'In India, People Appreciate Their Relationships More Than Their Careers'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An American expat who considered becoming a Jew before embracing Jesus, a Canadian who helped bring ice hockey to Israel

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Nathan Pearce.
Nathan Pearce.Credit: Meged Gozani

Nathan Pearce, 26, lives in Bangalore, India; flying to New Delhi

Hello, can I ask what you do in India?

I work for a company that imports products from India to the United States. I’ve been living and working there for the past three and a half years. Living in a different culture isn’t always easy, but you get used to it in time. One of the things I like about India, and I’ve noticed that it’s the same here, is that people appreciate their relationships more than their careers. India taught me things.

Hasn’t the pace of life freaked you out?

No, I learned to prioritize. Generally, Americans who go to India freak out because Indians are always late. But there’s a reason for that: They are usually with other people and they give priority to the people they are with at the moment. They really like to be present in the moment.

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Springfield, Missouri, a small city by American standards, half a million people, in the middle of the U.S. It’s a very neutral region, we don’t even have extreme accents, and all that is reflected in other things, too. We’re in the middle on a lot of things, you could even say conservative. I liked being a teenager there. It’s a place that’s big enough to escape your parents and small enough so you’ll always run into someone you know.

Do you think you’ll return to Springfield?

Maybe. Part of me has already seen too many places and things, but I know that the United States is a bubble. I always think it’s good for Americans to travel, especially to places that aren’t First World. It gives you a perspective and shows exactly to what degree we Americans feel a sense of entitlement. I think I also tend easily to find myself in a place of “it’s coming to me” and feeling the security that gives you. But it’s not something I want; on the contrary, I believe that leaving your comfort zone is what makes you expand and grow. When I was in college and interviewing for jobs, I knew that if I stayed in the United States, the chances were that I would soon have a wife and kids – and then the possibility of going to India came up. I felt as though I’d asked how I could learn more about the world, and God gave me the answer.

Are you a believing person?

I grew up in a Christian home and I learned about the Bible, and about Jesus, but when I was in junior high, all I wanted was freedom from my parents. So in high school I really partied, but I wanted more. In college I lived in a frat house, which is like what you see in the movies plus a lot of things you don’t. I was really wild. Then I went to Europe on a student exchange program, and I was even more free from feeling any responsibility there. And my mother, who doesn’t exactly know how much things cost, just gave me more money. I was sort of a maniac and did whatever I wanted – parties, drugs, and I only wanted more.

I have a feeling that an “until” is coming.

I think it was an article I read that encouraged me to think about the criteria by which I should measure my life. Money? Success? Family? There are so many variables. I thought about where my life was going. I know that’s a pretty common way of thinking, at my age, but I thought about my relationship with God, which I didn’t really have at that time, even though I knew one was possible. I knew that I wanted faith to be part of my life, and like many people I thought it was something that would happen afterward, when I’d have time. And then I met a guy who was slightly older than me, whose life was similar to mine. He was in a fraternity, too, and he was cool and spiritual. He really looked like a person who was truly free of sin, drugs, porn, and things that I was a slave to, and all because he trusted in God.

So I started to learn, and even though I’d known the Scriptures as a boy and as a teenager, this was the first time they came to life in my heart. I saw Jesus in all kinds of ways. It sounds strange, and it was strange, and even uncomfortable – but I couldn’t deny the signs. It blew my mind. I felt that I had to make an effort. To do more. Maybe to become a Jew? Or take more part in rituals? There were a lot of laws. But then I understood that that was the thing, that’s exactly what Jesus taught. That it’s impossible under any circumstances to carry it all off perfectly, and certainly not alone. We are only humans, we are meant not to do it all perfectly.

Danny Spudek.
Danny Spudek.Credit: Meged Gozani

Danny Spudek, 48, lives in Zichron Yaakov; arriving from Toronto

Hello, can I ask you what that weird-looking bag is?

It’s a hockey bag. The truth is that at this very moment I was supposed to be in a game in Holon, but my daughter came home from the army and I have a few minutes that I can spend with her, so I passed up the game.

Hockey, accent, coming from Toronto – even without being Sherlock Holmes, I’m guessing you’re a Zionist.

Yes, I made aliyah in 2000. Usually when people ask me why, I reply that I killed someone in Canada and fled here – but that’s a joke, of course! I have four grandparents, they are the only ones in their families who survived the Holocaust. They all got to Canada after the war and met there. I grew up in a religious home, nationalist and Zionist. We came to Israel every year, and after high school I volunteered in the Israel Defense Forces. I was a lone soldier, in the days before smartphones, so I’d talk to my parents like once every six months. I needed lots of phone tokens.

What did you do in the army?

I served in Golani [infantry brigade]. I didn’t know anything about Israel or about the IDF. I was a little Ashkenazi dwarf in Golani. The first two weeks were tough, but very quickly I took up the rifle and showed them what’s what. (Laughs) I was treated pretty well in the army.

And you’ve been in Israel ever since?

I wanted to stay on but had promised my parents that I would return after the army. I’m the eldest, and it was important for them that I should be an example for my brothers and sisters by going to school. So I went to a university in Canada. That’s where I met my wife, and after we were married we decided to make aliyah.

Was the transition hard?

When I moved here there were three things I said I couldn’t live without: Heinz ketchup, which you couldn’t get in Israel at the time, so I brought a little with in my suitcase and they would send me more from Canada; Pringles, when all there was here was Bamba and Bissli; and hockey, of course. When I got here, there was hardly anywhere to play.

The first rink in Israel was the Canada Center, in Metula.

And I went all the way there to check out what was happening and looked for people to play with. I spoke with pretty much every Canadian who had immigrated to Israel since 1975, and managed to organize a game every Thursday evening. That was 18 years ago. Now our hockey group has 150 people, we play three times a week and there’s also a rink in Holon.

I don’t even know the rules.

It’s a little like basketball. Two on defense, three on offense, but also a goalie. I think it’s a sport that’s appropriate for Israelis: It’s fast and aggressive, you’re allowed to push, you’re allowed to get into a fight. When I’m on the ice, I feel like I’m in Canada, and when I leave the rink I start to perspire and remember where I live.

Who are the group members?

There’s a range of ages, including two who are 70, friends of my father. A lot of Canadians and Americans, a few Russians, a few Israelis who grew up in Bat Yam in the 1990s, because there was a rink there. Once in a while people come from abroad to see the holy sites and play with us. That’s my small contribution – I think it’s a good way to show people the country.

You’re the Tal Brody [the iconic American-Israeli basketball player] of ice hockey.

Not really. There are a few leagues today, and ice hockey is a recognized Olympic sport in Israel, but actually we are amateurs who get together and play for fun. After the game we go out together, have a beer and eat shawarma. We even organized a team that went to Athens for an international championship of alter kockers [old-timers]. It was amazing, we finished first, we even beat Germany 2-1 in the finals. I thought they would kill us.

Revenge is sweet.

Yes, and the most amazing thing is that five guys who play with me went to high school with me in Canada. We grew up on the same street. Someone once checked and found that of the 800 families in our synagogue, B’nai Torah, in Toronto, in the 1980s, at least one person from each family made aliyah. I have a brother and sisters here and now our parents are coming. I always joke that we made aliyah to get away, and in the end they followed me.

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