This Israeli American Acted as Therapist to Arafat's Bodyguard in Germany

Arrivals / Departures: Reuven Goldberg worked at a center for torture survivors in Berlin when he was assigned the case of one the late Palestinian leader's bodyguards: 'It was a very exceptional encounter'; Julien Scholl, a French circus artist, explores conflict through performance.

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Reuven Goldberg and Nava Winkler.
Reuven Goldberg and Nava Winkler.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Reuven Goldberg, 34, and Nava Winkler, 27; live in Jerusalem; Reuven arriving from New York

Hello, can I ask where you’re coming from?

I visited family in Columbus, Ohio, and then spent a week in New York with friends.

So you live in Israel?

I immigrated here almost a year ago. My mother is American and my father is Russian, and they met in Israel. We moved to the U.S. when I was 5. Now I have the status of “returning minor.”

How did you get from Columbus to Israel?

I went to college in Boston, then studied for a year in Venezuela. From there I went to Berlin for two years on a German government scholarship for relatives of Holocaust survivors. My grandmother survived, but her family perished.

What did you study in Berlin?

I got an M.A. in psychology and I worked in a center for people who survived torture.

Where did they undergo torture?

They were from Turkey, the Balkans, Angola, Iran, Serbia. People seeking political asylum in Germany.

What did they undergo?

Many things , I worked with a Palestinian who requested asylum in Germany; he was one Yasser Arafat’s bodyguards in Force 17. That was interesting.

Did you get along?

It was a very exceptional encounter. Not only the therapeutic session, but conducting an intimate conversation with a person like that. I’d never interacted with a Palestinian. At the personal level, I found him to be a nice, caring guy. At the political level, we couldn’t have been more different. I have right-wing views. 

Did you find it confusing?

I know who I am and what my identity is. When the sessions started, I only observed. A therapist from Ethiopia led the treatment, and there was an interpreter from Arabic, the guy himself and me. But after a few sessions, I actually led the therapy. The chief therapist thought that might be beneficial.

For whom?

For both of us.

And was it?

In the therapy, the Palestinian said things that were factually incorrect. But therapy isn’t a history lesson, so I didn’t get into it. I had a certain image of who and what a person like that could be, but meeting him was very different. He has a son in Lebanon, whom he hadn’t seen for a long time, and before Germany he tried Denmark. He only wanted to survive, to plant roots somewhere. Roots are important there.

In what way?

I was very involved in the horticultural therapy at the center. They have a garden where patients plant vegetables and other crops for eating. It’s a valuable activity for people without roots. We tended the garden and picked the vegetables and everyone cooked his own food and we ate and drank coffee together. The food was amazing. Above all, it was a powerful experience, hearing stories from them and being with them in a “lighter” atmosphere than that in regular therapy. Just chilling.

And from Germany you went to Israel?

No. I went to New York and studied graphic design at Parsons.

A bit a of a sharp switch.

I felt I needed to do something with my hands. I was really into my head and wasn’t creating anything. I lived in New York for nine years and that was enough. New York is a good place to live for a time and then move on. The people are weird. To get stuck there forever is to be different from them. So I came to Israel.

And here, are you a designer or a psychologist?

I went to a yeshiva for a while, connected with my heritage, and now I’m working for an educational startup called Wisdom Tribe. They make a learning kit for personal development. Online courses.

Are you happy you came back?

I feel great. I have no desire to wander, this is my home. I feel like a link in a special living chain of 2,000 years. There’s nothing like it in the whole history of the world, and I am part of it. It’s pretty awesome.

Clementine Lavagne and Julien Scholl.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Clementine Lavagne, 26, lives in Marseille; and Julien Scholl, 41, lives in “I don’t know”; flying to Paris

What do you mean “don’t know”?

Julien: I have a trailer in Perpignan, my stuff is in Limoges, my address at the moment is Paris and I am going to live in Marseille with Clementine. I’ve been traveling around the world for two years.

Clementine: I did a lot of traveling, too, because I’m a circus artist, but now I am moving to Marseille and starting studies there to become a psychometrist.

What’s a psychometrist? Never mind, I’ll google it. Why did you want to switch professions?

Clementine: I’ve been in the circus since I was 8 years old. That was my dream, to be a circus professional, and I went all the way with it, but it didn’t make me happy the way I thought it would.

What’s missing?

Clementine: I miss learning new things.

Julien: She’s totally intellectual. The change she’s making is really impressive. And I am learning so much from her. But it was actually thanks to the circus that we met.

When did you meet?

Clementine: We first met nine years ago. I started to intern in a circus group that he was in. But I left after two years, and 18 months ago, we met again by chance.

What did you do in Israel?

Julien: I came to appear in a street theater festival in Bat Yam. I do a show with a friend that combines theater, dance and acrobatics. We use theater and movement to explain emotions.

What’s the show about?

Julien: It’s called “Ensemble,” and it’s about a couple that lives together.

A man and a woman?

Julien: A universal couple. It could be a man and a woman, or two male friends or even two enemies. It’s about what happens to two people who are in the same place together. The show is about hatred, love, being in control, surrendering, cooperating. I think the show can be appropriate and interesting for your situation here.

It sure sounds like it.

Julien: We try to examine what happens when one person sets rules and the other accepts them, or not. I think that’s the problem with every relationship – you can accept or refuse. We are male performers, but we experience all types of reactions, including those that stem from our own feminine side. There’s a feeling of a sensual battle.

Men usually like to define everything as a battle.

Julien: Two people can’t control a situation simultaneously. I think there are two possibilities. The first is that one is dominant and the other submissive, and then the battle ends; and the second is to find a balance. It takes a long time to find a balance and there’s a question as to whether it’s even possible. In the show, we let the audience reach its own conclusion.

Is it possible in life?

Julien: I don’t have a clear answer. Balance exists with my stage partner, we don’t fight.

And with Clementine?

Julien: Ah, we do fight. (They laugh)

Clementine: We are still looking for balance.

Julien: It’s hard for me to be in a relationship, because I’m afraid to suffer.

No one wants to suffer.

Clementine: It’s scary to delve completely into something. I’m afraid, too, but I have a kamikaze nature: If I get into something, it’s all the way. But the lifestyle of circus artists is something I’m choosing to change now – it’s hard to find balance there.


Clementine: Sometimes you get home after a tour, and because you’re not there much you don’t build anything else. You feel like a stranger in your own house. It gets tiring after a time. It’s hard to settle down, it’s hard to create something with someone else if you’re not in equilibrium with yourself. 

What did you do in the circus?

Clementine: Cloud swinging, it’s a kind of tightrope thing.

Sounds frightening.

Clementine: You have to surpass your fears.

How do you do that?

Clementine: Practice. Doing, doing, doing and doing again. Each time you do a little more.

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