feel it is a job; I feel that I have received something and I want to help.
Adam: What she’s saying is the tip of the iceberg. She was never the doctor’s wife, I was always “the husband of.”