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Why I am Part of This Country

Mike Altman

Before my wife and I found ourselves in Israel, we were living in South Africa. My wife was pregnant but we felt that we didn't want to bring up our children in South Africa, even though we had a pretty good childhood there ourselves. We landed in Israel on February 16, 1969, and our very interesting journey had begun. Almost fifty years later, we are still trying to explain why we have this feeling of belonging to this country and its society. Why do we think the people of this country are different to any other place in the world?

This morning, one of our sons phoned the house and asked us to record a film for him on YES – VOD "The Last Shaman". Of course, the first thing we did was to watch the film. It is the story of a young man suffering from serious depression. Since his parents were both physicians, he took the conventional Western medical treatment approach and ended up in a mental home, with shock treatments and anti-depression pills, which killed all emotion. James (the young man) was too intelligent and stubborn to believe this was the best path for him, and he had read articles about the Shamans (healers) of Peru, who treat people with natural plants. James decided to travel to Peru to find a Shaman who would help him heal. If after 12 months he did not feel any hope for the future, he would end his life.

Basically a Shaman's belief is similar to that of the practioners of Eastern medicine. You have to clean out the body with physical work and a frugal diet, and to release your mind to help heal yourself by taking natural hallucinogenic concoctions made from plants and flowers found in the Amazon jungle. In Peru, the Shamans say the plants speak to them and teach them how to make use of the plants. All through the film, the underlying message is that each one of us holds the key to open any door we wish to enter. But to live the life we want, we have to decide to open the door ourselves. No one can open the door for us.

After seeing the film, I realized there was definitely a similarity between James and the early modern haluzim (pioneers) as a group, who led communal lives on our kibbutzim. These haluzim were mostly secular citizens, who came from many different countries. Present-day Israelis have told us that their pioneering parents, engineers, tailors, doctors and teachers, rose early to a simple healthy breakfast, with both men and women working all day, doing the same hard physical work side by side, clearing rocks from the fields, preparing the land and running the kibbutz. Slowly their bodies became healthier and harder and they began to look very different from those Jews who came from the ghettos of Europe. They were definitely creating a new type of society. Men and women became equal partners, without the hang-ups of the society from which they had come.

It is said that current American Jews live the dream of those who fled Europe, to make new lives there. They were the only group that definitely didn't want to take their old memories with them to America, as they preferred to make a new world for themselves instead. The same process has happened here. These new Jews of Israel married and bore their children into a healthy, free and classless society, without too much of the cultural niceties they or their parents had left behind. They, like James, sought a new reality, in which they could be free of the shackles of what their parents expected of them, and the anti-Semitism that took away their feeling of self worth.

To me, there is a similarity between James and the haluzim, as in Israel they unknowingly went through the same process that James did in the Peruvian jungle; except here their healing drug was in creating a new homeland for the Jews. They both found a path to become people of self-worth, self-confidence, with a healthy body and mind and the ability to create a new future that would last.

People say that since then, Israeli society has changed and we have become a materialistic society and country. It is true today that you can have a meal at Nafi's in Herzliya and afterwards pop next door and buy an Aston Martin. But are we really only a materialistic country? The haluzim had to solve problems in a unique and original way, to survive with the little they had available. This is what created the model for today's modern Israeli society.

Living in Israel today is living in a society that thinks out of the box. Anybody from the market to the hi-Tech industry (or anyone else) can always give you a different solution to any problem. This is definitely not the case in most other countries where you will get exactly what you ordered. No one will dare to change anything. When an Israeli company gets the designs to build a machine almost everyone will immediately start making changes to improve the product. This spirit is in everything we do and it makes for a very exciting country in which to live. Nothing here stays the same for very long.

This is what makes us want to belong to this country. Our way of life and attitude create a natural process for tikun olam, (fixing up the world) which is a basic Jewish philosophy that believes that we as Jews bear the responsibility not only for ourselves, but for all mankind and for the planet we inhabit. This is exactly what we do today, in making a better world for us all. 



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Monday, 27 March 2023

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