'Americans Stress Me Out. You Never Know Who Will Turn Up and What Kind of Rifle They’ll Have'

Shir Reuven
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Rotem Mor and Alon Shoham
Rotem Mor and Alon ShohamCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shir Reuven

Rotem Mor, 28, and Alon Shoham, 29; live in Alon Hagalil, arriving from Vienna

Hi Rotem and Alon, what were you doing in Austria?

Rotem: I was in Croatia, and then in Portugal, Spain, Italy, and then Austria, which is where we came back from. Two months altogether.

Alon: I’m returning after a year and three months. I was in the United States for half a year, then Mexico for half a year, then again in the United States, and then I flew to be with Rotem in Europe.

What’s it like to travel for such a long time?

Rotem: It’s a lot of trusting that things will work out and that we’ll have good adventures and good travels. I’ve been traveling in the world for five years already, and it’s becoming a way of life. There’s no stable ground, the decisions come according to what happens at that moment.

Alon: When you move around outside the country, there’s a feeling of absolute freedom that you don’t really get here in Israel.

Rotem: It’s hard because of the deep roots. There’s family here, friends, opportunities, certain expectations. When you’re in the same place for a long time, sometimes there’s a challenge to express new feelings of yourself with yourself. I experienced things, maybe I think differently, see things differently. But when I come to a place where people have a picture of who they think I am, I automatically enter some sort of framework. When I come to a new place with people I’ve never met, I suddenly express who I am at that moment.

How do you meet people abroad?

Rotem: A smile on your face – that always helps. There are physical signs – it can’t be helped, that’s an initial filter – form of dress, hair, tattoos, body language. When you want to connect with people, it’s easier if you feel you have a common denominator.

Alon: I’d never been abroad for such a long time. There was an option to work in the United States, so I went for it. In California I met people who live in Central America and Mexico and who told me to visit them, and from there things started to happen and flow.

What field did you work in?

Growing marijuana. Taking care of the plants, giving them love, working in hothouses, and then getting it ready for export. It’s amazing and tough, because in the end it’s hard physical labor. It’s terribly hot there in the summer, and sometimes you’re in impossible conditions – mostly these farms are located in amazing buttholes. You’re in nature without anything around, there’s a total disconnect. Part of it is legal, part isn’t, it’s a gray area in California.

Rotem: It drives the economy in California amazingly, especially in the more remote areas. There’s wild movement of money, even if many times it’s not legal. In certain areas there, land is worth 30 times more than it was a decade ago. The government’s approach is that if you don’t overdo it and create a cannabis empire in your backyard, they’ll turn a blind eye.

Weren’t you afraid?

Alon: Not really. It’s like a family’s land in a moshav with a hothouse in the back. There are issues there, but for a small fry like me it’s less dangerous. Not much could happen to me.

Rotem: The Americans stress me out a bit. I’ve hitchhiked in Australia, Europe, even in India and Morocco, but in the U.S. I didn’t dare hold up my hand. Most of the people are nice, but you never know who will turn up and what kind of rifle they’ll have. A friend of a friend in the profession told me that someone in a van stopped next to him and asked if he was looking for work, and then he pulled out a shotgun and said, “Give me all your cash,” because they know that on farms people walk around with cash. There’s something edgy in the American existence.

Where did you meet?

Rotem: We’re childhood friends from Alon Hagalil. I grew up in his house and he grew up in my house.

Alon: I went back there before flying to the U.S., after a few years in Tel Aviv. I’d had it.

Why had you had it in Tel Aviv?

Alon: A city that never stops, in every way. Including the money you spend. There were amazing, beautiful years and it was terrific, but it reached the point of, “Okay, bye.”

Rotem: It’s so fast – you haven’t manage to process what happened, already something else is happening. There are people for whom it’s more appropriate, there are people who need a moment. Alon Hagalil is the base where I can take off the backpack and stretch my back before I put it back on and continue.

Eva Morozovsky.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Eva Morozovsky, 43; lives in Ariel, flying to Armenia

Hi Eva, where are you off to?

I was supposed to fly to Yerevan with Ukraine International, but I was two minutes late and they refused to let me board the flight. It’s unbelievable. I flew with them last April, and I got so messed up that I told myself, “Never, ever again,” and now, of all the possible connections, this was the most logical, so I bought it. I really regret it.

Are you going on vacation?

Yes, after two years with cancer. A vacation from the treatments, from everything that was wrecked in my life during that time, from a crazy period for the whole world. I wanted to rest and disconnect. The cancer was detected in January 2020.

I’m sorry to hear it. You’re relatively young, right?

I’m 43 – not young, certainly not “very.” I’ve done quite a few things in life. I once worked as a medical psychologist in an oncology ward, when I was still in Ukraine. My patients were from 1 1/2 years old, so am I young? What about them? It can happen to anyone. That approach helped me very much to cope. You need to change your thinking. Not to think, I’m special; not, why did it happen to me? It can happen to anyone, and it happened. I don’t have the right for it not to happen specifically to me.

So you helped people in that situation and then you got to be exactly in the same situation. What was that like?

Loss of a sense of confidence, loss of certainty. I thought I knew what it felt like for families, that I would understand what will be in the head of my parents, siblings, children, my ex. It’s less upsetting to lose your ex-wife compared to your wife, but he was actually pretty overwrought. Apparently he really didn’t want to be a single parent.

How did you decide to become a medical psychologist?

I chose the profession at age 16, and generally whoever enters university knows by the age of 22 that he doesn’t want it. I actually happen to have a talent in this matter. In Israel I work as an educational psychologist, because here the licensing policy is different.

My sense is that there is some sort of resistance to psychological treatment among immigrants from the former Soviet Union, especially those who arrived at an older age. Is there a basis for that or is it just a stereotype?

It’s very true. The whole history of the Soviet Union is that it’s impossible to talk sincerely with anyone, because your best friend might write a letter [of complaint] tomorrow and you’ll go to jail and die there. It’s simply impossible to ignore and forget a culture of decades. But there are some who have been here a long time, or are more flexible, or gave it a chance and had a good experience. There is a lot of talk about cultural disparities and the bridging of gaps. What’s hardest to explain is the gaps in regard to norms – what’s prohibited and what’s allowed. In the six years I’ve lived here, I still don’t always understand it.

When, for example?

A therapist I know happened to share an incident. She didn’t understand how it could have happened. I also didn’t understand, but from a different direction. An adolescent girl from a family whose mother tongue is Russian goes to a good school. She lives at one end of the city and all her friends live at the other end. On Yom Kippur eve, they arranged to meet next to the house of [one of] the friends, and certainly she was going to go. She arrived by bus, but when they were done it was already Yom Kippur [and all transportation had stopped], and she walked home – seven kilometers.

Wow.

Why not? If a free person wants to be somewhere, they get up and go. In the perception of the “Israelis,” it’s not right for a girl to walk seven kilometers. When did it become not right? I have no idea.

Last question: Did you always color you hair?

No! That’s the contribution of the cancer, because when it began to grow back, I started to dye it. It became something that wasn’t self-evident, so if it’s there you need to do something with it. I’m still in a period of disease, but I’ll go back to work, God willing, in October, so these are the last days in which I can allow myself not to worry about the feelings of others. If I look too weird at work, the patients won’t get what they can from me. I’ll have to stop with the colors in my hair, but I’m leaving them on the fingernails.

And in October, what color will you dye it?

Ginger, like before. It’s also very bright, but it’s in the yardstick of normal.

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