A Former Rodeo Clown Travels to Israel to Learn Krav Maga Straight From the Source

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An American who wants to learn an Israeli martial art in order to disarm assailants, and two Israelis who observed a Jewish community in Canada – including an attempted anti-Semitic attack

Kseniya and Adam Mater.
Tomer Appelbaum

Kseniya Mater, 24, and Adam Mater, 41, live in Indiana; Kseniya is flying to Minsk, Belarus

Hello, can I ask what you did in Israel?

Kseniya: We were in Jerusalem and at the Red Sea, and now I am flying to my family. Adam is staying for two weeks to train in Krav Maga.

Adam: I want to learn from someone who was a soldier – it’s always best to learn at the source.

Why do you want to learn Krav Maga?

Adam: If someone is abusing another person, I don’t want to be a bystander. I train in jiu-jitsu, but it’s a martial art that needs space. Krav Maga also works in crowded areas, and they also teach you how to disarm someone.

It’s not hard to find weapons in America.

Adam: Yes, and now people take out their guns without even waiting. I support the Second Amendment to the Constitution, but weapons aren’t intended for sports and hunting, they’re meant to be used for self-protection should the government go crazy.

Some say that has already happened.

Adam: I actually like Trump. I voted for him and I’d do it again. You don’t have to believe everything you hear on the news. Since Trump, for example, the relations between the U.S. and Russia have improved a great deal. We’re tough and they’re tough, so we get along.

So what do tough guys work in?

Adam: Me? I do landscape design. In the past I worked as a lifeguard and also in the rodeo. I have an adventurous character.

Rodeo is an extreme profession.

Adam: I started as a rider. A rider has to stay on a bull for eight seconds, but I kept getting hurt, because the person who was supposed to protect me didn’t do a good job. I asked if I could protect riders, and that’s how I became a rodeo clown. Rodeo clowns used to entertain the audience.

What do they do now?

Adam: They still dress like clowns, but the main purpose is to protect the rider from the bull.

Is that even possible?

Adam: When the rider falls or jumps off the bull, he doesn’t know which way is up, and at that moment the bull can hurt him. As a rodeo clown, my job is to place myself between the rider and a bull that weighs about a ton – to make the bull chase me.

Terrifying.

Adam: But one of the most beautiful periods of my life.

And the bulls?

Adam: They’re not stupid, and the ones that appear year after year know what’s going on. Maybe that’s why in Spain they would kill them. With time, they understand when you change course and know how to catch you.

Did a bull ever catch you?

Adam: Of course. There wasn’t a show in which I wasn’t trampled, and I broke some bones. But I made $300 a night, $1,000 on weekends. I became addicted to the feeling that I was saving the rider.

Then why did you leave?

Adam: In my 30s. I realized it’s not a lifetime job, not for someone in a relationship.

How did you meet?

Adam: She was a university student and I came to Belarus on a trip. I went back to see her, we became closer and I didn’t want to lose her.

Kseniya: We’ve been together five years and married for two. It was only hard at first, when I moved to the United States.

Is it hard for a Russian to immigrate to America?

Kseniya: Today in Russia everything comes from America – the music, the clothes. Still, my friends thought it was strange that I was going. They kept telling me “Russia is a lot better.” What was hard was that I grew up in a big city and suddenly I was in a rural region, cut off. I didn’t know how to drive and there was no bus.

Adam: She needed my help with transportation. It took time until she learned how to drive.

What do you do?

Kseniya: I’m a baker in an Amish bakery.

Adam: Our city lives from Amish tourism. People come to see how they live. It is understood that money can be made from selling tourists the Amish experience – life without technology. But as soon as you work with them you see that some of them occasionally whip out an iPhone. In their bakery, too, it’s not even an Amish girl who bakes the donuts.

Kseniya: In the end, donuts are donuts.

Tzur Shoham and Odel Arbel.
Tomer Appelbaum

Tzur Shoham, 45, lives in Moshav Beit Hillel, and Odel Arbel Komissar, 44, lives in Kibbutz Malkiya; arriving from Toronto

Hello, can I ask what you did in Canada?

Odel: We were in a city called Edmonton.

Tzur: It’s in Alberta province. It’s the capital of the province and has a population of about a million, but only about 5,000 Jews, which is quite a small number. It’s a small community that is shrinking and mainly aging.

Sounds sad.

Tzur: The same processes are also at work in other Jewish communities in North America.

Odel: We were there once before, and I remember that there were more students in the Jewish school. For example, grades three and four are now combined, because there aren’t enough pupils, and grades seven, eight and nine don’t even exist.

What makes the school Jewish?

Odel: It’s a public school, but there is prayer in the morning, the boys wear a skullcap during the day and learn Hebrew as a second language. These are kids who attend synagogue maybe once a week.

Were you there on vacation or in an official capacity?

Tzur: We went with a delegation of students. Odel went to the primary school and I came as the representative of middle school, with high-school students.

Who organized the delegation?

Tzur: There are councils and authorities in Canada that have ties with local governments in Israel as part of a Jewish Agency program called “Living Bridge.” That region in Canada adopted Upper Galilee. We stayed in homes of members of the community, very generous Jewish families, warm and caring, who want a connection with Israel.

Odel: They always want to hear what’s happening with us in Israel.

I took part in a delegation like that once, and I didn’t understand why.

Tzur: They feel that it’s part of them. They very much want to extend a hand to Israel, for us to be one joint community. That is, for it not to be them on one side of the Atlantic and us on the other side, living parallel lives that don’t converge in any way.

Poetic. And did you succeed in encountering, converging?

Odel: Yes. The moment we arrived we saw how similar we are and discovered that we have many things in common.

Such as?

Odel: We are modern Jews. This was my third time in Edmonton, and always, when I visit the synagogue, I feel that I am part of them.

Tzur: My group spent a lot time with the local young people and with the families that hosted us, and we saw the daily life of the community. That’s exactly why we went: to be in the school, to be involved in the community – for them to see that we exist. For example, we did a ceremony together. We didn’t plan it, it was spontaneous. We taught them Ilai Botner’s song “Shavim,” and all the children appeared in front of the parents in the school and sang it together.

Odel: For the younger children we brought all kinds of activities and games, such as Bingo, Domino, relay racing. There was a kibbutz-like atmosphere in the middle of Canada.

Tzur: It was exciting. Something unplanned happened that sprang from the encounter. They need to make a special effort there to preserve their Jewish identity.

Odel: And the very fact that we came was a reason for them to get together.

Tzur: There are things we take for granted. We don’t have to struggle for our identity, but they have to work for it. At Hanukkah, for example, they don’t have any time off; they attend school as usual.

Odel: But there was an unusual security event while we were there: There was a lockdown at the school.

What happened?

Odel: There was a warning that someone was planning to attack a member of the local Jewish community. All the doors were locked, the lights were turned off and we had to be silent.

Tzur: They are being very careful after the attack in the Pittsburgh synagogue.

Odel: Special forces arrived and in the end someone was arrested: a person who had taken a weapon, gone to a psychologist and told him, “I’m going to kill Jews today.”

Tzur: There’s open anti-Semitism there. We saw swastikas on the walls.

Odel: It’s really scary. We also found ourselves in weather conditions that we’re not actually experienced in. It was minus-20 Celsius and in school you’re allowed to play in the yard until minus 23. To be precise, until minus 23 you have to go out to play in the yard.