Why This Israeli Rightist Wants to Go 'Live With the Bedouin'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: What it's like to serve on an Israeli army counter-terrorism unit ■ The difference between the American and the Israeli Burning Man

Meital Shapiro
Meital Shapiro
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Avraham Fisher.
Avraham Fisher.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Meital Shapiro
Meital Shapiro

Avraham Fisher, 25, from Moshav Beit Gamliel; flying to France

Hello, where are you flying to?

I’m off to do wwoofing: volunteer work on [an organic] farm. You find it mainly in Europe. Lodgings and food can be expensive, but if you work on a farm for only five hours a day, you get a place to stay and meals, and weekends are free.

What will you do during the five hours?

Pick chestnuts.

How did you find out about this?

I heard about it from a friend. I always travel alone. That way you meet the most people, and encounter opportunities. You don’t have any limitations. I was bogged down with work. I have a business that runs food stalls at events. There’s cotton candy, crepes, hot corn.

How did you get into that?

When I was 6, I went with a friend to some happening in the moshav. Someone was selling cotton candy. We told each other that when we were big – 11 or 12 – we’d buy a cotton candy machine and also make money. That didn’t happen. But in the 10th grade, a new kid came along who already had a machine. I told myself that if he could do it, so could I. I took all the money I had and bought a machine, and every year I bought another one, before Independence Day. When I was 18, I began renting them out, I got a VAT exemption before I went into the army, and I kept the business going. When I completed my service in Lotar [a counter-terror unit] about two years ago, I found part of a business that someone was selling on the Yad 2 site for 10,000 shekels [about $2,500], and that was that.

Lotar – in the tunnels?

Yes, in the Gaza tunnels.

What does a day in Lotar look like?

During my period of service, there was activity every few weeks, but you have training every day, and that takes up most of your time. A new squad arrives, you give them three weeks of training, and they leave. I chose that – after I didn’t make it into the submarines – because I had been a group leader in Bnei Akiva [a national-religious youth movement]. I thought I would like the personal connection. But I wouldn’t do it again; it’s grueling to give the same course over and over.

What did your service in the unit do to you as a person?

I can go from zero to 100 pretty fast, without getting stressed out. We learned how to get into a Krav Maga mode straight from being asleep, in clothing that’s suitable for any activity. And on the other hand, I can also chill out from 100 to zero.

Where do you get your adventurism?

I always liked to travel. My first trip abroad was in 12th grade, to Uman, in Ukraine [to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman]. An interesting experience. Flying alone was scary, and I wasn’t even 18. I tried to turn everything into a business. Some people bought a SIM card and sold phone calls at a dollar per call. On Rosh Hashanah, I prayed and then went off to do business. (Laughs)

Were you in India, too?

Yes, and I was really lonely there. These days I don’t feel lonely, though. I hooked up with groups in India – it’s hard traveling alone there. What else? Ahh, half a year after I finished my service, I was an extra in a British movie about Entebbe. I played a fighter in Sayeret Matkal [elite commando unit].

How did they find you?

There’s an association of former members of the unit, and someone in the production had connections to it ... The shoot was in Malta and it was incredibly cool. I ruined the scene where they disembark from the plane. Four vehicles come out of a Hercules aircraft, and I burst out laughing. I downloaded the movie and I’ll have time to see it in France. I don’t watch movies or TV; there’s so much to read, talk about and do.

What else is there to do?

I think a lot about what to do. About what I’ll be up to in five years. I’ll do a master’s course in diving and I’ll be a yoga teacher. I learned Arabic on my own with a book and a CD, and I spent a month in Egypt. Now I want to go to the Bedouin, to live with them, learn about them. I like the culture and the language. I’m right-wing in my views, but people are people.

Daniel Grinberg.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Daniel Grinberg, 29, from Tel Aviv; arriving from New York

Hi, where are you coming from?

All kinds of places. I flew to Burning Man, and then did a road trip from San Diego. California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New York.

Have you been to Burning Man in Israel?

I’ve been a few times in Israel. This wasn’t a completely new experience, but it really was terrific.

Is Burning Man really a hippie thing, but expensive, like people say?

I’m stingy, so I managed to save some money. The entry ticket costs $500, and with all the expenses it can reach $1,000. Some people spend more, let’s say if they come with a trailer. That’s how I got there: I drove a trailer for someone who was afraid to drive, in return for the lift.

And how was it?

It’s a place where you see great openness; it brings out the best in you. You do things there that you wouldn’t do anywhere else. You just feel comfortable in a non-judgmental environment.

How long does it take to shed the everyday and connect with that place inside you?

It takes a lot of time, if it happens at all. They say you shouldn’t come with too many expectations. It’s a life-changing experience, for some people, but I’m generally pretty indifferent.

Can you compare Burning Man abroad and the Israeli version?

You shouldn’t compare. They’re supposed to be based on the same principles, and it also looks the same, but it’s a lot bigger there and they invest huge amounts in the exhibits. Israel is more conservative, it seems. I remember that the first time I went here, the police required that they install cameras. The production people said, “That’s not going to happen,” and in the end they reached a compromise – I don’t remember what it was, exactly. The truth is that I can’t really make a comparison with Burning Man in the United States, because I’m not familiar with the behind-the-scenes there.

What do you do when you’re not in the desert?

I’m a master’s student in computer sciences.

Wow, that’s impressive. What’s your thesis subject?

That’s a sensitive point.

So you went away to think a little.

You saw where I came from now.

How did you choose where to go on the road trip?

I had made a list of places, based on friends’ stories and from movies. After seeing all that nature I wanted a break, so I stopped in Vegas. I parked at a McDonald’s next to some sort of drug den and then wandered along the Strip, which is the main boulevard in the city. The first two days were great, nice, but nothing wild. I felt that I hadn’t had a Vegas experience, so I went to a party with a German woman. That was a pretty crazy night.

Can you give us a taste?

After we left the party, we went to a construction site, where there was a small tractor with a key in the ignition, and we drove it around a little.

How did you know what to do?

I played with the buttons.

Was the woman impressed?

Yes, but she had a boyfriend.

What did you do in New York?

I met a Saudi friend. He knows Hebrew, but keeps it a secret from his family, and that’s how we met. We met on a walking tour in London. We spent two hours talking. Since then we’ve been in touch on the internet. We spent a week together in New York. He’s a really interesting guy, he even sends a postcard to all his friends on their birthdays. That made me feel special, but when I got to his place, I saw a stack of postcards. He’s in high-tech, but he’s torn between life in New York and his family in Saudi Arabia. They want him to marry in a more traditional way.

Maybe in the end we get along with those who most resemble us.

We talked a lot about that in New York. My opinion is that you should live for yourself, and not for your family. But today my friend, in contrast to when he was younger, tends more to try and please his mother.