We’re ‘freiers’ and proud of it
JERUSALEM — Having made aliyah from Canada last August, I’m one of the newest Israelis, but this week, I’m also one of the proudest.
When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Knesset Jan. 21, that Canadians will support Israel regardless of any economic or political benefit in return, he said, “This is a very Canadian trait… to do something for no reason other than it is right.” Everybody in the room burst out laughing, but I wasn’t sure why.
Actually, I can understand why the Israelis in the room laughed. Here in Israel, doing something without being assured of a reward is the definition of a freier – a sucker (pronounced “fryer” as in deep-fryer). The freier is constantly mocked here – the pleasant guy who stands nicely in lineups, who lets someone else take the lone taxi, who tips readily, who doesn’t snatch what is rightfully his.
Sounds remarkably Canadian to me.
A series of advertisements for a new Israeli phone company revolves around the line: “Enough of being a freier.” You’ve been paying too much, now it’s time to look out for yourself.
For those Israeli Knesset members, perhaps it was funny to hear Harper offering Canada as a korban (sacrifice, or doormat), helping out Israel and getting nothing in return.
But at that moment, my heart soared. If Canada wants to be the freier among the nations, I’m there. However, that wasn’t when Harper truly won my heart, as a Canadian who is now Israeli, and vice versa.
That came later, when he said, “Israelis have endured attacks and slanders beyond counting and have never known a day of true peace.” I felt a chill: he had me. I thought, “He gets it.”
Harper gets it in a way that Jewish community leaders promised the whole world would get it after 9/11: that the threat of terror anytime, anywhere undermines the quality of life everywhere. There can be no true peace if violence is lurking around the corner. But after 9/11, the world didn’t get it. The world packed up its bags and left the tragedy behind.
Some of us – Harper included – didn’t forget. Not only because we’re haunted by the images of tragedy, but because our dedication is infused with the glow of ancient spiritual meaning: the religious imperative to support Israel.
It’s no coincidence that Harper is an evangelical Christian whose spiritual convictions are perhaps the primary source of his steadfast support of Israel. For me, this parallels my commitment to make aliyah, to live here, to walk those holy four amot (cubits) in the Land of Israel – a mitzvah that’s said to be equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah – every day of my life.
As Rev. David Wells, general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, told me before Harper’s Knesset speech, the steadfast Christian commitment to Israel flows naturally from their belief in God’s everlasting covenant with the Jewish People. Despite occasional controversies over missionary groups’ activities here, North America’s Christians have been among the staunchest supporters of Israel, sending tour groups and missions even during the intifadahs, when Jewish groups were cancelling left, right and centre.
Back in Canada, Harper stands to gain little for his staunch support of Israel, and despite renewed alliances with the Palestinian Authority, he may even lose some allies back at home. But I still believe his support is consistent with Canadians’ image on the global stage – the perennial nice guy. And sure, if you want to put it that way, the freier.
Yet in another way, I’ve noticed since we moved here in August that there is nothing more Israeli than being a freier. I believe that deep down inside (though Israelis may be afraid to face this truth), all Israelis are freiers. Israeli society revolves around a remarkably caring ethic that goes all the way back to the Torah and Tanach. They just sometimes hide it very well: that’s the prickly-pear “sabra” for you.
Israel itself, whenever it’s able, has always been the first to rush out into the world and help others – for example, in Japan after the tsunami or in the Phillipines after the recent typhoon – regardless of any economic or political benefit in return (although building international goodwill can’t hurt).
Canadian Jews and Israelis may shake their heads when they hear that Harper has pledged an additional $66 million in Canadian aid to the Palestinian Authority. Enough of being a freier, they might say. Doesn’t he understand that these are not our eager partners in peace? Yet it was clear from Harper’s speech that his moral expectations cut across the board: he’s calling on Israel’s neighbours to take greater responsibility for the peace process.
Growing up as a Canadian Jew, at all Hebrew school assemblies, as well as synagogue and community events, there were two flags at the front of the room – Canadian and Israeli. Two flags, two national anthems, two loyalties – but never divided loyalties. Israeli values, we were told, were Canadian values.
Arriving in Israel last August, I actually cried, thinking I might never see those flags together again. As much as I love “kacholavan” (blue and white), I missed its red-and-white counterpart.
Witnessing blue and red waving together over the Knesset Jan. 21, against a golden Jerusalem sunset, felt like a homecoming, reinforcing the rightness of our decision to live here, but also confirming that – just as I always thought – there’s no conflict. I can remain happily Israeli, happily Canadian – freier to the world, and fiercely, fiercely proud of it.