'Life in Amsterdam Is Freer, Unlike the Existential Struggle in Israel'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A therapist who treats children with autism via Zoom, and a globe-trotter who brings water infrastructure to cities that may not have it yet

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Liorah Garber Ezuz
Liorah Garber Ezuz.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Liorah Garber Ezuz, 40; lives in Kibbutz Ma’anit, flying to Frankfurt en route to Amsterdam

Hi Liorah, where are you off to?

The final destination is Amsterdam. My mother lives there, and I’m going to help her, because she broke her leg. She’s originally from there and I also lived there for many years. I speak the language and I studied psychology there. I’ve lived in Israel for 10 years now, and I work in that field.

What brought you back to Israel?

I was there for seven and a half years and felt that life there was very comfortable. I completed my studies and I decided that either I go back now or I stay there, and I wasn’t sure it was the right thing for me to stay and settle there. I also missed my family; my father lives here and I am very attached to him. Today, I wonder whether it was the right choice. There’s something freer, open and enabling about life there, as opposed to the existential struggle here. Life isn’t always simple there, either, but there’s a lot more respect for a person’s freedom, respect for leisure time. Things are calmer there; you don’t have the pressure that you do here.

It’s not too late to go back, no?

True, even though I’m here with children. But sometimes I’m attracted to the idea of moving for a few years. I’ll be there now for three weeks, so I can think it over again.

What’s your specialty in psychology?

I work with children who are on the autism spectrum, and until not long ago I also specialized in mental health. I worked with psychiatric outpatients and in clinics.

What led you to work with autistic children?

When I started working in a kindergarten for autistic children I recoiled, but it also intrigued me a bit, although I didn’t think I’d stay. You need a lot of patience for that kind of work, you need to understand that these are slow processes. The main thing we try to do is to communicate with the children, to reach them through games or by means of their areas of interest, and that takes a great deal of patience. The disorder sounds serious, but in the end it expresses itself differently in each child.

You said that at first you were turned off, so what changed?

I think I understood that it’s not the diagnosis, it’s the child. In the end it’s the children and their charm. That’s the main thing; the terminology is secondary. The headline is frightening, but afterward, when you get to know them, the essence is the child. There’s no boy or girl that doesn’t have their own special charm. Sometimes it takes a little longer to discover it, or more time to see it, but you can find beauty in everyone. It sounds like a cliché, I know.

What drew you to psychology in the first place?

From the time I was very young, I had a feeling that this is what I wanted to do: to help others. But what really drew me in was the idea of working in the public sector; that was my dream and it still is. It’s something I never gave up on, but in Israel it’s quite difficult to make a living in public service. I really do hope that it’s something that will happen. There are very long lines, and I would see in practice how much these frameworks help so many people, people who otherwise would get lost in the system, or don’t have the money to pay for treatment. That’s been my true passion from an early age.

Did you have to switch to Zoom during the coronavirus period?

Yes, things happened that no one could have thought or imagined. On the one hand, it’s quite amazing that it’s possible to do therapy with an adolescent via Zoom, and on the other hand, after a year, you remember the importance of human contact. We therapists were also in something of a quandary. It’s not easy to find time to hold Zoom sessions between the daughter who’s shouting “Mommy” and my husband, who also has to work, and to find myself in the bedroom taking care of another child and not my daughters, who also need me.

It totally takes over the home.

My daughters sometimes overhear and want to know whom I was talking with, and want to hear details about the children. I share about the difficulties in general terms. If my daughters hear a boy or girl crying, I describe in general what is bothering or saddening them. Sometimes I hope that a little also rubs off on them. Some will say that children of psychologists by definition develop a high sensitivity, in both directions – for the Other and for themselves, too.

Is the power of therapy felt via Zoom?

It’s possibly exaggerated to say that there are children who were saved by therapy, but it helped them very much. There’s one teenager whose parents are busy making a living even during the pandemic and he’s alone at home with his siblings almost all the time, and it’s hard for him and he has almost no social ties. It’s just an hour [of therapy] a week, but it’s an hour that allows him to open up to the world, to interact, to connect with himself.

Giora Cameron.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Giora Cameron, 52; lives in Shimshit, in northern Israel, arriving from Frankfurt

Hi Giora, where are you coming from?

In the end, my last flight was from Frankfurt, but before that I was halfway around the world. Before all the lockdowns, I flew to Europe for various reasons, and from there I decided to go to the United States, also for work. They had already closed the borders, I was there for two weeks, and then I saw that there was no way to get back, so I went to Mexico for work, and it was still impossible to return to Israel. I wanted to get nearer to Frankfurt, so I flew to Serbia, and things were still closed, so I decided to travel by car and train to Frankfurt.

How much did you really want to come back, in the end?

By nature I look at the half-full glass, but my wife and daughters and my son, who’s in the army, were here, and of course I wanted to see them. But the moment there’s nothing you can do about the situation – how’s it going to help if I cry and get angry? So most of the time I had a smile on my face.

Was it hard, knowing that you wouldn’t be permitted to enter Israel?

It’s pretty awful knowing that it’s all just politics. I was abroad last August, too, I came back and went into quarantine for two weeks, and it was clear that other people weren’t in quarantine and brought diseases in with them. And back then, the state didn’t do anything. Suddenly, they made a 180-degree pivot – they demanded a coronavirus test both on takeoff and on return – and I have been vaccinated for two months already. I was vaccinated the day after Bibi was. And when you’re vaccinated [twice] and they still don’t let you enter the country, you understand that there’s no logic to it. So there’s this awful feeling, because you understand that the so-called accused from Balfour Street [referring to the prime minister] is doing what he wants in order to serve his own interests.

What do you do that allows you to travel all over?

I work for a company called Bermad, which sells hydraulic control devices. Generally, these are like very large spigots that control water systems; they’re are used by industry, in fire fighting and agriculture. Mekorot, the water company, was a very big client of ours, for example. It’ll sound strange to people who aren’t familiar with it, but these products have been sold all over the world for 60 years.

Does the political situation affect the water industry?

It affects exporters a lot. It’s tough because our costs are in shekels and we sell in dollars. We are being hit very hard [by the exchange rate], and the government isn’t helping us. It’s a lot easier for me to manufacture in Turkey and sell internationally than to manufacture in Israel. It’s very painful, because in the long run employment in Israel will suffer.

What do you do on your working trips?

We have suppliers and subsidiaries all over the world. I am vice president for sales and am responsible for Europe and America. In a normal year, I travel about once a month.

What’s it like to lead a life with no routine?

I like changes, challenges, experiences. Sitting in an office all day is harder for me. We’re involved in very large projects that contribute in many different fields. In Mexico, for example, we’re working on a project that supplies water to cities that didn’t have water until now. There are entire cities where there was water for only an hour a day; thanks to us they now have water 24/7. We bring water to regions of the world where they didn’t have agriculture until now.

How does your family manage with all your traveling?

A few years ago my third daughter was born, so I switched to a different job and didn’t go abroad for five years. Later, I went back to traveling, because that’s what I like, and the family gets used to it. My wife isn’t willing to relocate anywhere else, so she understands that it’s a compromise.

Why not?

I really like change, and she doesn’t. She’s very close to her family, very rooted in Israel. So we found the way to manage. My wife doesn’t like flying at all, so we haven’t gone abroad much.

Tell me, Giora, how tall are you?

I’m 1.99 meters [6 feet 6 inches], without shoes. If I had a shekel for every person who asked me whether I played basketball, I’d be a millionaire.

And did you play basketball?

I played when I was younger. I played until my army service, and then I was in a combat unit. That was the end of my basketball career. Eighteen is the peak age for athletes, and if you stop for three years, it’s very hard to go back and turn professional.

If you hadn’t stopped in the army, would you be playing professionally?

The million-dollar question. I can’t say that I have regrets, because in the army I was in a very special unit. I have friends from there with whom I did 20 years of reserve duty, and we contributed a lot more than others to the state. So there’s always the other side of the coin. I am peace with my choice, I find the good in everything.

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