After more than 40 years of living abroad, the world’s most famous and controversial illusionist is coming back home. In fact, when Uri Geller lands in Israel on October 6, he’ll be heading to an apartment located exactly where the story of his life began.
“I was made in Jaffa,” said the 68-year-old paranormalist, in a telephone interview from his home on the River Thames in Berkshire, England. “My parents made love in a tiny one-room Arabic home right near the Caliph nightclub, and that’s where my mother became pregnant. Ten years ago, my wife and I purchased a small apartment right nearby, and now that we’ve made our decision, it will no longer be empty.”
After achieving so much fame and fortune abroad, what draws him back to Israel after all these years? To hear Geller tell it, nothing more complicated than a bad case of homesickness. “I always had a deep feeling in my mind, in my heart, that I would come back some day,” he says. “It was very hard for me to leave Israel, and there was always a little ache in my heart that I’m not in my homeland. After roaming the world for over four decades, I came to a point in my life where I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Add to that – not surprising, coming from a self-proclaimed psychic – the good vibes he says he gets whenever he sets foot in the country. “Every time I come on a visit to Israel, I feel more energized and more empowered, and I just drink in that positive energy,” says Geller. “Despite all the troubles, I always feel this streak of optimism in my homeland.”
Expat at home, 'spy' abroad
Born in Tel Aviv, Geller moved to Cyprus when he was 10 years old, after his parents divorced and his mother remarried a Hungarian-Jew who owned a bed-and-breakfast in Nicosia. At age 16, he returned to Israel, where he worked in construction before volunteering for the paratrooper brigade in the army.
Geller, who fought and was wounded in the 1967 Six-Day War, has often said that a formative experience in his life was killing a Jordanian soldier in a battle near Jerusalem during the war. “It screwed me up for many years, and I probably had what is called today post-traumatic stress disorder,” he told Haaretz.
With his legendary spoon-bending, clock moving and mind reading feats, Geller rose to fame in Israel in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before, as he describes it, “the CIA sent a doctor to test me to see if I was for real, and then they took me out of Israel.” Before arriving in the United States in 1973, where he underwent testing at Stanford University, he spent a year in Germany. Following his year in Palo Alto, he spent close to a decade in New York before relocating to England in 1983. Aside for a year spent in between vegging out in a Japanese forest, Geller has been living in England ever since.
Along the way, he has accumulated many rich and famous friends, among them the late Michael Jackson (who served as best man at the Jewish wedding ceremony in which Geller and his Israeli-born wife Chana renewed their vows) and John Lennon (who was the person who suggested he travel to Japan to find his spiritual self following a bout of bulimia). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he met 45 years ago, is also someone he counts among his “very close” friends.
A BBC documentary, “The Secret Life of Uri Geller,” alleges that alongside his very public career as a performer and entertainer, the Israeli-born mentalist had been secretly working as a “psychic spy” for both the CIA and the Mossad for three decades. Geller’s special skills, the documentary asserts, were used to assist Israeli forces in two famous missions: the 1976 Entebbe hostage rescue operation and the 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear facility.
Asked to comment on these reports, Geller told Haaretz: ”Everything in that BBC expose is absolutely true. The things I’ve done for Israel I don’t speak about. I never made money out of my secret work, and many projects, tasks and missions I was given will probably stay top secret until the day I die.”
Geller says he has no plans to retire from the entertainment world anytime soon. In fact, he has just signed a major deal for a new show on Dutch television.
“The world is so tiny these days, it’s a global village,” he says. “So really, as far as my work is concerned, it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting on the banks of the River Thames, which I’m doing right now, looking out at the water and seeing a boat pass by, or sitting in old Jaffa next to a computer looking out at the sea. So why not be in the place you love instead of the place you don’t feel at home in?”
Asked if rising anti-Semitism in Europe was a factor in his decision to relocate, Geller said: “It could be something we felt subliminally.”
Like many immigrants and returning Israelis before him, Geller knows the move back will require considerable downsizing. In fact, he and his wife will be transitioning from a spacious nine-bedroom mansion to a small two-bedroom apartment.
“A long time ago I detached myself from material things, so material-wise, I’m not going to be longing for sculptures, decorative things, furniture or the house,” he says, “but obviously, I would say it is a kind of minor trauma, a little earthquake in your life, suddenly moving from a splendid, luxurious residence to a tiny apartment. Still, the energy I get back from the views, from the people, from am yisrael [the nation of Israel] and from Israel itself is definitely a great substitute for what we are leaving behind.”
Geller says he and his wife have not yet decided whether to sell their mansion, modeled on the White House, in the village of Sonning-on-Thames.
The couple has two children – Daniel, who works as a criminal prosecutor in London, and Natalie, who lives in Los Angeles with her Israeli-born husband. Is Geller going to bug them to join their parents back in Israel? “Absolutely,” he responds. “I feel that all the Jewish people should come back to Israel.”