'In Israel You Don't Have the Freedom to Be Obscure'

A young couple talk about the difference between life in Israel and elsewhere; a teacher describes what it's like to teach English through sports.

Anat Brandes and Ahiad Zeckbech.
Tomer Appelbaum

Anat Brandes, 24, from Be’er Sheva, and Ahiad Zeckbech, 27, from the Black Forest in Germany; Ahiad is arriving from Basel, Switzerland

How long has it been since you saw each other last?

Anat: Forty-two days.

How did you meet?

Anat: To tell you from the start?

Ahiad: You’ve tickled Anat’s romantic nerve.

Anat: You tell.

Ahiad: You’ll regret that it’s not your point of view.

Then you start and she’ll continue.

Ahiad: I was doing Vipassana [meditation] on Kibbutz Ein Dor, seven days of silence, and saw Anat. I couldn’t get her out of my head, so I forced one of the assistants at the workshop, a good friend, to give me her number. And I was motorcycling to Mitzpeh Ramon, and Anat lives in Be’er Sheva

Anat: He shows up the first day and he’s gorgeous. I’m trying to do Vipassana, to rise above my instincts, and it wasn’t easy. I often get swept up into a daydream. I see someone and project ideas on him.

Ahiad: For me it wasn’t romantic, I just felt we should do something together. I didn’t know what.

Anat: We spoke very little; it was strange. I told myself it’s all a fantasy ... And then, four days later, I get a call from an unknown number and he says, and I quote, “I know this will sound off the wall, and there’s no way not to make it that way. I’m on the way to Mitzpeh Ramon and I must see you.” And I said, okay. We sat that whole night in Be’er Sheva and talked, and then he told me he was flying to Germany and I told him not to go.

Ahiad: I’ll do a fast-forward: There’s a happy end.

Anat: You’re jumping ahead.

You arrived at a “don’t fly” situation in one night?

Anat: And then he flew and there was a month or so of emails.

Ahiad: She’s good at emails. And we met, of course. Once she even went to my sister’s settlement.

Anat: And then, 42 days ago, I went to him for a week, which is actually 49 days ago.

How was it in Germany?

Anat: Really fun.

Ahiad: I live next to the Black Forest, half an hour from Freiburg, in an isolated valley, in an incredible house. When I saw the ad for that apartment it seemed like something out of Agnon’s story “The Lady and the Peddler.” It’s above the village, there are horses and a river and lots of quiet. Cliffs, forest, snow, sun, rivers, waterfalls, almost everything I need except for people. It’s the house of a sculptor who works with huge tree trunks, and there are erotic wood sculptures around the house.

Sounds amazing. Are there plans to settle there?

Anat: It’s a possibility, to live in a different, beautiful place. But there’s a lot that’s unknown; there are no long-term thoughts.

Ahiad: And even if there were, there’s no one who would live up to them.

Anat: I’ll certainly go to him for a time. He lives in a place that’s hard not to fall in love with. Everything is lovely and convenient.

Ahiad: Anat moved from a stance of “I will never fly” to agreement that we will both fly all the time.

Anat: It’s hard to stand up to Ahiad. He does what he wants.

What do you both do?

Ahiad: I’m a student at the Open University and I’m here for two weeks of exams, which is a lot.

Anat: I am supposedly a student, but I’ve decided to stop studying for the moment, with or without connection to Ahiad.

Then why?

Anat: The whole student scene doesn’t really suit me. In general, the whole social structure in Israel is very achievement-oriented, and lately I’ve been getting tons of questions about, “What are you doing with yourself?” There are places in the world where people live without trying to get somewhere. There’s no rest here from the rat race.

Ahiad: Everyone takes everything to heart in Israel, everything is political. It’s a narrow path. Over there you live more freely, in motion. I will use Anat’s words: “The freedom to be obscure.”

Anat: Someone said to me this week, “Why be zero? I want to be a hundred.”

Ahiad: Zero is a little like a machine.

Eran Raz.
Tomer Appelbaum

Eran Raz, 28, lives at Wingate sports college, near Netanya; flying to Rome

Can I ask you what you’re reading?

“How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie.

Then why do you look so down?

I’m stuck here in the airport. Through my own fault I missed my flight this morning. I’m going to Florence for a conference on tourism entrepreneurship. I made a new reservation.

Network marketing?

Exactly. The best is by word of mouth. I’ve been doing it for a year and four months, and it’s opened up the world for me.

Do you make a living from it?

No. I’m a sports coordinator at Hadassim boarding school for at-risk youth. I’m in my fourth year at Wingate, studying physical education and teaching, and I teach children in the first to the fourth grades sports with arithmetic, or sports with English.

Simultaneously?

It’s called “experiential arithmetic” and “experiential English.” It’s a relatively new concept. I’ve been doing it for two years, with good feedback. Some kids don’t like arithmetic and English, but when it’s combined with physical play they are enthusiastic and learn.

How does it work in practice?

For example, I prepare cards with pictures and divide the children into two rows. They run through hoops or go through stations and answer questions. For example, if there’s a picture of a school, they have to say the word in English, and if they get it right they continue. There’s also a preparatory stage: Words are taught in class and then they practice them outside.

Do you like your job?

I like teaching very much, but education won’t make me rich.

And network marketing will?

I found an opportunity in network marketing of tourism. I’ve traveled a lot, and there are still many places I want to visit. I feel I have to fly during every vacation, for the experience, and I’m a teacher, so there are vacations After you undergo difficulties in life you look for experiences.

What kind of difficulties?

I’m originally from Yeruham [a town in the Negev] and from a huge family – 10 children. My mother, who’s an angel, was a single parent. I remember us at home, crazy kids, fighting with one another but embracing a second later. “Okay, I cracked your head open” – and laughing. We had a great many economic difficulties, and in the seventh grade I left for a boarding school.

Which one?

The agricultural boarding school at Eshel Hanassi [outside Be’er Sheva]. I developed a good foundation for life there. I had good teachers and the students formed a cohesive group. We liked each other and we liked the place. Being a teacher at a boarding school has closed a circle for me.

Does the fact that you yourself went to a boarding school help?

Yes. I share that with my students, so they’ll understand that I’m not against them. But I’m not there just to give them a good time and love: I also set limits. Hadassim is a completely different school from Eshel Hanassi, where there were kids from a good social class. Hadassim is therapeutic, educational and welfare-related, with problematic Israeli and immigrant kids from all over, some with family and some without. And at Hadassim you work and study, maintain the place, take responsibility. Teaching there also developed my self-confidence. 

Did you always want to be a teacher?

No, it came my way and I leaped at the chance. That’s something I’ve learned about life from network marketing: not to be too afraid. For example, I think that in the past, I would have told you I don’t want to be interviewed because of lack of self-confidence, even though I would’ve wanted to. Today I go with the flow. Shyness – are you familiar with that?

Definitely.

I used to be super shy. I was hooked on television, afraid to get on a bus and to have to talk to the driver, too shy to communicate. Today I understand that lack of self-confidence is also a tool.

In what sense?

Because from the fear that I wouldn’t succeed, I’d always understood that no matter what my economic situation might be, I’d look for something that I really liked. I’ve had limitations all my life, but now I have the freedom to choose what I want to do. I also understand that I want to help convey this insight to my siblings.

What insight?

That they are capable of doing whatever they want with their lives.