Departures / Arrivals: 'If I Were Afraid I Wouldn’t Come to Israel in the First Place'

Liat Elkayam
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Jesse Verheij and Marcel Verheij.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam

Jesse Verheij, 14, and Marcel Verheij, 55; live in Almelo, Holland; flying to Amsterdam

Hello, can you tell me, please, what your shirt says?

Marcel: I know – I needed a clean shirt, so I bought one in the Jerusalem market. I looked for something with a Hebrew text and I didn’t want a beer ad. This is what I came up with.

How was your visit here?

Marcel: Calm. We spent three days in Tel Aviv, because of Shabbat and because Jesse wanted to swim, and then we went to Jerusalem. We even hiked in the hills. The first times Jesse was here we ran around between different sites.

How many times have you been?

Marcel: Fifteen; maybe I’ll get to 50 one day.

Jesse: I’ve been here six times, twice last year.

What’s your impression?

Marcel: It’s hard to communicate with Israelis. Sometimes they are very nice initially, but they’re trapped inside their bubble. Obviously, there are exceptions, and it also depends on the general situation. We went to the Old City the day after the woman was stabbed there, and everything was closed. It was weird, because usually it’s so crowded and happy there.

Weren’t you afraid?

Marcel: No. I am fully aware, but if I were afraid I wouldn’t come to Israel in the first place. Two years ago, for example, we had an unpleasant encounter with Palestinians at Lions’ Gate [St. Stephen’s Gate] in the Old City. A group of kids of 14 or 15 jumped on us from above and threw coffee at us. The older Arabs who were sitting there told them to stop.

And you keep coming back?

Marcel: I come because of my faith. I am not a person who likes to lie on the beach. For years I didn’t go on vacation at all, until I realized I need to go somewhere that will have a deep meaning for me. But I didn’t want to go to the Christian seminars in Israel. They spend the whole day in a closed room with an air conditioner, listening to someone talk.

Are you a religious person?

Marcel: I attend the church my friends go to, if I can. In my eyes, to be a good Christian means paying attention to the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. I respect Shabbat, I don’t eat pork. I might perhaps eat kosher meat, if it were possible to buy it in Holland, but Jews there are not allowed to slaughter animals according to kashrut laws.

Because it’s cruel?

Marcel: Also because there is no more patience for the Jewish religion in Holland. There used to be a great deal of freedom for Jews but now it is deteriorating. There is a lot of talk about the Gaza Strip in Holland. There’s no other country that Dutch people are so against. If 3,000 people are killed in Africa, you hardly hear about it. We visited the Temple Mount Institute yesterday. They have illustrations of the future temple, harps, a trumpet and the menorah, of course. They even have a small platform, where sacrifices will be offered. The guide talked about when the next temple will be built.


Marcel: She said it will be built when peace comes, and I laughed.

You don’t believe a third temple will be built?

Marcel: I believe Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins and that he will return to his kingdom. I believe that the temple will be built. Judaism believes that the messiah will build it. Christianity believes that the Antichrist will build it.

I am not well-versed in Scriptures.

Marcel: It is written that the Antichrist will rule in Israel for three and a half years, that he will establish a coalition and dismantle it only to start the war of Gog and Magog.

I thought we were already in the middle of that.

Marcel: The temple will be built, and the real messiah will appear after seven years or less. There will be a war, of course. There are Christians who are getting ready for it even now. Storing food. I find that foolish. The true believers have to understand that everything you receive in life comes from God, that we are dependent on him, so I don’t know how you can prepare for it.

Augusto Ferrario.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Augusto Ferrario, 30, lives in Montreal; arriving from New York

Hello, can I ask where you’re coming from?

Sorry, I don’t speak Hebrew. What did you say?

I was sure you were an Israeli, because of the flip-flops and the tan.

I am a Canadian at the moment, and originally from Argentina. This is my first time in Israel. The flip-flops and the tan are from sailing.

You sail?

I am a sailing coach. I’m here for the Sailing World Championships, which are being held in Haifa. It’s a very important competition, because it determines who will go to the Olympic Games in Rio. We can expect plenty of action. I am the coach of part of the Canadian team.

Which part?

There’s a men’s team and a women’s team from Canada, and I coach the women’s team. They’ve already been in Haifa for a few days. They have to familiarize themselves with the location here.

I suppose you used to sail, too.

I did sail, yes. But after I completed university I decided that I would rather coach. I grew up in Buenos Aires, which is a huge city, and when I decided to become a coach, I actually worked with sailors from other countries. I still compete, but only for fun, and not internationally, and mostly in ocean racing.

What is ocean racing?

You sail long distances in a yacht that’s about 12 meters long and holds seven to nine people who sail in constantly rotating shifts. The event itself can last up to six days – from Argentina to Brazil, for example. It’s just the wind and the sails and the crew. I do it a lot with friends and with my father, who is also a sailor and has his own boat. It’s generally people you know, and it’s lots more fun when there’s a friendly group. Things can be tense while we’re sailing, but when it’s over there’s plenty of drinking and celebration. The tension fades.

What does an international competition like the one in Haifa look like?

These are 470 Class boats, two people in a sailboat about 4.7 meters long. The first day is devoted to registration and to measuring the boats, which arrive in containers. They check to see that no one has a sail that’s too big or a boat that’s too light. There’s an official opening ceremony on the second day, and then the competition starts. There are usually two races a day, 50 minutes each, with a 20-minute break – which is the only time I can be in contact with my crew during the event – then another 50 minutes for the next race. Five days, 10 races, and the boat with the lowest number of points wins. There are about 100 boats from 30 countries here, and three will get an Olympic spot.

Are your trainees good?

Not yet good enough. I’ve been coaching them since they were 15, 16, and now they’re 19, very young. This is actually their first tournament, they are still learning, and they will be up against 30-year-olds with immense experience. My goal is for them to finish in the upper half of the list. That would be a great achievement. At the moment, it’s a matter of climbing up the ladder. I hope they will make a name for themselves at the Olympic Games – not the ones in Rio, the ones after that. But that is exactly my job: to develop the new talents, to advance young people. I’ve been in Canada for five years and I coach the under-19 Canadian youth team.

Do you prefer coaching men or women?

Men and women have different dynamics. I enjoy coaching because of the sailor’s personality, not the gender.

What kind of personality do you like best?

I like them to be self-starters, people that you don’t have to push or ask to come and train. People who come of their own free will.

And when they come, what’s your job?

To help them compete at their true level. To get into the right frame of mind. So they won’t be too edgy. I know what people need, and I always say I wear different masks as a coach. There are people who need me to be very aggressive and others who need me to be calm. Each person needs something different, so I don’t think there’s any one right way to coach. A good coach has to be flexible.