"I have already started over once, and I don't want to do it again."

Beni Bengi

Location: Frederika Shoes, Sokolov Street, Herzliya

Residence: Kfar Saba

Age: 47

The encounter: Just before the interview, I bought a pair of sandals at Benni’s store. I liked him because, unlike most sales people, he didn’t try to pressure me into buying. He spoke hesitantly, with a stutter, and seemed a bit shy. When he told me he had come from Iran when he was nineteen, I wondered if he is a different person in Persian. I arrived in Israel around the same time he immigrated. I know that I often feel diminished when I speak my clumsy immigrant Hebrew.

What are you doing here right now?
This is my store. I’ve had it for more than twenty years.

How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I'm not religious and not secular, I’m just traditional.

Can you tell me a bit about your family?
I have four kids: three girls and a boy. The boy will go to the army next year. My youngest girl is five.

Where is your family from?
I was born in Teheran, in Iran. I came to Israel when I was nineteen, in 1986. I have never been back to Iran. I escaped after I was drafted into the Iranian army, during the Iran-Iraq war. It was a terrible war, and they sent young soldiers like me into the Iraqi minefields. So I ran away. The first time I crossed the border into Pakistan, I was caught and deported back into Iran. I spent a week in prison until my family managed to free me. Then I ran away again and managed to cross into Pakistan. From Pakistan, I bribed a border agent and took a flight to Switzerland on false papers.  From Switzerland, I continued to Israel. My parents managed to come later. When I arrived in Israel, I had nothing: I had no money and I didn’t know the language. It wasn't easy. Everything I accomplished, I did completely by myself.

What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
I think that if those in power wanted it, they could make peace in ten minutes. Wasn’t it strange, how the war in Gaza ended so abruptly this summer? If they want, the leaders can end a war like that: ‘tchik-tchak’. But they are making money of it, so they have no interest in ending it.
There is no future for the children here. I won't leave this country because I have already started over once, and I don't want to do it again. But I want my kids to have a good life. My son wants to go to Los Angeles when he has finished his army service. We have family there. If that's where he'll have a better life, he should go. I want my children to be healthy and safe and happy. Isn't that what every parent wants?