There are some words in the Hebrew language that are nearly impossible to translate into English. Many are slang phrases that capture the essence of situations that could only possibly happen in the Israeli context. One of them is an old Yiddish word that has made its way into Hebrew — frier. It basically means sucker but conveys the idea of one who misses out, who wasn’t clever enough to get the best deal; the one who got stuck with the less desirable task. It insinuates naivety, lack of acumen or experience, being an idiot or stupid. It is used almost exclusively in the expression, “Don’t be a frier.” Israelis don’t like to be suckers. No one wants to be a sucker.
While Facebook-grazing yesterday, I came across a status written by a friend of a friend that sent shivers down my spine. It was so unbelievable, so tragic that I even commented on a complete stranger’s wall, “Is this for real?!” To my great sorrow, it was not only true in the sense that it happened, but it reveals a truth that we probably don’t want to hear. With the permission of the original poster, I have translated it below:
“In 1991/2, the State of Israel sent my brother, Eli, to catch terrorists. He believed that we are a moral country, so he and his friends captured terrorists. One of the terrorists they arrested was Karim Rateb Younis, who was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes.
“My friend, Noam, at the same time, celebrated his bar mitzvah, and Eli continued to catch terrorists. One of his unit’s tactical operations in the territories went wrong and, tragically, my brother Eli was killed.
“Years later, Noam went to serve in the same unit as Eli did, because he also wanted to catch terrorists (and this is where I met him.) The State of Israel sent him, and he captured terrorists. The terrorists were sentenced and locked up in prison.
“Noam, like Eli, believed that we are a moral country and didn’t know that during the time from his bar mitzvah to the start of his army service, the terrorist, Karim Rateb Younis, had been released from jail as a ‘goodwill gesture’ to the Palestinians. For no reason, just a gesture.
“Unlike Eli, Noam finished his army service and continued to be unaware of the fact that we live in a stupid country. The day after he arrived back in Israel from his post-army vacation; while he was on his way home to see his friends, as he came off the bus, terrorists sprayed his body with bullets. Noam, like Eli, was killed.
“Noam now didn’t know anything. He didn’t know that the terrorist that sent his murderers was Karim Rateb Younis. Yes, the same Karim Rateb Younis that Eli had captured and the State of Israel had released as ‘gesture’.
And that is why we are not a moral country. We are a country of idiots.”
Her brother captured terrorists, put them away and was killed in action. Her friend followed in her brother’s footsteps; also risked his life to capture terrorists and put them away. The State of Israel released the terrorists that Eli’s unit captured. One of the terrorists returns to terror and organizes a terror attack in which her friend, Noam, was killed, the day after he arrives back in Israel from a post-army trip in South America.
I read her story and my heart trembled. I read about Eli and about Noam. I wondered why she posted this on this day. It wasn’t near to the memorial days of their deaths or to their birthdays. Why did she want to share this story at this time? I thought about her conclusion, that we are a “stupid country,” a country of ‘friers’, and the penny dropped.
I thought about children and how they are generally not ‘friers'; how they seem to possess an inborn sense of wrong and right; how they understand what is fair and what is not. All parents know that nothing can make a kid lose their cool more quickly than a situation that they perceive as being unjust.
I like to avail myself of this special ability that kids have and often discuss current affairs with my children to see what they think of various situations.
This week, like most children in Israel, they are more than aware of the situation of the three kidnapped teenagers and are praying for their safe return. So, I thought I would see what they thought about the fact that Abu Mazen’s wife was treated in a private hospital in Israel this week… and that the brother-in-law and the grandchild of the head of the terrorist organization, Hamas, yes, those who are responsible for kidnapping Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, were also treated in Israeli hospitals in the recent past. My eight-year old son didn’t have to think long before he had the answer, “Mum, I think we are ‘friers’.”
And while I like to think that we hold ourselves to a different standard, we are not “Romans” in the Rome of the Middle East, that we are more western, enlightened and yes, as Eli and Noam thought, “a moral country”, I think I understand what Eli’s sister Adi was getting at when she shared her story on Facebook, that maybe, just maybe, we really are a land full of suckers.