Feeling Like a Misfit, This Swede Set Out to Explore the World – and Judaism

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A Christian Swede explains why he was given a Jewish name by an American rabbi; A Jerusalemite explains the link between Jewish psychology and style

Sal-Shlomo.
Tomer Appelbaum

Sal-Shlomo, 33, from Stockholm; arriving from Warsaw

Hello. What brings you to Israel?

I’m traveling around the world. I sold my house and then I took off.

Where have you been so far?

During the past year, I’ve been in Taiwan and Colombia; I have friends here and have always wanted to visit.

What’s your connection to Israel?

I started to teach myself biblical Hebrew a few years ago. I’ve always been interested in ancient languages. I started with Latin and then Hebrew.

Can you pronounce our guttural letter ‘het’?

It’s hard. If you want to know how to do the correct and original het, you have to talk with Arabs or Yemenites, because Ashkenazim don’t pronounce it that way.

You know too much about us. Did you come here because of your interest in Hebrew?

That’s part of the journey. I have a Hebrew name that was given to me by a [female] rabbi.

Cool. Please tell me how that happened.

My background is not Jewish but Christian, but still, I never really fit in. I always had too many questions and was argumentative. I always wanted to get to the source of things. (Laughs)

How did you happen to get to a rabbi?

Five years ago, I attened the local synagogue for a while, and I picked up a basic knowledge of the religion there. It was interesting, but I didn’t “click” with the rabbi. Afterward, on the internet, I found a progressive Jewish congregation, and I started to take an interest in it. It was there I met the American rabbi who gave me the Jewish name. We didn’t actually meet, she gave it to me via correspondence. At that point she knew about the journey and about my process, so she gave me the name Shlomo [Solomon], because I was enchanted by wisdom and by poetic literature.

Why did you want to embark on this journey?

I was an outsider my whole life, starting from my mixed cultural background – I’m of South American origin but I grew up in Sweden – continuing with religion and being an artist. From an early age, I remember moments when I understood that I wouldn’t succeed in being like everyone else. I would look at a friend, say at age 10, and realize that I would need to copy his behavior without understanding it, or else I would stay different. I understood that I would not be able to integrate completely into any one group – I was always “in between.” So, at around age 20 I knew I had to get out: to travel, to explore, both from the inside and the outside. Even so, the journey was delayed for years because of life circumstances, but it was simply inevitable.

Are the view from the side and your mixed cultural background also the sources of your affinity for languages?

Yes. From an early age I was exposed to Spanish, English and Swedish, and when I was 13 we had a linguistics class in school. That has always interested me. My family, as I said, has South American roots, and even though we spoke Swedish at home, I still had that background.

You were exposed to Spanish, but going on to study it was your choice?

Exactly. And that’s not all about languages – at 15, I invented a language of my own. I started to invent it as a secret language, but I was in any event the only one who knew it. (Laughs)

So you wrote the answers to tests in the secret language?

Actually, I never thought of doing that. But school was easy for me.

You probably didn’t think of it because you weren’t an Israeli kid. What sort of jobs have you had?

I taught languages and I was an illustrator, and I’ve started doing professional photography and I’ll soon be able to take money for it. You have to have a portfolio. When people ask me what I “do,” I simply say that I am an artist. Because “world painter-photographer-writer-speaker of languages-mystic-traveler” is too long.

Eliav and Hadas Dikshtein.
Tomer Appelbaum

Eliav Dikshtein, 37, and Hadas Dikshtein, 36, from Jerusalem; flying to Toronto

Hello. Where are you off to?

Hadas: Canada.

Eliav: Yes, we’ll mix a little business and pleasure.

What’s the pleasure and what’s the business?

Eliav: The pleasure is a vacation with my wife; the business is real estate. I’m involved in Canadian and Israeli projects. What’s good is that some of the people involved are Jewish; part of the revenues from their investments go into social projects in Israel – like a soap factory employing people with special needs, which I help manage. Jews, Arabs, everyone works there. It doesn’t matter who you are – you’re hired. Because once they [people with special needs] reach 21, the state has nothing to offer them.

What happens if you only do business?

Eliav: The fusion between the two elements is a guiding principle. If I deal only with money, it doesn’t sit well. I managed something in the U.S. that was purely economic, and something was missing for me. It’s an egotistical need to maintain that balance.

How do you fuse the two?

Eliav: On one hand, there is the financial profit line; on the other, positive social influence. The idea is capitalism with a socialist sensibility – projects with meaning.

Where do you live?

Hadas: In the German Colony in Jerusalem. I’m a religious stylist.

Eliav: It’s important that Jerusalem remains everyone’s, and hard for us that they’re going to close the First Station [recreational center, threatened with closure on Shabbatot]. It doesn’t make sense that everyone can’t live as they wish. That’s also what the Torah says. Free choice is a basic element in Judaism. Jerusalem must be a diversified capital, without negative migration of secular people. It’s getting better, but there’s more to be done.

Hadas: That doesn’t contradict the fact that I’m wild about Tel Aviv.

Hadas, do you also believe, observe the Sabbath?

Hadas: My connection with God is amazing, even without Shabbat. I’ve studied Jewish psychology from the sources, Hasidism, Rabbi Nachman. I underwent a process, and am now introducing it into my work.

How do you describe the connection between Jewish psychology and clothing?

Hadas: Obviously it’s easy to think of it as a superficial world, but it’s a world with tremendous depth: the connection of apparel and psyche, of a woman and what happens to her inside.

Where does Jewish psychology come in?

Hadas: It happens one to one. For example, a mother called about her daughter; she’s 19 and she hadn’t left the house for half a year. When she arrived, I met a gorgeous girl with problems of self-image. The styling process, through the clothes, was actually her inner process.

So, to dress in a way that earns you respect, you must first respect yourself?

Yes. And it’s amazing, the way she blossomed. She not only learned how to dress, but learned the right approach to the body. Sometimes I’m the first to tell a client that she’s beautiful. Some girls have never heard that before.

What’s the connection to Judaism?

Clothing is only the last stage. First is to connect with the body that God created for us, which is not perfect, because no one is perfect. There is a great deal of the lie in appearances. Something may glitter on the outside, but inside there’s a great deal of truth.

Eliav: Balance is as important for Hadas as for me.

And are your children fashionistas?

Hadas: We have three children, and I buy them incredible clothes.

So this is really a family affair?

Hadas: I was born to fashion. My grandmother, Rika, was a fashion designer in the 1950s, and my mother has been a stylist for 35 years. When I was 14, my mother would take me to choose collections, and it was always done with a good Jewish soul and character.

And your daughter?

Hadas: She has no choice. She was born into it, too.