Greg Tepper
Greg Tepper

Alishan is discarded and forgotten. He’s also free.

His spine is sticking out. He is hungry. Hungry in Israel. My guess is like two other friends of mine he chose the street over pills.
(iStock)
(iStock)

There’s a half-naked schizophrenic homeless man in the courtyard under my apartment covered in black filth talking to someone I don’t see. He looks on the ground at a cigarette butt. His spine is sticking out and his pants are nearly falling down. He clearly isn’t eating that much. He has a full beard.

I ask him if he wants a cig. He looks up at me on the porch and I ask his name.

“Alishan,” a name I’d never heard of before. Perhaps he meant Elisha and mistook his own name. I don’t know, but I call him by the name and he didn’t object so I continue to call him Alishan. He probably hasn’t been asked his name in a long time.

“Alishan,” I say. “Come towards me, I’ll throw you a cigarette.” He walks over and I throw it. “Alishan,” I say, “God bless you.”

He retrieves it and sits on a bench and lights it. He’s talking to someone I don’t see or hear. Just me and him at 1:30 am. I can’t understand his words. His voice is deep and soft but heavy, carrying gently up two flights to me. It sounds like an old chassidic rav speaking prayers to himself quietly. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in a long time.

“Alishan,” I call out to him. “I’m Shmuel. My name is Shmuel. Like the prophet. Do you want one more cigarette for later, Alishan?” He looks up and shuffles towards me, his eyes trying to see me but his head still down, careful.

“Alishan,” I say. “You have voices? You have voices?” He nearly stops walking. “It’s okay,” I say to him. “Alishan, I’m a schizophrenic. I hear voices too. It’s okay.”

“I’m not going to call a psychiatrist. No ambulance. No hospitalization. I’m a schizophrenic too, Alishan. I hear voices too.”

He starts shuffling to me again. “Come here,” I say, “and I’ll throw you another.” I do. He walks back to the bench.

I’m out of funds till disability day, Monday, but I got food today from someone.

I’m on my last pack but I’ll throw him one more. He needs it too. He’s laying now on his side, one arm over his head, talking quietly. Bothering no one. Simply living. I throw him one last cig. It falls two stories landing near him. Maybe he’s an angel in human form. “Alishan, my brother, here’s one last smoke. I’m going inside. It’s okay. I hear voices too.”

The thing about him, Alishan, who was once a celebrated baby and had love most likely, is that without my friends and siblings that could be me.

The other thing is, Alishan is free. He is not forced to take pills that make him suicidally depressed. He is not forced to see doctors who see him as symptoms and not a man. He is content with his existence. He bothers no one.

And he is my brother.

But his spine is sticking out. He is hungry. Hungry in Israel. My guess is like two other friends of mine he chose the street over pills.

Antipsychotics are death in a way that should be considered torture.

This is Israel. He is our brother. He is hungry and alone. Maybe he was a soldier like me.

But now we know his name. And I have to make it till Monday with nothing till our disability poverty rations.

I have a home, but they mandate me pills that are death.

Alishan and his voices are free.

There was a reason I got up and wanted to smoke then. Nothing is by chance. It was so I could tell you all he exists.

And give him some smokes.

That was the story of Alishan.

About the Author
Greg Tepper made aliyah in 1997. He was a lone soldier in a combat unit and completed 12 years of reserve duty. In his 30s he suffered from PTSD resulting from terror attacks in the Second Intifada and Bituach Leumi refused assistance claiming he was trying to scam the state for money. After a year of flashbacks, he became schizoaffective. He has been described as a "rich schizophrenic" meaning he might have tens of thousands of visions and voices daily and has been through several hospitalizations. Greg struggles to survive without family and just-below-poverty-level state disability benefits. Despite the numerous ways he has seen the state fail him and other wounded like him he remains a Zionist. He hopes to one day return to live in Jerusalem, which he was forced to leave due to cost.
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