Departures Arrivals: Tarzan's Message to Palestinian Youth

For a 'creative community' that works with Palestinian kids, a trip to Greece reaffirms the power of optimism; Brazilian Protestants walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

From left, Yoav Ziv, 24; Asi Fishman, 25; Matan Caspi, 25; Lea Yefet, 25; all living in Jerusalem, and arriving from Heraklion, Crete.
Tomer Appelbaum

From left, Yoav Ziv, 24; Asi Fishman, 25; Matan Caspi, 25; Lea Yefet, 25; all living in Jerusalem, and arriving from Heraklion, Crete.

Matan: We have a story about Crete. Where to start?

From the beginning.

Yoav: It was the most spontaneous trip ever: We decided on Friday and flew on Sunday.

Lea: The idea was to get to the festival.

Yoav: But don’t say which festival, so people won’t go.

Matan: It’s in a special place, an enchanted forest. And as soon as we arrive, two forest fairies meet Yoav and allow us to sleep there.

Lea: It’s a music festival.

Asi: With oud and lyre and lute, and Oriental stringed instruments. In the hills of Crete. All the locals come to hear this music, which isn’t catchy or mainstream: Some 1,000-2,000 people go, and there are monthly workshops. It’s an atmosphere that reminds us of Israel; we couldn’t even tell who was Israeli and who wasn’t.

Matan: Our whole group met there. We made music with musicians from all over the world. We ate souvlaki and drank raki.

How do you know each other?

Asi: We’re childhood friends.

Lea: Yoav and I studied education, sustainability, art and educational activism together.

Matan: We’re all part of a creative community in the Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem – 25 people doing creative work.

Wait, you promised a story about Crete.

Matan: After a few days at the festival we went to a beach at Heraklion, yesterday, and found a hut there.

Yoav: In the middle of chaos, with Club Med over here and a hotel over there ...

Matan: We were almost asleep, when someone shouted at us, “Get up! Get up!” It was some old dervish who lives there, an aging beach boy. He said his name was Tarzan.

Yoav: A type of trickster, a village fool. He’s lived there for years, from before the hotels got to Heraklion. 

Matan: It was like some kind of hallucination, this crazy hippie, but everything was calculated. He lit us a bonfire on the beach and was a fantastic host. He wanted us to be in synch with nature.

Yoav: The night before, we’d slept at a fancy inn and it wasn’t fun.

Matan: The beach guy has no running water and no toilet.

Lea: Before we left, he gave us beautiful stones from the beach and filled our pockets. In the evening, at the fire, because I was the only girl, he gave me a branch of palm fronds to light and said, “You are the queen of the fair.”

Yoav: A guy with nothing comes and lets us sleep in his bed! He almost cried when he heard that we work with Palestinian children. He said we are all people with one heart and one nation.

What do you do with the children?

Yoav: We work with the Variety Club. I teach an acrobatics group and Yoav leads a drama group. It’s a day camp for children from all places: religious, secular, Arabs, Ethiopians, kids with emotional issues and with parents who are not involved ... The youngest was a kid named Menachem Mendel, who’s 5, and the oldest was Hassan, who’s 15. I swear we brought peace. This year the staff made it their goal to connect the children.

How? What do they do in the camp? 

Matan: We made up a story for the campers. We told them: A chalice from the time of King Solomon was found in an archaeological dig by some Prof. Gletzenreich. There are unique markings on the cup, and the president organized a children’s delegation and sent us in a plane to figure out what the markings mean. So we pretend to be traveling across the world. In every place there’s a local person who has a piece of the information we need, and also talks about important traits – like courage, happiness, inner tranquility ...

Yoav: The Tarzan on the beach was amazing. He told us that he never leaves the hut, that people from all over the world come to him. He was actually the embodiment of what we wrote for the Variety children in our story: With an open heart and a broad smile, you can conquer the world, obtain the potion and fill the chalice – which is us.

Leandro Riveiro, 32, and Priscilla Riveiro, 34, live in Sao Paulo, and flying there.
Tomer Appelbaum

Leandro Riveiro, 32, and Priscilla Riveiro, 34, live in Sao Paulo, and flying there

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Israel?

Leandro: We are Protestants, and for the past two years we attended a weekly seminar in which we studied the Old Testament and the New Testament. When you read the Bible you can understand and imagine many things, but at this seminar we also learned about the context: the history of Israel, the geography, the culture during the biblical period. We learned where this book was written, why it was written and who wrote it. For a year we looked for an opportunity to come here and pray, and suddenly it appeared in a phone call: $300 for a ticket.

From Brazil to Israel? That’s all?

Leandro: There were cheap tickets because of the Olympics – it’s usually $1,000. The thing is that we had to wait nine hours in Toronto, so we went to an airport gym and showered and had a massage. We spent the whole day at the airport. And after 10 hours there and a 10-hour flight we got hassled with the passports here.

It’s not personal.

Leandro: All the Brazilians were taken aside. Someone asked us if we had a bomb. After that someone else took us to another room and each of us was called in for an individual interview. The driver who was waiting for us sent me a text message: “What happened?” Finally we got an entry visa, but without the passports being stamped. They told us it’s so we can enter Arab countries with the passport if we want.

Were you uptight?

Leandro: It wasn’t something we expected but it was okay. Just like the fact that there are people with rifles on the buses here. We don’t have that in Brazil. There are soldiers there but without weapons, and here you also have people in civilian clothes with weapons. In Brazil we only have that in Rio de Janeiro. (Laughs)

How was your visit here?

Leandro: We had 10 wonderful days. It’s incredible that this is where it all happened: Jerusalem, Masada and Capernaum, where Jesus performed many miracles.

Priscilla: When we got here, we couldn’t believe how close the sites are to each other. The Mount of Olives, where Jesus prayed, is so close to the city that you could just imagine him crossing the valley on the way there.

Leandro: We also prayed at the Western Wall. There’s a very different vibe there, the modern city, the way it blends in with the old.

Priscilla: You walk among art and galleries, and after two steps you’re in the market with the spices. Besides that, I’m an architect, and I was interested to see the differences between the old Arab quarter and the Jewish Quarter – the different periods of the buildings, the mixture of styles. You have something from 2,000 years ago and then something 600 years old, and then a structure being built now. All with the same stone. I also work with a company that sells ceramic tiles. We have a line called “Jerusalem,” so it was interesting to see that there really are mosaics and stones here that were the inspiration for our catalog of products.

Leandro: We became very sentimental when we saw the sites. I posted a bunch of photos on Instagram with the relevant biblical quotes.

I’m envious that you were both so thrilled.

Leandro: It’s all a matter of faith. We are true believers in Jesus, we said in our hearts that we wanted to come here and feel the vibe, to be close to our Master.

Priscilla: When you are in love with someone you want to know everything about him. That’s why we came: We are in love with Jesus. It’s also an opportunity to bring back to Brazil the feeling that it really happened, it’s not a legend.

Leandro: It’s important to believe in something greater than yourself, something that is not you. I think that many people today are occupied with self-belief: I will work, I will get this, I will have that. But no matter who you are, if you have faith your life will improve. I believe that every person is born with a hole and that people look for ways to fill it – with alcohol, drugs or work. But only faith can do that.