Martin and Jonathan Fletcher

Aviva Lori
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Aviva Lori

Birth:

Martin was born in 1947, in London; Jonathan in 1988, in Nof Yam, on the coast north of Tel Aviv.

Martin, 64, and Jonathan, 23. Credit: Ilya Melnikov

Home:

Martin and Jonathan live in a villa in Herzliya Pituah.

Extended family:

Martin’s wife, Hagar, is a sculptor. His children (besides Jonathan): Guy, 29, was a ballet dancer with the ABT Studio Company in New York and is currently a stand-up comic and improvisational actor in London; and Daniel, 24, is an architecture student in New York. Jonathan’s grandparents, Amnon and Tamar, live in Kiryat Bialik, a Haifa suburb.

Jews don’t haul:

Martin’s parents, Georg and Edith, fled from Vienna in 1939. At 19, Martin was a lowly clerk working at the United Nations offices in Brussels, doing translations and dreaming of a career as a journalist. With a love for travel, he wanted to be a foreign correspondent. “That was my only ambition,” he says, “and I looked for someone who would pay for it.” He started out in VisNews (a Reuters company) as a television news programming writer, and a year and a half later moved to the BBC in a similar capacity. He earned a great salary and his parents were delighted Martin less so. “I grasped that instead of traveling the world I was sitting in an office composing texts. I called VisNews and told them I had become a photographer. In that way, I thought, I would at last be able to start traveling around the world.” VisNews liked the idea of a newsman-cum-photographer, so Martin read books to learn how to take pictures. His first report, dealing with credit cards, was well received. He resigned from the BBC and launched a lengthy career as a photographer. “My mother was appalled,” he recalls. “Why in the world would I want to work at something that involves hauling equipment around? Jews don’t haul things.”

War correspondent:

Martin arrived in Israel in 1973, as a foreign correspondent. In the Yom Kippur War that year he crossed the Suez Canal in Arik Sharon’s jeep, and he fell in love with Hagar. After a few international assignments he returned to Israel as a correspondent for NBC, married Hagar and settled here. Since then, he has covered almost every natural disaster and man-made conflict in Europe, Africa and the Middle East: in Israel, Cyprus, Kosovo, Rwanda, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Cambodia, Congo and other places. A traumatic experience was the death of a good friend when the two of them traversed a mine field in Cyprus in 1974. “When you are a war correspondent, you play by rules that were set long ago. If you lose, you die; and if you win, you are condemned to do it over and over, and see your friends die around you until you die yourself, or resign,” he says. Martin is currently a free-lancer for NBC and devotes the rest of his time to writing. A few months ago, he published his third book and first novel “The List” (St. Martin’s Press), about Jewish refugees in London after the war.

Jonathan’s birth:

“My memory is bad,” Martin says, “but I’m sure it was a happy moment.”

Jonathan in school:

“He’s an autodidact,” his father says. “Whatever he learned on his own, he knows. I don’t think the teachers in the lower grades helped him. They were always talking to us about problems, but no one tried to solve them.”

Summer vacation:

Jonathan started surfing in the summer vacation between the fourth and fifth grades. “I was captivated by the magic of the sea and nothing else interested me, including school,” he says. “I never got along in school.” When he was 14, the whole family went on a two-month surfing holiday in Costa Rica. Coming back was tough. “I couldn’t sit in school, knowing there were fantastic waves in the world, and I didn’t want to force myself to be like everyone else: junior high, high school, army, university. Boring.”

Invitation to Ritalin:

Between the eighth and ninth grades, Jonathan decided he’d had enough. The education system tried to tempt him with a magic cure: ADD and various special dispensations and assistance. “They gave me tests and I answered like a retard,” he says. “They showed me a cow on a card, I said it was a sheep. They recommended that I take Ritalin and I got dispensations, but it made no difference, because I had no intention of studying and never dreamed of taking Ritalin.” His father is amused by the story of the cow. “The whole definition of ADD is problematic,” Martin says, “because whatever he wanted to learn, he did successfully.”

Finding his calling:

In the ninth grade, Jonathan switched to a special school in Ein Hod, where students are helped to find their calling in life. “Within a few months, I reached the conclusion, together with the teachers and with Mom, that my calling was to fly abroad and learn in a different way,” Jonathan says. Martin sharpens the paradox. “In effect, they gave him a license not to go to school, which was contrary to what I had expected from them. Hagar backed him; I said, ‘If it’s hard for you, try harder.’ The turning point for me was when one of the teachers said, ‘He is a sad boy’ because that is the last thing you could say about him. Afterward I went to cover the Athens Olympics, and during that time he left school.”

Waving goodbye:

The first destination was Sri Lanka. Jonathan, not yet 15, went alone to look for waves. He met people, became friendly with surfers, bought a monkey, grew his hair long and was happy. Then came other beaches: Mexico, Indonesia, France, the Maldives, the Bahamas. It was an apprenticeship and maturation that lasted five years, during which he learned Spanish, the guitar and yoga. He is currently attending Tehila College in Kfar Sava and learning acupuncture, Chinese massage and shiatsu; he teaches yoga, does massages, plays the guitar and in the summer works as a lifeguard. When he completes his studies he will hit the road again. He summed up the five-year journey in a travel log, which was also published as a book, “The Never-Ending Wave” (in Hebrew).

Trust, hope and pray:

“It was odd, but we weren’t worried,” Martin says, “except for one time, when his brother contacted the police in Mexico because he hadn’t called for a week. There is also a lot of luck involved. Terrible things can happen anywhere, but we are not people who are afraid, and the bottom line is that we thought it was right for him and we chose to trust him, and to hope and pray. For safety’s sake we gave him a list of instructions for the road don’t drink alcohol and don’t smoke drugs and strangely enough, he followed the instructions.”

Army:

Fast-track exemption. Upon receiving his preliminary call-up order, Jonathan reported, with motivation to join a combat unit. But when he related that he didn’t get along in groups, had left school and was wandering around the world alone with a monkey he bought in Sri Lanka, he was referred to a mental health officer to have his service profile lowered. “She asked me what would happen if I were in a closed place and couldn’t surf,” he recalls. “I said I don’t know what I would do, I would probably go nuts. After two months I received an exemption. Not for psychological reasons, but because there was a surplus of candidates for army service.” Martin doesn’t see that as a problem. “I don’t have the connection with the army that an average Israeli father has,” he says, “and I know that there are a lot more soldiers than the army actually needs.”

Abstaining in the Bahamas:

After concluding his military affairs, Jonathan took a yoga course and did volunteer work for a half a year in an ashram in the Bahamas filled with Israelis who came to sniff their way to nirvana. “I thought that with so many of my friends going to the army, why shouldn’t I give something of myself? I was part of the staff on an island without waves, and one of the rules is that you have to stay away from girls. I was sure I wouldn’t last,” he says, “but I found an old surfboard and a bit of beach with waves, and for the first time I managed to really surf. Doing a lot of meditation and yoga helps. There was only one time when a girl came into my bed at night ...”

The perfect pipeline:

In surfers’ lingo a pipeline is the space that a wave creates before breaking on the shore. It’s the surfers’ drug: to stay inside the pipeline as long as possible and not crash. “In Indonesia I had the best pipeline ever,” Jonathan says. “That’s why we surf. You unite with the world. There’s spirituality in it, your whole body gets a potent current of adrenaline and time stops. It’s like entering paradise and experiencing a few seconds of divine feeling. Just thinking about it gives me goose bumps all over.”

Something never before said:

“A few days ago I said thanks to my dad, for the first time. I wasn’t aware how crazy what I did was.”

Reflections in the mirror:

They are both addicted to extremes; Jonathan to waves three stories high, and Martin, the ostensibly solid gentleman, to wars and disasters.

Nerves:

Martin gets irritated: “He should help more in the house, wash the car, watch his table manners.” Jonathan gets more irritated: “He orders dessert in restaurants. It’s not healthy to finish with a whole Pavlova.” Martin retorts: “Everyone in the house eats healthfully, and whenever I take a bite of chocolate they jump on me.”

I will never be like my father:

Jonathan: “When I was little I said I would not be like everyone else, that I wouldn’t go to high school or university or get a boring job. I thought that anyone who doesn’t know how to surf doesn’t know what true joy is.”

Disappointments:

“I am disappointed that he didn’t go to university,” Martin says.

Fantasies:

“When I was little I wanted to be a soccer player, and was captain of Maccabi London,” Martin says. “But my only true fantasy was to travel the world and have someone else pay for it.” Jonathan says he did not have fantasies, other than one when he was very young: “I was asked what I would want to be when I grow up, and I said a cow. My brothers laughed, but my mother defended me she said the cow is a sacred animal in India. Afterward my fantasy was to be free and happy.”

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