HER STORY #74 - shoshi
My name is Shoshi Nerson. Nerson is my name from home, and Norman is the name of the man that I married, and my children’s name. Shoshi is a nickname. My full name is Shoshana.
We were four children at home, and we all got names based on someone who had passed away. I’m named after my mother’s mother. One of my brothers got the name of my father’s father. Another brother of mine got the name of my mother's father and the name of my mother’s sister was given to my sister.
It wasn’t always easy to walk around with such a name, not only because it isn’t a modern name, but also because it’s loaded with meaning. That’s the reason why my mother gave me the nickname “Shoshi” and not Shoshana – for it to be less heavy.
I grew up in a national-religious home. I was a member of the youth movement Bnei Akiva, but from a young age I felt that I didn’t really believe in what my whole environment believed in – in how God created us and how we need to do good deeds [from religious duty] to be better people.
Also, the strategy of the religious education that I received was also always to point at the people who weren’t religious in order to tell us: “There you go. Look, there is someone who isn’t religious and he has more problems in the family.” It was a sort of strategy to make us happy to be part of the religious community and for the community to survive.
In addition to this I saw certain things from a young age. I saw people who didn’t behave as they should within their community, while at the same time, I also saw very good people from other communities. I was a girl, who observed and who didn’t accept the things as they were, or how they were described.
Then when I joined the army I understood that I wasn’t completely religious. It wasn’t clear what kind of family/home I would build, until I met Gilad [husband], and we agreed that we would establish a kosher home and a home based on Jewish traditions, so we would fast on Yom Kippur and we would do “Kiddush” [blessing recited on Shabbat], but we don’t live according to the belief that the God of the Jews make us do certain things.
At the age of approximately 25 years I married Gilad, and at the age of 28 I gave birth to Itamar. When I was 29 ½ years old, I gave birth to Yoav. After that we had a break.
Hagar is 14 years old, and Yair is 7 ½ years old. Yair is really a decision before the age of 40, where I thought to myself: It’s now or never. I had raised Hagar as if she was the last kid. Then when she turned 4-5, and I was reaching the age of 40, I began wanting to try again, and at the age of 40 and four months, the last one was born.
For a long time I was looking for work that was suitable for me in terms of raising children, and the Galilee Institute was one of the only places, where they accepted me with two small children. Itamar was almost two years old, and Yoav was six months, and during interviews at other places the question of how can I be both a mother and a dedicated employee. I would be honest, and then they would reply something like: “It doesn’t fit us. “ It’s illegal to ask this question, but back then there was less awareness. Today there is more awareness around this, but I still think people do it, in other smart ways.
When I called Galilee Institute to see if the job would fit me, I already told them over the phone: “Listen, I have two children,” and they said: “It’s okay, everyone here has children!” To which I replied: “But can I work every day until 15:30?” “No problem!” they said, and it made me feel that I was accepted with open arms with what I could give, and it was very comfortable, and a big part of the time it was interesting to me as well.
I started working there in March 2000, and I left the place in January 2018, which was a process. Already two years before I began to feel that I was doing the same thing, and it wasn’t interesting to me anymore, and I knew what to expect and what everyone would say, and I didn’t feel challenged.
It was a slow process, because it was so comfortable and so fun as well, socially. It was a very important part of this place. I met friends there, but I understood that – like when I gave birth to Yair, that it was now or never. That’s also how I felt in my professional career. I felt that I was getting closer to the age of 50, and I knew I had to make a decision – a brave decision – because if I stayed there, it would be much more difficult for me to find a job.
I left the place without having another job on my hand, and I thought that I could get unemployment benefits for half a year, but after two or three weeks someone told me that there is was an opening for an administrative position at the Gottesman Etching Center in Kibbutz Cabri, which is located 40 minutes north from here. The place is a workshop – artists come to the kibbutz to make art prints done through etching and/or engraving. They have big collections there, and they also exhibit the work in a gallery.
While working at the Galilee Institute one of the things that was really comfortable for me was that I could choose to go and study one day during the work, so I actually studied to be a curator. As a young woman I had studied art history. Then for seven years, while working at the Galilee Institute, I also did some art curating and wrote- and gave lectures about art.
I felt that this world [of art] is more magic and more challenging for me, and I prefer to work in this environment, so I began working at Cabri. I’ve been there since March already. It is a part-time job, so I am still looking for other possibilities in order to have full-time job.
One of my ideas was to offer to organize exhibitions in all kinds of spaces which aren’t museums or galleries, or places where people study or work, but I’m not clear yet on how to tackle it, because I realize that I need another person to work with me, and I don’t have another person at the moment, who would come with me to meetings. I want to share the workload with someone – not to feel that all of this or this whole idea will be carried out on my own.
When I’m Interested I’m Happy
Another thing which I have done this part year is that I have studied film editing. I went to learn about personal documentaries, which supposedly also is a tool for self-treatment, making it easier for you to understand yourself, seeing yourself in a film.
So I did a 17-minutes long film, which I have worked on this past year and that has included all my thoughts, perspectives and why I wasn’t satisfied [professionally]. I called the film “Re-Routing,” because until now I have travelled the comfortable and easy “path,” which felt natural for me.
One of the lessons from the film was when I’m interested I’m happy. All the years that I worked at the Galilee Institute I thought that if I was comfortable I was happy, and maybe it was true right then – that when I was calm, knowing that things at home (my “second shift”, as in managing the house and taking care of all the children) are in control.
I did work with people from different countries, and sometimes while working at the Galilee Institute I would travel to Africa to meet potential customers, so it was indeed interesting but marketing the courses and looking for people with money made me tired, and it made me feel that I didn’t want to be there.
The neighborhoods here are not mixed in contrast to Acre, which is mixed – where Arabs and Jews live together. Because the neighborhood here is small, and they wanted to give it a specific, Jewish, Zionist character, they didn’t want to bring in any Arab residents.
When I worked in the council [of where the region the interviewee’s neighborhood is in], there were art exhibitions that I would work on, and almost for every exhibition I would bring in an Arab artist – not necessarily from within the region, so not necessarily a Bedouin Arab – but I would bring in people from Sakhnin and Deir Hanna. It would be artists, who had works that were compatible with the subjects that the exhibitions were about.
I wanted to create some kind of connection, unity and to show that people are people, art is art. An idea is an idea.
I challenged myself, and it wasn’t always easy, because I didn’t know them [artists], but it was through friends or other people that I got to know them.
It was important for me to learn Arabic. Tw or three years ago I went to an evening lessons, but I didn’t succeed. It had been (and still is) on my to-do-list for a long time, because I think it’s important. We live in the Galilee; half of the population is Arab. They can speak Hebrew, and we expect from them to speak Hebrew, while we can’t understand them - their mother-tongue, Arabic.
It’s a kind of unfairness, and now the State of Israel has decided that it [Arabic] won’t be an official language, which makes me very angry. It’s something so important and so basic, and now Arabic will still be used, but it won’t be an official language. I don’t like this decision.
The fact that my abilities in Arabic are very poor bothers me.
So I learnt some things in Arabic, and I really enjoyed to learn the roots of each word, and to learn the language is not only to learn the language but also the culture. I tried to learn Arabic for a year, and perhaps I could go back to learning more, but, again, working and raising four children and taking care of a house that has needs makes it difficult to find time. Learning Arabic needs to be very high on the list of priorities, and right now it is not the first priority.
Once I spoke with a person about how there is no peace in our region, because people are too busy. The silent majority is just too busy with everyday life that people don’t have time to go to demonstrations - to do more than the basic.
I signed up to join Women Wage Peace [organization], but I don’t really go to their demonstrations, although I would want to. I would want to take my children with me [to the demonstrations] as well, on a Saturday.
Last Saturday an exhibition was held, organized for Eritrean women, under the title “We were all refugees,” and the exhibition included photographs taken by a Swedish artist, who, apparently, had taken pictures during the Second World War of a group of Jews who came to Sweden - through the sea - and they built everything there and created a sort of kibbutz, and in order to make money they made toys out of wood. There were photographs from back then, and among those photos there were photographs of the Eritreans of today, who produce baskets to make money. It was some sort of comparison to show that we have all been refugees, and we need to show compassion for refugees.
So I went there, and I brought Yoav and Hagar with me, because I felt like it’s the kind of thing that I would want them to be conscious about - that we, as Jews, were once in a specific situation that makes it even more important for us to understand- and to sympathize with others.
The Holocaust made us who we are, but with the rise of the right-wing, the memory of the Holocaust is being used in order to make other people, who are violent, scared of everything, making Iran look like the new “Nazis.” These kinds of things are very difficult for me to hear.
Because Of What Happened To Us
I think that when the country was established, it was said that Israel should be a prime example, and although it’s something that was said years ago, the fact that we need to be better because of what happened to us really speaks to me.
We need to be aware of what is happening to other people and to use our resources to help them. When I hear that people are helping the Syrian refugees, it really warms my heart. At least there are still people, who aren’t capable of turning their backs to others, but I would still want for people to do more.
It would also make me happier, if the refugees from Africa were treated better. We can’t take in more [refugees], but let’s at least find ways to integrate those, who are here already, because once we also looked for countries to help us, and now we have the strength and the capacity to help others, so it would be easier for me to identify with the country, if the country would be more like this and not wanting to imprison them instead.
It’s possible not to be aware of these things, but the moment you become aware of it, you need to act or at least not do bad things.
I don’t perceive myself as someone, who really acts and does something real, but I do speak to my friends about these sorts of things, and they know my opinions. I won’t write Facebook posts about it, and I don’t like the sensationalism in this.
For example, now people talk about how much Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] and Sarah [Sarah Netanyahu] enjoy their lives, and this discussion disgusts me a lot. I would prefer if people would talk about Bibi more in terms of what he, as a country’s leader, does well or doesn’t do well for the good of Israel, and what the consequences of his actions are, especially his “management of the conflict.”
Today people talk about the status quo and how to manage the conflict. You don’t want to solve it [conflict]? Or to make peace? You prefer to manage it? Today you have lectures about this, and people do doctorates in conflict management.
I would want to do more, when I am capable of getting my head above water. I feel a little bit of guilt, but then I also comfort myself with the fact that I educate my children to think in a critical way.
For example, the fact that Itamar, my oldest son, is in the tank unit and not a combat soldier, who has to be face-to-face [with Palestinians] makes it easier for me. They also defend the border, and they don’t serve in the [Palestinian] territories.
Yoav will enlist in another year, and it would be very difficult for me, if he were to serve in the territories, on one hand. On the other hand, perhaps it would be good for a child as himself, who at home hears things such as “people are people” to serve in the territories and not another kid, who perhaps hears things such as “all the Arabs should be killed.” Perhaps this has an extra value.
I wouldn’t want him to go into the house of people and to look for things in their homes and to arrest people. That would be difficult for me, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t want for him not to go to the army. I understand that it’s an existential need, and now I understand that it’s his turn.
Gilad served in the army. I served in the army, and my parents served in the army.
As my oldest son, I was also an instructor of young recruits in the army, for three weeks. I had to teach them how to use their weapons and how to do first aid.
As everyone else who serves, I also had to do an apprenticeship, which is called tirunut. It’s very intensive. It’s the first thing that people have to go through in the army. They are divided into small groups of 12-20, and everyone has a commander.
I was the commander of a small group.
I wasn’t good at yelling, but I was still considered scary - perhaps because of my quiet voice. I say this, because many have this perception of their commander as a scary and tough person, but you don’t need to be very loud to get into this role.
I enjoyed working with people and being their guide, and at some point they all understood that I didn’t feel as if I was above them. I would even laugh with them sometimes, and it was nice to break this paradigm and the distance there usually is between a commander and his/her soldiers. That’s what kept me in this position.
However I didn’t join an officers’ training course, because I didn’t identify with all the values of the army.
I think that, considering where Israel is located, serving in the army is part of our duties.
With this said, I wouldn’t want to be a combat soldier, and I don’t understand the feminist women, who say that the army needs to be equal and for that to happen, women also need to be combat soldiers. I don’t understand that on a personal level.
Why do we need to express feminism or equality by making women combat soldiers? I understand it, yet I don’t understand it. I understand it theoretically, but it’s not my cup of tea - being a combat soldier, and I wouldn’t want for my daughter to be combat soldiers.
If you want to live in peace with your neighbors, you can’t allow for them to live in such bad conditions and under such pressure.
It’s complicated, and the older you get, the more you understand the complexity of it. It’s not easy to understand. It’s not black or white, and I really identify with their [Palestinians’] sorrow, but I also understand that if we don’t have an army, then it will be bad.
Before my oldest son, Itamar, enlisted, it was important for me to introduce him to the other side.
There was an art exhibition in Umm al-Fahm, with Israeli Arab-Palestinian artists, who aren’t really Palestinian, but while they live in Israel, their identity is Palestinian.
So I went with him to the exhibition in order for him to experience and to feel what it means to be “other” in our country, and basically who is going to be considered his “enemies,” in the hope that he would take this with him when entering the [Palestinian] territories. It was a way for me to remind him that people want to live, and they [Palestinians] have the same problems and the same dilemmas as us, and they love their children, as we love ours.
When you live in Israel, you get used to being in a war or in a conflict. It’s something that you are born with.
When my mother was born, her father was not at home. He was fighting in the war that we nowadays call the “War of Independence.”
When I was three years old, the Yom Kippur War began. My brother was born during the war, and my mother didn’t know, if he would end up as an orphan, or if he would have a father, because my father was serving in the Suez Canal against the Egyptians, and there was no communication. It’s not like today, where you have cell phones. She [mother] didn’t know anything. She knew he was there, and she transferred a message to him: “Haim Nerson, your son is born,” but she didn’t know, if he would receive the message or not.
So the topic of wars and conflicts and the personal price that you pay and your family pays is something that I know about.
Thank God nobody in our family died in wars.
One thing that I remember from the Yom Kippur war is that my brother was born. Also, we lived on the third floor, and we would go down to the shelter, when there were sirens. This I remember.
But the memory that I have of wars is also mixed with what I heard from my family, especially from my mother.
I really hope that there won’t be any more wars, but I can’t be sure of this.
When you are exposed to it, it becomes less traumatic. When you are exposed to this reality from a young age, then it becomes the reality that you know.
When my father was 16 years old, he got a late present for his bar mitzvah, which was to travel to his family in France. He was issued a French passport, as his family was from France.
We [his children] could all have become French citizens, but after his trip [to France] he never refreshed his French passport.
I didn’t grow up with this concept of how it’s good for us to have another alternative, as in another citizenship. Israel is our place. We don’t have an alternative. This is our lives, and it will be good here.
I have some friends who got passports issued for their children.
My father’s family really loved France, and they were very proud French people. They lived in France and believed that they simply could live as French Jews, but the Holocaust kind of ruined this idea.
During the Holocaust my father’s family moved to the countryside, a place close to the border with Switzerland. My father’s father was a doctor, and during the war he became the village’s doctor, and as he had a car he would drive around the village to check on people.
At some point, people were informed about how the Nazis would come to the village and neighboring villages on a specific night, so my father’s family fled over the Alps during the night the same night. They didn't want to wait. They took some things and left, and my father was born the same day in a refugee camp in Geneva.
The reason why the Swiss people [in Geneva] took them in was because my grandfather was a doctor, and they needed a doctor in the refugee camp. It was their luck.
This same grandfather had been an officer in the French army, so he was very proud of being French, but he was also Jewish.
Zionism must be updated. To live in Israel with humanistic values should be the current Zionist way!
I have an idea, which seems a little radical: I would be happy for the national anthem to be different - something more inclusive, for the Arab-Israelis.
Even the flag: I don’t have any feelings towards the flag. I would want it to be something that even the Arab-Israelis could identify with and not only something that represents Judaism and Jews.
Interview conducted on July 14, 2018 by Sarah Arnd Linder