'I’m Sick of Seeing People Dying'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An ex-soldier who helps people with mental issues explains what he says (and what he would never say) to people with depression

Jack Gracie.
Tomer Appelbaum

Jack Gracie, 29, lives in Edinburgh; arriving from Vienna

Hello, can I ask what your plans are in Israel?

My girlfriend lives in Mazkeret Batya.

She’s Israeli?

Yes. I met her two years ago in Glasgow. She was on a post-army trip and after she got back to Israel I decided that I was in love with her and that I couldn't be without her. I was here for three months, but I couldn’t work, so I went back to Scotland.

What do you do in Scotland?

I work with jobless people, ages 20 to 60, who have psychological issues and need help reentering the workplace. Some haven’t worked for a decade.

Did you have special training?

I did, but I think you learn the most important things from experience. When you work for a while with people, you understand how they think and act ... I worked with convicted sex offenders, who mostly say they are innocent. And with young women who have low self-esteem, who are very particular about their appearance but don’t ask themselves what they want to do in life. I met many young men who are second or third generation to families living on welfare, families where no one ever held a job. And then the kids want to work, and they’re told at home: “Do you think you’re better than us because you have a job?” The family actually pushes them into unemployment. I also work with discharged soldiers – I myself served for three years.

You volunteered for the military?

Yes. I was 20, and I thought, why not? After a year I had already been in the Middle East, in Bahrain, in Germany, Dubai. I was a navigator in the navy, and I miss it.

What part? The guarding shifts? The bad food?

In military service you know who you are and what your goal is, and when you leave, it’s not always that simple. In the army you might be a cog in the machine, but that’s not necessarily bad. First of all, because if the cog breaks it will be fixed – the machine has to go on working, you know. My best friend in the navy, a huge guy, two meters tall, came from a welfare family like the ones I’m working with today. In the military everyone looks after everyone else.

Why did you leave?

I had a girlfriend at the time who told me it was enough. I guess everything revolves around girls in my life. (Laughs) So I left because of her and discovered that we had it a lot better when we were separated by the ocean. Then I studied maritime engineering. It was interesting at first, but I lost the drive. I was lost.

Posttraumatic depression?

I suffered from anxiety and depression, and it took me a long time to understand that I could have a goal, even if it wasn't one imposed on me from outside. That’s why it’s easy for me today to work with discharged soldiers; I know what works on them. We are very good at suppressing feelings.

A widespread problem in Israel.

There was one guy who did everything I asked, but every reply to me was strained. One time I asked, “How are you?” and he said, “I’m fine.” I insisted and said, “No, how are you?” And then he said, “Not good, it looks like I’m going to kill myself today.” I’m sick of seeing people dying. Today, suicide is the No. 1 cause of death among men in Britain.

How did you break out of your depression?

That tall friend of mine from the navy introduced me to meditation. I kept doing it and to my surprise the thoughts in my head went away. Before that, I felt as though my brain was behaving like a kid in a candy store, not knowing which way to go and what to do. Now every morning when I wake up I feel that I’m making a difference in the world.

What do you say to someone who’s depressed?

I’ll tell you what I never say to anyone: “Cheer up.” And also not, “I know how you feel.” Because I don’t know. Pinch two people, one won’t feel a thing and the other will feel terrible pain. I can tell them that I too was in a bad place and that there’s something that helped me. Maybe it won’t help you, but at least you’ll know you tried. And I tell people to tell themselves that everything is all right. Not amazing, not wonderful, but definitely all right.

Daniel Silverstain and Doron Viner Reznik.
Tomer Appelbaum

Daniel Silverstain, 32, lives in New York; and Doron Viner Reznik, 58, lives in Herzliya; flying to Beijing

What are you doing with that sewing thread?

Daniel: I’ve come from a family visit in Montreal and I’m going straight on to Beijing. We’ve hurriedly opened an office here.

Doron: I got up in the morning hysterical about getting to the airport to meet him.

Where are you hurrying to?

Daniel: I’m the new creative director of Keds, and we’re creating a new collection for children.

Doron: I’ve been a designer with Keds for years – for girls.

Daniel: And this is our first season together.

Doron: But I’ve known him for years – he’s so talented.

What will you be doing in Beijing?

Daniel: Looking for fabrics and other materials. China has huge markets for textiles and accessories.

Sounds like a designer’s dream.

Daniel: It is but it’s also tiring. In China you work around the clock and get as much done as possible, because we’re working on several seasons in parallel.

What's more challenging: designing for adults or for children?

Daniel: It might be more challenging to design for children, because your client is not necessarily the buyer. A child as a client has to be comfortable in the clothing for him to want to wear it, but the buyer is the parent or grandparent. So in the design process you have to think simultaneously about a number of clients from different generations.

My daughter doesn’t let me buy her clothes anymore.

Daniel: Because children today know what they want. There isn’t the innocence today about fashion that there once was. The boundaries between the genders and between children and adults are becoming blurred. Girls’ colorfulness is invading boys’ clothes, and vice versa. Children sometimes want to dress like adults, and adults like children.

Doron: We try not to create clothes in a seductive context. We’re more into cool apparel. The children want to be trendy. They start watching television at age 3, and they try to copy their older siblings.

What’s trendy now?

Doron: Neon colors, English slogans. We’re into Passover, so dresses for girls. I’ve dressed generations of them. I don’t think it’s always necessary to do “noisy” clothes. In the end, what sells best is the jeans jacket or jeans overall. And of course, there’s always an emphasis on pinks – girls like pink.

The fondness for pink – nature or nurture?

Doron: Girls like pink and purple, it’s not just a line. I really don’t know where it comes from, maybe from princess movies. On the one hand, society today is more tolerant and accepting of the gender shift that Daniel mentioned. Take decorative studs and glittery fabric: Ten years ago, no man would have worn them. On the other hand, there are people who object to certain colors. It sometimes seems that every subgroup has its own approach to colors. I think that we should let children choose, and also to educate them. But not to tell the girl, “Don’t wear yellow, because that’s a boy’s color,” or because it’s the Maccabi color [referring to the sports team].

Why do children like colorful clothing and adults are into monochrome?

Doron: Maybe to blend into the crowd. I understand the need to wear black – not everyone wants to be noticed, to have a spotlight on him, and that’s what colorful clothes do. Everyone wants to walk around like the Kardashians. Even people who aren’t fashionistas are prey to the hype. Globalization is leading to herd behavior in fashion. As a buyer, you choose to be special like everyone.

Isn’t that a paradox?

Doron: Not really. The idea is to follow the trend but to be special, to give the trend a twist.

Is it important to dress special?

Doron: I used to think that what people wear is terribly important. I judged them by their clothing and appearance. Over the years, I’ve learned to observe “holistically.” Even if someone didn’t comb their hair, I’ll give them carte blanche. If you’re in harmony with what you are, it doesn’t always matter if you’re not dressed to the nines. That’s not connected to the fact that I like fashion so much. At the Reali school in Haifa, where I went, the motto was “Be modest.” I’m happy I’m no longer into that. There’s something good about being able to dress well, to blossom and to celebrate life.