"...the settlements are the best environment in which to raise kids"

Gavriel Weinberger

Location: Ikea, Netanya

Residence: Shavei Shomron

Age: 57

The encounter: When I approached Gavriel, he was having coffee at the dairy restaurant of Ikea. The restaurant, in order to draw ultra-orthodox customers, is kosher for mehadrin (a stricter standard of kashrut than the one commonly enforced in kosher Israeli restaurants). Gavriel’s Ikea badge indicated that he was an employee of the store.

What is your occupation?
I take care of the kashrut here at Ikea, and I organize prayers and offer a class about the weekly Bible passage for Ikea employees and customers. I target my teachings especially to a non-religious audience. Sometimes secular people tell me that I have inspired them to turn off the TV on Shabbat. That gives me a lot of satisfaction.
But my main occupation is actually as a relationship councilor. I have a clinic in Ramat Gan and one in Netanya. Most of my clients are secular; not religious. Some of them are in shock when they discover at their first appointment that I am orthodox! I can see from the expression on their face that they’re thinking: “Oy, how did we end up with him?” They usually relax when they realize there is no connection between appearance and how people think. I specialize in couples where the wife is professionally more successful than the husband. It often causes the husband to feel inferior, and then he takes it out on his wife by criticizing her. What it comes down to is that people must learn to get in touch with their soul and their feelings, and consider their partner’s feelings.

How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I’m not sure in which category to put myself. My DNA is only mine. I’m not dogmatic. Of course, I am religious and observant, but I don’t think anyone can be forced to become observant. It has to be a joyful choice.

Can you tell me a bit about your family? 
My wife is a community nurse. I have two married daughters. Both of them run daycare centers. I also have two sons. My oldest finished the army, and my youngest decided that before joining the army, he wants to volunteer to contribute to our country, so he’s now doing a year of national service.

Where is your family from?
My family is originally from Transylvania, the region between Romania and Hungary. During the war, my mother was in Auschwitz and my father was in a forced-labor camp. My father never spoke about the war, but my mother told us everything. She also told my children and grandchildren. We all grew up with the Holocaust.
My parents met each other after the war in Romania. That’s where I was born. My father had a very good position there, but when my older sisters were teenagers, my parents decided that Jewish girls need to find Jewish husbands, so we moved to Israel. That was in 1964, when I was five.
I grew up near Haifa. But thirty years ago, my wife and I decided to move to Shavei Shomron, about an hour east of here, near Nablus. We realized the settlements are the best environment in which to raise kids. People there have a strong ideological commitment. I’m not talking about right wing or left wing ideology. I mean: I wanted to instill in my children an awareness that we don’t live alone in a vacuum and that we don’t just live for material comforts, but that we are all part of the Nation of Israel. I don’t think everyone here appreciates it, but we are protecting the country by making sure that from the place where my house stands, some madman isn’t shooting rockets at Netanya. If we weren’t there, the enemy would take over.

What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
I want a strong, healthy society. And who can spoil our society? Not the Arabs; but the politicians! To be elected, they have to sow discord and scare us with imaginary enemies from which they pretend to protect us. In the end, I will put some ballot in the box, but it won’t be what I really want. I really don’t know whom to vote for.  Lieberman embodies the message that we must be here and must be strong, but he also embodies many other, more problematic things that I don’t support.
But we really have to be strong. We can’t rely on others to protect ourselves. If – God forbid – there would be another holocaust, you know what people all over the world would do: they would write touching letters... and that’s it.
We have to be considerate of other inhabitants of the Middle East, but we also shouldn’t be ashamed to think of our own interests.
By the way, I have lots of Arab friends. One of them calls me “uncle.” I don’t know why. He’ll say: “Uncle, I’m waiting. I have some olive oil for you!” We’re friends and it’s very moving. He and I respect each other. But we have no choice: to be here we have to be strong. If we’re not strong, we won’t last.
As a religious Jew, every evening before I go to sleep, I pray that salvation will come. Just like the Lord – blessed be He – has surprised us with many good things in the past, like the establishment of the state of Israel – He may surprise us again. I believe there will be some kind of redemption. I believe it will happen. It can be any day.
When the messiah comes, he will change our consciousness. All disagreements will be resolved because there won’t be any differences: no more right or left, Sephardic or Ashkenazi, and there won’t be any political parties. We will all think together. Do you know about the lost tribes of Israel? What if it turns out even the Arabs are part of the Jewish people? Anything is possible. It’s just a change in consciousness.... And then, would I be fighting my own brothers?