Why This Missionary Was Attacked by a 'Big Russian Jew' in Israel

A missionary explains that to get on God's good side, Israel needs to show 'a lot more love for the Palestinians'; an Israeli educational psychologist talks about her love of foreign supermarkets

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
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Daniel Courny, Jim Thornton and Zephania Mel.
Daniel Courny, Jim Thornton and Zephania Mel.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

From left, Daniel Courny, 33, from Hyderabad, India; Jim Thornton, 64, from Johnson City, Tennessee; and Zephania Mel, 32, from San Diego; flying to the U.S.

Hello, can I ask what you’re reading?

Zephania: “Israel in the Spotlight,” by Charles Lee Feinberg. I’ve just been reading them a passage about the disciple Paul who is ready to go to hell so that the Hebrews will be able to recognize the Messiah.

Jim: You said you’re from Haaretz, right? I love the fact that you published the article about Rabbi Kadouri, where he said he would reveal the name of the messiah. I appreciated it.

Thank you.

Daniel: We love Jewish newspapers. The whole New Testament was written by Jewish journalists who were there at the time, apart from Luke, who was Greek.

Jim: Many people study the New Testament – but the interpretation of it, not the original. I may be an idiot, but God is smart, so we need to study him and not people who could potentially misinterpret him.

Tomer (the photographer): But maybe the New Testament was written by idiots, too.

Daniel: God can make use of idiots, too, but we don’t want to offend anyone.

Are you missionaries?

Daniel: Today I’m spreading the New Testament in the world. I preach the Gospel. The word “gospel” sounds strange, but it means good news that gives people the means to be unselfish.

What did you do before you became a missionary?

Daniel: I served in the U.S. Army. I’m not a hero, I was discharged for medical reasons, but that’s a long story.

Jim: What he’s not telling you is about the time he was injured here in Israel.

Really? What happened?

Jim: He was beaten and lost consciousness for spreading the Gospel.

Daniel: Yes, there’s a video of me on YouTube where you can see one of the run-ins I had here, with a big Russian Jew. He choked me a few times, nice guy.

Sounds like it.

Daniel: In any case, after my military service I didn’t want to go back to the United States, because of the materialism, the hedonism and the decadence. So I moved to India.

What did you do in India?

Daniel: I got there in 2009. I started by building an orphanage, and we also dug three wells. By God’s grace, we fed a great many people with pounds and pounds of rice, and we went into the red-light district of the prostitutes. Many people there were ill with curable diseases but weren’t getting medication. It all has to do with their caste system: They worship cows and dogs.

Why did you go there and not to the Holy Land?

Daniel: I would actually like to immigrate – this is my sixth time here. I love Jews, this is where the prophets came from, and everything came from your forefathers. The Bible says you are blessed above all other people.

Many people here would agree with you.

Daniel: You have a preferential status, but you should know that from those who received a lot, a lot is also demanded. God gave you a great light, but unfortunately Israel sinned against it. Jerusalem was destroyed eight times – Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus, Titus – and I believe that happened because Israel rebelled against God and his authority.

I’m not even convinced that there is a God.

Daniel: We live in a culture of rebellion – people don’t want to be told what to do and don’t want to be preached to. People repress the truth and God’s truth within us. That’s why I was thrown out of India; every day I cry and miss my wife and four children. I hope my wife will be able to enter the United States, that she will be issued a Green Card.

Jim: I’m a professor of the Old Testament. When Moses received the Tablets of the Law there were many blessings and curses. If Israel obeys God there will be blessings, but there have been many curses since then, because Israel did not obey. We love Israel and want to see the blessings realized.

So do we.

Jim: Then you will have to atone for your sins, repent. The Old Testament says to respect the stranger. That’s hard, but it has to be done; you need to have a lot more love for the Palestinians. Behave toward them as you would want them to behave toward you.

Daniel: Think about the Good Samaritan. In those days, he was the Palestinian of this land. The Messiah says to love your neighbor. On the other hand, the homosexual thing here is revolting, it’s very hard for us. 

Itamar Laserson and Ayelet Ishai Laserson.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Ayelet Ishai Laserson, 32, and Itamar Laserson, 35, from Givat Shmuel; arriving from Budapest

Hello, can I ask you: Why Budapest?

Ayelet: For me, it was something of a “roots” trip, because my grandmother is from that region. She fled in World War II, with [the youth movement] Hashomer Hatzair, to Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. She was the only one on kibbutz who had a stove, and there was always an aroma of strudel.

How long did you go for?

Ayelet: Four days; we escaped from the everyday.

What does the everyday include?

Ayelet: We have a sweet daughter of 3, who stayed with Itamar’s parents, and we work.

Doing what?

Itamar: I’m a product owner at a high-tech company called NCR. This means I define for the development teams the functionality the system requires according to the demands of the market and clients. I define what needs to be done.

Ayelet: What he does interests me, because it’s connected with supermarkets, and from my point of view, supermarkets are the preferred place of entertainment, especially abroad.

I like that idea. What was interesting to you? 

Ayelet: There’s a kind of confection there that’s actually a sort of chocolate-covered cottage cheese.

Yummy. And what do you do?

Ayelet: I’m an educational psychologist in the Gezer Regional Council.

Tomer (the photographer): You’re actually Sara Netanyahu!

Ayelet: I really am a child psychologist in the civil service. I work with both the ultra-Orthodox and secular populations, and I really love my job. I was lucky. It’s a regional council, so I drive around a lot. Even the landscape is very beautiful – it looks like Hungary or Poland, quite tranquil.

Why not a clinical psychologist?

Ayelet: I studied clinical psychology as it pertains to treating adults, and am waiting to intern. But there are something like 300 people in line for that. I’ve been waiting since August 2014.

Sounds irritating.

Ayelet: In the meantime I’ve postponed that dream; maybe it will happen later. That’s the gloomy situation of the profession. Don’t study psychology if you want to help people – take social work.

Why is there such a long waiting list?

Ayelet: It’s related to a lot of things, including the reform in the Health Ministry.

It’s the government’s fault? That can’t be.

Ayelet: The Health Ministry created some sort of bottleneck so that after you submit the thesis, there’s a waiting list for anyone who hasn’t started either of the two internships he’s obliged to do; he simply waits. It’s surprising, because there’s a shortage of psychologists in the civil service, but they haven’t revised the number of available internships. And when the HMOs were instructed to pay two-thirds of the intern’s costs, they refused. So another 100 or so positions disappeared. The mental health clinics are the only place where one can get psychological treatment. And when people come in, they’re told that they’ll have to wait for two years. That’s an illogical period for people who need psychological assistance.

Isn’t there a way to bypass or shorten the line?

Ayelet: If, for example, you went to school in Budapest, you can start interning directly, because there’s a Foreign Ministry scholarship. And I will also say, incidentally, that there are private places where one can intern, but there aren’t many, and if you don’t know them,  it’s complicated to get in.

Did you ever think of switching professions?

Ayelet: I also studied filmmaking and made a short film about two women arguing over a baguette in the drugstore on Ibn Gabirol [Street in Tel Aviv]. At the end there’s a kind of Solomon’s judgment over the baguette, in which the seller says, “You take half – and you also take half,” and they get upset at him and hit him with the baguette.

Sounds funny. What happened to it?

Ayelet: It was shelved. I guess I make movies in a parallel universe, but at the moment I’m like a horse with blinders: Psychology is all I see. Even though I sometimes regret choosing that field. I very much like to help people, but there must be less Sisyphean ways to do it.

Was the shopping successful, at least?

Ayelet: The only things I bought were a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle and a giant chicken on wheels.

Itamar: They take up half the weight of the suitcase.

Ayelet: Our child has lots of puzzles, she’s a geek daughter of an educational psychologist.

Do you advocate a few large toys rather than many small ones?

Ayelet: We don’t have many tchochkes. 

Itamar: Especially not the kind of toys that make sounds. A talking book is the worst thing in the world.

Ayelet: Oy, the people who gave them to us might read this.

Itamar: It’s alright, they don’t read Haaretz.

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