From Freedom to Independence
Moments after I became an Australian Citizen, I started to have regrets.
A hundred of us new and excited citizens were the pre-game entertainment at the Australia Day soccer match between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC.
Ceremony officials ushered us towards the pitch as tens of thousands of impatient fans could not care any less about our special day. We were meant to line up in the middle of the pitch and sing the anthem, but after looking around me, and hearing shirtless fans letting me know I should go back to my country, I didn’t feel like singing.
A short while before, I announced, in front of an Aboriginal Flag, a Picture of the Queen of England and some politicians, that “I pledge my loyalty to Australia and Its people…”
I had little triangle sandwiches and received a little Wattle plant from the leader of the Greens. My partner was there, but none of my family could take the long flight from Israel.
I felt like I was doing something meaningful. Being born in a country, there’s not much one can do about the status of citizenship. But choosing to become one, meant to me that I made a conscious choice, I see my future here, and I care enough about the people to share civic responsibilities with.
I felt an urge to approach one of the shirtless fans and explain that he is a bit late with calling me to go back to my country, because my country is here as of thirty minutes ago, and had I known him then, I’d added a disclaimer to my pledge for the people of Australia and include the words “except the dickheads”. I wanted to explain to him that he is attending a soccer match – a sport that is actually called football in most of the world and was imported to this country by immigrants.
It’s been six years since that day and I’m still here, contemplating what is there to be proud of? am I free? Am I independent? And what about all those other people who are born here and still struggle with identity questions, self-determination and being treated fairly and equally?
In the following passages, I contemplate about the difference between being free and being independent and what kind of society do I want to live in.
In my journey, from Freedom to Independence I mused on travelling through Desire, Competition, Power, Recognition, Adequacy, Vulnerability, Compromise and Knowledge.
When I was five, my curiosity got the better of me.
I wanted to check what happens when a metal paper clip is inserted into both sides of the electricity plug on the wall.
Luckily, RCD was invented so other than a little spark and a total blackout in the apartment, I remained alive. The pain came from my dad’s slap when he discovered what I had done.
What followed was a heated argument between my parents. The shouting continued for a long hour and in the end my mum hugged me and with tearful eyes explained that what I’ve done was very dangerous and that my dad loves me and will never hit me again. She told me that he did this to teach me a lesson, and he was wrong to do so as everyone makes mistakes.
I learned that my unlimited freedom can have unfortunate consequences. By exercising It without restraint, I can put myself and others at risk. Freedom comes with a heavy burden – when one is completely free, one has responsibility only for oneself but at a cost of being unprotected and vulnerable to natures’ whim.
A free person needs to look after themselves, and in civil society, we give up some freedoms in order to enjoy the protection of the community around us. We conform to standards and rules which may be inconvenient, but they keep us alive.
After the gulf war, we all moved to a new apartment in a different city. I had my own bedroom at the end of the corridor with a lockable door and I barely heard how my parent’s relationship was disintegrating. Two years after my electrical experiment, my dad left. My sister and I stayed with my mum in the new apartment. I loved my new school and the friends that came with it, so I wasn’t too worried about not seeing my dad much. He was barely at home anyway and when he came back from work, I was often already asleep. My parents promised us that we are still a family and the fact that mum and dad don’t get along doesn’t mean dad doesn’t like us. It just means that when we get to see him, it’ll be our quality time with him, and we are lucky to be blessed with double the birthdays, double the holidays and double the fun.
I took all this at face value, and even though we were last in the priority list for my dad in the first ten years after the divorce, I enjoyed the little time I spent with him. He tried to restart his life by blowing all his money on new hobbies and attempted to re-establish his status as a successful man. He had a small taste of material success when my parents were still together, and the family business was going well and now he was trying to make it on his own. He felt young and free again.
In his new life he shaved his silly moustache and fully accepted his baldness by shaving his head too. He’d often shave before seeing us and was proud of his smooth head. He picked up cigarettes too, a new car and rented a small apartment on the beach with his new girlfriend who was into windsurfing, snowboarding and all the cool stuff.
I was looking forward to the times with him, to ride in his new car, to swim in the swimming pool he had access to in the apartment complex, and I kept my hopes up when he called last minute with an excuse of why he can’t come and pick us up when he was meant to.
When he ran out of money after a few years, his girlfriend left him. He was devastated and sunk into a depression which he still talks about today as a turning point in his life.
My dad’s uncontrollable desire to be ‘free’ didn’t come without consequences. He chased luxury, status and neglected his responsibilities. By doing so he lost the trust and respect of his children.
I learned not to expect much of him but accepted that he had chosen a different path.
My dad was a basketball player in his youth. Sporting an afro haircut and a silly moustache, he played for the local team. He had skills and passion for the game which he tried to pass on to me with some success. I loved playing but I wasn’t very competitive. I enjoyed practicing and playing for fun. More than playing, I grew up at a prime of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Intoxicated by the high adrenaline of the NBA, I used to wake up in the middle of the night to watch the games live and scream at the television, waking up my mum.
Michael Jordan was the pinnacle of individual success, coming from tough background, hungry for success he had a style and athletic ability second to none. I dreamed of being like him and when the gambling stories started to surface the magic somewhat faded as I realised that the success and the limelight come with a price tag.
Basketball is a team sport, but the emphasis is on wining and not on trying the best you can, at least when it comes to the top levels. For every high-ranking NBA player, there are thousands of worthy, dedicated players who never make it and chase a televised fantasy about a success only a lucky few get to enjoy.
Before being consumed by the dream of becoming a basketball player, I discovered something more interesting than bouncing a ball.
It was music.
My cousin Ziv was my cool cousin. He was older than me, always in fashion, had a band and gave me his old nylon string guitar as a gift when I was twelve.
Other than seeing my mum dance with joy sometimes to songs on the radio, I didn’t think much about music but when the guitar arrived, I was suddenly curious and began experimenting with the instrument.
In music, there are no winners and losers. It is an essential activity which contributed to the evolution of humans. Through music, humans learned to communicate, corporate, share ideas, demonstrate love, compassion, friendship and pass on knowledge.
Music provided me with everything sport had to offer but without the disappointment.
It required patience and concentration to learn the guitar so I could get into music class in high school, it required me to learn how to listen.
It required determination, persistence and above all, team effort and collaboration. During the high school years my room became a music sanctuary. There were no losers, only winners as friends gathered on a daily basis to play together, experiment with musical ideas, encourage and push each other to the limits of our cognitive and physical abilities.
My mum was a bit reluctant initially when I told her I want to study music in high school but she would testify today that the joy she received from having my friends around all singing and dancing, brightening up her days with youthful joy and dreams expressed without limit (at least until she wanted to get some much needed sleep…) was all worth it.
My mum loves music. She looks happiest when she dances. She looks liberated, free from the hardships of work, the criticisms she often faced about the way she educated us, the despair a single mother can experience from dealing with bureaucracy, trying to get the very best for her children. Trying to be seen as equal, to hold back the tears and reject pity, stand proud as a human and not let the criticism get to her.
Mistakes, in music are not failures, they are necessary steps in the practice of forming a coherent voice in a group setting. The competition is meaningless as the winners are those who have the most fun and, in that sense, we were all winners.
Physical activity is still a huge part of my life in the form of rock climbing, cycling, running and walking in nature. But I learned that power, true power lies in playing together as a team, understanding how to define the destination, but acknowledging that it is only of secondary importance to the quality of the journey.
Music is a source of power.
Power is important for feeling in control in an otherwise chaotic world.
I only have faint memories of my grandmother Ines, who died when I was four years old, but I can imagine her from my mother’s vivid stories of Jaffa in 1970. A staunch but independent woman from Turkey, with a husky voice from chain smoking on the carpet of the apartment, looking after three girls while her husband, my grandpa Miko, was working on building his wholesale food business.
In stark contrast to my grandpa, she was always in control, enforcing the law and order in the house with violent tendencies. When my mum misbehaved, she would throw shoes at her and smack her with the ‘sapatos’, the almighty hard sole slippers popular at the time. She would get her mother’s old sisters to perform bizarre exorcism ceremonies on my mum when things were going really badly, in an attempt to whip her into shape. My mum tells me of a wild and happy childhood in the streets of Jaffa. My grandpa was a known merchant who made friends with everyone in the mixed Muslim and Jewish neighbourhood. He had an unmistakable joyous laughter, and nothing seemed to faze him. He treated everyone equally and loved my grandmother to bits. He never raised his voice or arms at anyone. I think that the things he went through during the second world war in the forests of Bulgaria, and the fact he became a free man in Israel, made him just love life, and always remain kind, understanding and generous, particularly in times of conflict.
Together, my grandparents raised three excellent women. It was important to both of them that my mother and her sister would become decent people. They didn’t chase money or fame and used their relative power over three naughty girls to teach them the importance of kindness to others, honesty and being thankful for what they had.
My grandma Ines died from smoking, not from her violent temper, but sometimes I think that her chain smoking was related to stress and the fact she couldn’t control her kids. She was always worried about my grandpa and her kids and the ongoing worry caused a lot of stress. It took my grandpa years to overcome the grief of her premature death. His business was successful enough at the time of her passing that he decided to pass it on to my uncle and my dad to manage. I was a big warehouse on a small side street in Jaffa. I loved going there to breath the smell of the huge woven sacks of grains, nuts and legumes, large tin cans of olives and pickles everywhere and pallets of flour ready for dispatch.
Years after my grandpa died, everyone in the neighbourhood still has fond memories of Bulgarian Miko and his wild daughters helping him out. With all the political turmoil and violence in Israel, I always had a sense that in these streets of Jaffa, at least when my grandpa was around, there was always peace. My grandpa saw people as people, regardless of their religion or gender. He was delivering basic food; something that everyone needed equally. He did it with fairness and his power came from simple reason. One of the lessons he taught my mum when she was learning to drive was to never get upset at a bus on the road because the bus moves multiple people who need to get to work and give you the services you need. So by letting the bus go first, everyone is ending up in a better place – you get to relax and enjoy the road while the others, multiple people, who are in public transport and doing it harder than you get to be at work on time, provide the services more efficiently, and as a result there’s generally less waiting around and when you get there, you don’t need to line up. Everyone wins.
Using this simple reasoning has been a guide to using power responsibly and sharing it. We are all using the road, we are all in the journey together, and the way I’m using my power on the road can have a positive effect on everyone. If we learn to share the road and not just get upset, we will harvest the fruits of our patience.
The power of my grandparents was in that balance between them. My grandmother set the strict lines in the sand and enforced the rules when she felt like my mum was hurting other people, and my grandfather showed her the value of using her power for good.
My mum, as a single parent, embarked on the impossible task of trying to embody the spirits of Miko and Ines with very little help. She kept us going throughout the years after my dad left. She worked several jobs and made sure there was always food on the table. I’d see her cry often, when my sister and I were fighting or when I did naughty things like throwing glass play marbles from my window on the fifth floor at parked cars to see if they crack the windshields. She was speechless when the neighbours came up to complain.
Sometimes she threatened that she’d hit me but never did. Her patience, generosity and resilience were tested again and again and again but she never broke.
I was mostly oblivious to it, but it was difficult for her all the way until my sister and I finished high school with reasonable success and continued to do our mandatory military service.
Along the way my mum reinvented herself and completed studying accounting, reflexology and hairstyling, all in an effort to make sure we have no less than any other student in our school and there’s always food on the table.
She said she didn’t want us to feel like we come from a broken family, and be disadvantaged, so she competed for resources at a huge cost for her wellbeing in a race to meet my childish greed – as the more I had, the more I wanted. It wasn’t enough to have the latest computer. The following year, a new model was released…
The delicate balance of power and navigating competition are vehicles for another human endeavour:
We seek power to obtain recognition of our desires and achievements , and increase our self-esteem when we are fearful of losing our sense of freedom.
When she was fifteen, my mum stood starry eyed on the lines of the basketball court, looking at my dad with admiration, cheering him on at the top of her lungs. My dad was 1.73m of pure passion and determination amongst giants, with precision, nimbleness and a jump that was the envy of all. His silly afro might have slowed him down a little, but it gave him the right look on the court and he captured my mums’ attention. Playing the senior league at a young age, he would travel by bus alone to practice and games. His parents would never drive him or come to watch the games like the parents of other players. He played like his life depended on his ability to prove he was worthy. But having no support from his parents eventually caused him to give up. He won my mum over and that was all that mattered to him. The love for my mum and the prospect of starting a family replaced the love for basketball.
The middle of three brothers, my dad struggled to compete for the love and attention of his parents. His dad, my grandpa Joseph, ‘Yosko’, was a bitter man. On the surface, he was projecting an image of an intelligent person. He liked travel, reading, classical music and playing chess. He was opinionated and kept informed about politics.
He liked his grandkids and when I came to visit, he enjoyed teaching me chess. I remember that he gave me a cassette tape with a recording of the Nutcracker and Peter and the Wolf when I was seven. It was the first ‘serious’ music I was exposed to. I don’t know if he actually liked all of these things or if the association with ‘high’ culture gave him a sense of belonging to a class he wanted to belong to but was never able to. Sometimes I thought that the seriousness in which he lived his life was some kind of self-torture. Outside of his own pleasures, there was not much regard to the people around him. He was very demanding of his children and especially of his wife, my grandma Matilda. She was working just as hard as he did on top of doing all the housework and preparing all the food while he would sit on the couch and read the newspaper. My grandpa was openly abusive to her in his language in a way that made me very uncomfortable. On weekend dinners, it was a usual occurrence to see him senselessly yelling at her for anything and everything that he didn’t like. From the temperature of the rice, to the choice of salad dressing. It seemed like everything she did was wrong and for some reason, she never fought back, she took his insults and projected it on herself, apologising and trying to please him.
One Friday evening, before my parents separated, we were all at my grandparents for dinner. My grandpa did his usual thing and said something humiliating to my grandma. For the first time, my dad had enough – he slammed his fist hard against the table and announced to my grandpa that if he ever hears him speak like that to my grandma again, he would never see him or his grandkids ever again. His intentions was good, but the tactic less so. There was some improvement following the incident and my grandpa became a little more reserved from then on, but it quickly went back to normal after a while and instead of just my grandpa yelling, everyone started to yell. I remember dinners where all three brothers were yelling at each other in an attempt to stop the yelling. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad. It was sort of a demonstration of how not to use power and how anger and violent mannerism just perpetuates the same behaviour.
I loved my grandma’s food, she managed to infuse flavour to the otherwise blend Bulgarian cuisine with things like chocolate coated chicken and green peas, amazing salads and various pies and cakes.
I feared the Friday dinners and hoped that we would just get to enjoy the food but the yelling and arguing escalated regularly.
On rare occasions, when my grandpa wasn’t home or was busy listening to music or reading, it was just me and my grandma – a magical time. I used to love following her around the kitchen and discovering the secrets of her cooking. Whether I was helpful or not, she always rewarded me with little treats to make me feel special – I loved the ‘Troncho’ which is the heart of the lettuce. There’s only one for every salad and she used to clean it up after using all the leaves for the salad, salt it and give it to me as a special crunchy treat. Removing the heart of the apple with the seeds using a special rounded tool and giving it to me also made me feel like she loved me.
Grandma Matilda’s life seemed to circle around pleasing. There was an expectation it was her role to feed and care for the household and despite her tireless efforts to meet the needs of grandpa’s dictatorship, she relentlessly complied with loyalty and without ever being recognised or acknowledged for her efforts.
It is difficult to admit that there was a sigh of relief when grandpa died after a long struggle with dementia. After a period of grief, grandma seemed liberated from the oppression and abuse she suffered for decades. She was a little lost at first, but as time went by her light shined and her joy filled the empty house. Out of the three brothers, my dad was the closest to her and looked after her needs as her old age prevented her from doing certain things.
My dad helped her move to a good age-care home where some of her friends lived and there, she started a new life. Surrounded by friends and staff, feeling cared for and recognised for the first time in her life after persevering and surviving lifelong abuse.
My grandma is in her eighties now with some medical conditions, but a mind as sharp as a razor. We sometimes speak over the phone and she apologises profusely if she misses a word or doesn’t understand what I’m saying. She is still blaming herself for her deteriorating hearing but I insist – “It is us the young people who need to learn how to speak clearly and slowly so everyone can understand. Please don’t blame yourself. You are amazing. You are more than adequate; you are the best grandma in the world”. Her laughter melts my heart. I regret that such a beautiful sounding laughter was allowed to be muted for all those years.
In my teenage years my dad thought he is in a better position to educate me by giving me work at his new café business he opened with the help of his dad. He was post-bankruptcy at that stage, and no one would give him credit. This natural juice bar and café was part of a franchise he managed to score from a rich friend of his. It was located in a new shopping mall in the city of Holon, not a glamorous part of the country by any stretch of the imagination.
I liked working there and my dad saw it as an exchange of services. He “gave” me a job. He often used the opportunity to try and give me tips for life. But trying to educate a 16-year-old rascal often had abysmal outcomes. I used every opportunity to let him know that my mum had already educated me, and I didn’t need advice from a bankrupt sandwich maker, and if he wanted to fire me, he was more than welcomed. He never did. I did a good job considering my raging hormones and other life interests at the time.
As music and social life took a prominent spot in my life, I paid very little attention to studying. In year eleven, my achievement reached a new low and my parents were summoned to discuss the prospects of my next and final year in high school with the principal. I was told that unless I took some tests during the summer holidays and my results deemed appropriate, I may not be accepted to attend the final year in high school. It was one of those serious chats, and both of my parents attended.
After receiving the news, my dad took me outside and told me that no one can force me to study, He first and foremost wanted me to learn how to be a decent human. Something he believed school doesn’t necessarily teach. He said that it is ultimately my decision if I wanted to make the effort and finish high school. He said that he thinks I was a smart kid and if I decided to continue not caring and failing in high school, I might encounter problems in the future, but, as long as he had the business, he promised me that I would always have a place to work.
It was sobering to hear my dad say it, and to be told by the principal that I might drop out scared me – I hated the idea of not being with my friends at school, missing music classes and learning subjects I enjoyed. I loved civics and history and found literature of interest. I enjoyed trying to use the English language, understand it better and I had ok results in all of those subjects.
Other than the music classes there was lots at stake. I was in a combined music and drama class and attending some classes was sometimes like a fun circus I didn’t want to miss out on. I also didn’t want to end up making sandwiches to grumpy old mall-zombies in the suburbs for the rest of my life. (Although when I consider this today, and after reading the Hitchhiker Guides’ to the Galaxy, I don’t think that making sandwiches is such a terrible occupation; it’s the attitude that matters)
If there’s anything I learned from my dad, I learned it from his relationships with his costumers. He could talk to everyone with basic respect and at eye level and he knew how to listen to people. I resented him for many things, but it was apparent that he had the ability to form trust with people.
He had costumers from all walks of life (not just mall zombies) and people that accidentally stumbled upon him proceeded to come back regularly over the years whenever they were in town just for a chat. The coffee was secondary.
The way he openly spoke about his experience with depression was eye opening. He had a regular costumer, an older woman who came by many times. She was always smiling, politely having her cappuccino with a cheesecake. One day she looked a bit sad and confessed to my dad about some serious life problems and suicidal tendencies. He came from behind the counter and sat with her for half an hour and they talked.
The following day she came back and gave him a rose and told him he saved her life.
There were many other types of people, from young professionals, to successful doctors, lawyers to borderline hooligan soccer fans and the uneducated, suburban mall-zombies mentioned before.
Although I had some work for an events company, the café was an opportunity for me to engage with people outside of school in a different way, learning the meaning of hospitality.
When people come to eat and drink at your place, (and they also pay you for it) different people have very different expectations from something that is very essential in life – food and drink – not just the taste of it – the way it’s made, the way you talk about it, the temperature in the mall, how they relate you, who won the game last night, who got elected, is it clean, etc, etc.
My dad regained some sense of being adequate when he experienced positive reactions from his costumers and how they loved coming back for him – to be listened to, to be cared for, and to learn from his experience. He wasn’t ashamed of his failures and vulnerability; he saw it as a way of connecting with people.
Even the most powerful and successful want to be loved. No achievement is purely individual. No success would have been possible without the right conditions and without recognition.
While I saw grandma Matilda being oppressed by grandpa Yosko regularly, I never thought about the oppression of women in a systematic way through the lens of patriarchy, because I never saw the difference between genders. I never thought I have more power than a woman. Maybe because my mum functioned as both parents, and throughout my years of growing up, with two women in the house, it never occurred to me that a woman is different to a man.
A woman would have the exact same status. As my mum taught me, I should be polite and kind to people. Just like I had to ask for consent from a male friend to play with his toys or to come to his house to play video games, so it worked for the other gender. There was never a sense of entitlement over another person. No matter how much I felt I wanted something from someone else, it was clear that I must respect their wishes if they didn’t want to play with me.
Eventually, I was overcome by the fear of not making it to the final year in high school and becoming a sandwich maker and I made an effort to open the books and study. I scored high on the summer exams and made it to the final year of high school, and it was well worth it.
I fell in love with Keren in my final year of high school. Against all odds, she noticed me and liked me too. The circumstances of our love affair were unusual because Keren was two years older than me. She was during her final year of mandatory military service and visited my class weekly as a representative from the army giving classes about what we can expect from the service and what pathways are available. We were a challenging class for her but a fun one, a group of smart-ass drama students and pacifists, weed smoking musicians (most of us).
I remember Keren as a powerful woman. She has been through traumatic experiences in her life that gave her strong convictions, values and opinions. She expressed herself beautifully, poetically, even when she spoke.
She was also very committed to her service and was proud of her work, while I had a more canister view about the army. We had countless debates about the benefits of military service, and she exposed me to a side of it I didn’t previously thought about. My school was one of many she visited, and in private, she told me stories of kids from notoriously rough neighbourhoods, plagued with drugs and abuse, desperate kids with lack of basic care and access to education. The army provided an opportunity for them to have a different future, to learn a trade, to experience meaningful friendships and relationships, to feel respected, recognised and adequate for the first time in their lives.
Those amongst them who succeeded in completing their service without committing suicide or suffering debilitating traumatic disorders from watching their friend’s brain blow up in front of their eyes, proceeded to lead an independent life, find a job and integrate in civil society. In fact, most of the political and business leadership in Israel comprises of ex-career military service people, which makes somewhat of a tragic reality.
I was still not convinced that the army was the right thing to do, but Keren was instrumental in giving me a different perspective to consider and as she shared her most vulnerable self with me, she inspired me to do the same, and I began to think more seriously about how to approach the inevitable contribution to my country.
The clock was ticking, and I was months away from my official draft date when the deck was shuffled, and my path changed in milliseconds on one Thursday night when a drunk driver crossed a red light and smashed into the side of my car. The driver pulled over for a second and then kept on going, leaving me unconscious and alone in the middle of the intersection.
I suffered minor injuries to my head and back, but the most significant change came from experiencing what I knew in theory about the fleeting nature of life and how much I wanted to keep on living. The trauma and nightmares stayed with me for a while and it took me years to get back behind the wheel.
My electrical experiment at the age of five didn’t do it, but on that night, the notion of how vulnerable I was, how fragile everything is, finally sunk in. I made the decision that while contributing to my country is important, I will never agree to play with technology that is expertly designed and manufactured specifically kill people – I was determined to go through my service without carrying a weapon.
But in the army, there is an expectation to be tough. If you are weak, you are no good.
If you show vulnerability, you are unsuitable, unusable.
If you threaten to hurt yourself, you are damaging the property of the army and might find yourself in military prison.
At the age of eighteen I felt extremely vulnerable and scared of having my freedom taken away from me or having the power of taking someone else’s life. I wore my vulnerabilities proudly and it helped steer me away from being given a gun and sent to shoot some people I had never met.
“Fifty percent of freedom of speech is saying whatever the fuck you want to say, the other fifty percent is listening to shit you don’t want to hear”.
Going to the army was the biggest compromise I made in my life to date. And I am still conflicted about whether it was the right thing to do. I felt the idea was against my values and that it contradicted how a functional democracy was meant to work. I felt that there are other ways people can contribute to their country without needing to endure wearing uniforms and playing Rambo with actual guns.
I don’t dismiss threats to the safety of the citizens, but I thought that a temporary law from 1949 for mandatory military service was less relevant in 2003. The law was enacted when a state of emergency was declared in 1949 after the declaration of independence by a temporary government. Back then there was a full scale, multi nation with tanks and shit. Now, it seemed that the effort was mostly steered towards keeping control of a large population who cry for their self-determination and struggle with things I took for granted.
With the way I grew up, in middle class suburban Tel Aviv, I thought that still calling it a state of emergency was a bit of a stretch, but there are others who will disagree.
Despite refusing to carry weapon and rejecting to participate in acts of violence against people I’ve never met (and unfortunately know very little about their culture), I still contributed to a system that amongst keeping my family safe, oppressed and sometimes senselessly murdered innocent people.
I was proud of learning and enduring the very surreal experience of wearing uniform and ‘fighting’ (with my computer) for something I didn’t really understand.
I think I was proud of the compromise I did make for the sake of the idea of democracy, I believed that democratic systems had something to do with getting me to a point in life where I was free enough to question this, I had roads I could drive on, hospitals that looked after me when I was sick, and a school to nurture my curiosity.
I was persuaded that I needed to give something back…Even though that something could have been cleaning a hospital, or building a road, or teaching music, those options were not available as uniforms and guns seemed to be in high demand…
But I did learn some lessons and skills that helped in unexpected ways and I didn’t shoot anyone or had to use violence at all. I did however piss a lot of people off as the person who was responsible for planning the human resources for the rotational duties hated by every soldier. Things like patrols, kitchens duties and other chores as required, things that were unrelated to what the soldiers were actually doing in the army. I was responsible for a large group of about three thousand people including all the officers and career servicemen.
My job was to maintain a fair system inside an unfair system with the final schedules and allocations accessible and transparent including the calculations. This was while maintaining the privacy of the details of the people I was allocating. If someone had some exemption for any reason, part of my job was to know about it and verify the validity of the exception. I was exposed to medical and mental assessments and worked closely with the unit’s doctor and psychiatrist, information about personal life circumstances of people was available to me and I had people coming to my office to tell me their life story and offer me money to drop them off the lists.
There was a lot of scrutiny and a lot of eyes on me just waiting to catch me making a mistake. Transparency of processes, discretion and good manners were essential for the job. I formed strong relationships and through learning a little something from my dad, was able to form trust by being honest (and good) with how I performed.
Although I sometimes felt powerful and successful when recognised for doing a good job, there was not a single day in which I didn’t ask myself why I’m forced to wear those uniforms and why I agreed to give up my freedom.
When I probed too much and retaliated, someone more senior than me always felt the need to highlight that if it wasn’t for people sacrificing their freedoms, there could have been no independence.
There was a cruel saying in the army – the unwritten rules – for a ‘successful’ military service – One had to tick three boxes; 1. Fuck an officer 2. Be in prison 3. Kill an Arab.
I ticked the first two boxes, never ever thinking that it was ok to kill anyone for any reason, but unfortunately, there were some who considered it patriotic and this type of language trivialised consent, incarceration and worst of all, murder.
The short prison stint was for smoking Marijuana, to take the edge off while listening to music at the privacy of my home. Instead of giving me a medal for ‘peace keeping’ which is the way the Israeli Defence Force wants to be perceived in the world, they put me in prison. Go figure.
Once I finished 36 very long months in the army, I was committed to make up for what I considered to be my stolen youthful years. The positive side was that I was not in a hurry to have more sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, the high school years provided me with plenty of that. I was focused and deliberate. I wanted to create, I wanted to learn, I wanted to do things with sound, music and technology.
“We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free”(From the Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan quoting Epictetus)
After I finished the army, I felt freer than ever before, I wanted to progress with my music-making exploration and find a job in a studio. I had confidence and I felt unstoppable. I read numerous technical books in English about sound and acoustics and continued to borrow books from my cool cousin Ziv who was doing his university studies in philosophy. I was on the path to not just improve my knowledge of the Hebrew language, but to follow through on my fascination with the English-speaking world. After all, a huge portion of the culture I consumed was created in English – songs, movies and translated books.
I wanted to see things from that foreign perspective, and I was working towards higher education in an English-speaking country.
“The system is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain” is a phrase people said to me in the army.
Without adequate access to education for all, organisations like the military are left to do the work. The purpose of the military is to focus on defence. My main point when I was having debates with Keren about mandatory conscription was, that it is not the role of the military to save those poor kids she encountered in the crime infested neighbourhood she visited. Schools and social services should be doing it before any law enforcement or military organisation enters the picture. Receiving education from the army without prior tools to be able to question it, leaves young minds exposed to accepting the teaching of the army as an absolute truth. In organisations concerned with defence and law enforcement there is necessary heavy censorship and restrictions on access to information, and the focus is less on encouraging curiosity and more on fulfilling a specific objective.
Education systems without transparency and access to the full story, embody a danger of being used to manufacture tools for a political game or violent war. What they should strive for instead, is to nurture free-thinking people who can form their own opinions.
Growing up as a Jewish male in Israel meant having little choice over participation in some questionable religious ceremonies and traditions; there is a strange cultural practice of having eight day old babies foreskin removed by a religious practitioner who in addition to chopping penises, also marries people, inspects kitchens and teaches the bible. This is a procedure which I believe is better suited for a medical partitioner if the parents are so inclined. Although I am not as angry about the robbery of my foreskin as much as I was furious and confused about being threatened by a rabbi of being burnt in eternal hellfire if I won’t dedicate my life to studying the bible during the preparations to my bar-mitzva at the age of thirteen. Although I was lucky to encounter teachers in high school who inspired me to look beyond these things and question religion, I continued to be frustrated in high school when only selected bits of history were presented to me and I could only observe the long and bloodied conflict in Israel through a government approved and heavily one sided, vetod version of history. In high school, and after having experienced the bar-mitzva Rabbi, I didn’t even bother to show up to bible studies and passed the final exam with just enough marks.
While religion can offer powerful and meaningful social connections in the form of family bonding over song and food, prayer, some interesting moral observations and emotional support, it possess the similar threats militant censorships – brainwashing of unlucky and unsuspecting young participants with little choice who are lacking the tools to scrutinise the information fed to them as if it was an undisputed truth of nature.
I suspect that a more transparent and accessible education may perhaps reduce ignorance and lead to greater independence and freedom from violent and religious oppression.
At the age of twenty-three, I finally left the sanctuary of my private bedroom and the protection of my mother’s loving embrace for a journey into an unknown. All I knew about Australia was from watching the national geographic channel and filling some forms.
Coming to Australia and becoming a citizen was a begging of a new journey. My citizenship became official in a somewhat strange ceremonial tradition where a picture of the queen was presented alongside an aboriginal flag, at a soccer stadium, on a day called Australia day – a day where demonstrators protesting against the notion of the day were marching past my window, outnumbering by far the number of attendees in the official government ceremony which was also staged just outside my window.
During my citizenship ceremony I said that “I pledge my loyalty to Australia, and its people who’s democratic beliefs I share, rights and liberties I respect and laws I will uphold and obey”.
There are many things that make Australia a great place to live. After twelve years of being here, I feel a little more comfortable to call it home and fully practice my adult independence. One of the things that are great about this place compared to where I grew up in, is the clearer sense of secularism and separation of religious institutions from democratic and civic institutions.
However, despite being largely ignorant of the history of this country, my life here so far involved an ongoing effort to try and understand how this social diversity and cultural richness was made possible. Along the way I have met diverse and amazing people who inspired me to learn more about what has been forgotten along the way of getting Australia to where it is today, what needs to be improved and what lessons were learnt from passed mistakes and struggles.
“Independence is a very, very, very complicated version of freedom”.
My journey from unrestricted childish freedom to a more responsible adult independence formed my belief system and values which I have summarised in this incomplete article.
It is incomplete because the journey is not yet over but I tried to explain to myself what happened and what I think is needed for our society to do a little better, as I believe that humans in Israel are made from the same material humans in Australia and everywhere else are made of, as we all share similar challenges, hopes and dreams.
To be independent requires understanding and recognition of other people’s needs, hopes and desires, and the knowledge that the freedom we experience has limitations.
It requires using power responsibly, to suppress violent competition which takes advantage of those who cannot fend for themselves.
It cries for compromise and acceptance of human vulnerability through the generosity of sharing, transparency and compassion.
If we acknowledge we are all equal in the eyes of the creator, mother nature, our systems and processes must be transparent, and those in the positions of power can be accountable and take responsibility so that people of all identities, persuasions and abilities have a fair chance to participate and exercise their right for self-determination.
To uphold my democratic duty and commitment, to practice and take pleasure in the privileges given to me as an Australian, I must therefore endeavour to listen to the stories of the land, peruse knowledge regarding the history of this place, it’s people, their struggles, and aspire to be a worthy companion for the people I meet on the roads of a shared journey from wild freedom to sustainable independence.
Being graced with the love and care of excellent women in my life growing up in Israel and meeting some inspirational women in Australia, I discovered a struggle I’m only beginning to understand. A film I hope to learn from and see on my screens this October tells the story of this movement: