An Interview with the Author Shalicar: “In Israel I Found Peace”
Shalicar (left): “In Berlin-Wedding friendships like that with Sahin (right) were hardly possible” (Photo: private)
26 April 2012
Where others feel as if they are sitting on a powder keg, Arye Sharuz Shalicar finally feels free and safe: in 2001 the author emigrated to Israel. In the interview he talks about his youth in the Berlin district of Wedding, his search for a Jewish identity and true friends.
Mr Shalicar, what’s the essence of a true friendship?
Shalicar: True friends stick together and support one another. In my case they even protect each other.
They protect each other?
I was born as the son of Persian Jews in the Berlin district of Wedding. There conflicts with other kids were the order of the day. Because of the way I look I was often asked on the street if I was a Muslim, Arab or Turk. When I said that my parents came from Iran and that I was a Jew, extreme Muslims took against me and tried to beat me up. Fortunately, in these bitter times there were also people, including a group of young Muslims, who protected me and stayed friends with me – some even to the present day.
What was your everyday life like as a young boy in Wedding?
I had a kind of double life. In the morning I went to secondary school and tried to get good enough grades to pass to the next class at the end of the school year. On my way home I met dozens of young Arabs, Turks and Kurds who were “sauntering”. That’s what we called it back then when you had nothing to do and got stupid ideas out of sheer boredom. I was threatened insulted and also physically attacked by these youths.
How did you deal with these attacks? Flight or fight?
My mother always advised me to talk to people, to be peaceful, to have patience, to be nice and to forgive. My father said: “You can’t talk to extremists, you have to defend yourself.” I found the middle ground for myself. On the one hand, I carried on at school, passing my final exams in Berlin, and spent a lot of time with my parents, my siblings and with Janica, my girlfriend back then. On the other hand, I tried to make friends with those kids who wanted to beat me up. Somehow I did manage that, but I had to take care not to drift into the criminal milieu myself.
Author Shalicar: “In Israel I feel at home”
At the age of about 14. In ninth grade we were going through a text about a little Jewish girl. My then best friend, an Indian Muslim, was sitting beside me in class and suddenly said something like “Jews should be killed” and “Jews are our enemies”. When I told him that I was Jewish, he didn’t want to believe me. The next day I wore my chain with the Star of David on it that my grandmother had given me when we were on holiday in Israel. Since then he has never spoken to me again.
It took a long time for you to engage with your Jewish identity.
I already knew beforehand that something in my identity was Jewish, but for a long time it had no significance in my life. My parents never taught me anything about religion or a sense of allegiance. They wanted me to develop in a modern, Western way and as a free Berliner.
Are you grateful to your parents for that?
Meanwhile yes, but I was annoyed with them because of that for a long time. Now, when I look back, I realise that it was actually healthier for my development. For being a Jew, as one might say, is something I taught myself. I was able to decide myself what role it should play in my life instead of leaving the decision to my parents or the Jewish community. When I got older, I could begin to read about Judaism and to ponder for myself – what does it mean to be Jewish?
And, what was your decision?
I began to think about what people actually mean when they say “You are a Jew, you are dirty and we want to kill you”. Why do they hate me so much? For it wasn’t one ethnic group that taunted me; they were Pakistanis, Indians, Turks, Kurds, Palestinians, Lebanese, young Muslims who, of course, also influenced non-Muslims. I began to read and, after leaving school, I started a course in Jewish Studies at university. I realised that often these radical views don’t develop on their own, but that people get them from their parents. That’s another reason why I love my parents so much. They taught me no hatred, against no-one. On the contrary, I can remember that my mother always said, “Muslims, Christians, Jews and Buddhists. None of this is important – we are all human beings, and we must treat everyone with respect.
Shalicar with friends at his wedding: “I looked for a sense of belonging"
And still at some point you couldn’t bear to stay in Germany.
Right. I lived in three different countries before I emigrated to Israel in 2001 – in France, America and then Israel. In Israel I felt at home from the very first day even though I could hardly speak Hebrew. Somehow I have always felt free here, right up to the present day. You roam through the streets as a young Jew without feeling threatened, you no longer have to hide the Star of David. I have found many friends, learnt the Hebrew language and graduated with two university degrees. And that’s what it’s all about, that’s why I moved to Israel: because I was looking for a sense of belonging, for tranquillity, for peace.
You seek tranquillity and peace in Israel of all places?
I know that sounds strange, but for me personally that’s how it is. I feel free when I go to work every day, roam through the streets of Jerusalem or sit in cafes. This freedom is more important to me than living in a country that’s not attacked by missiles, but where I never know who might harass me at a railway station.
In 2010 you wrote down all these experiences and published your autobiography “Ein nasser Hund ist besser als ein trockener Jude” (A Wet Dog is Better than a Dry Jew). How did you approach the text as an author?
I had already finished writing the text about six years ago. I didn’t originally plan to publish it. I wrote the text in the first place because I wanted to draw a line under the past and because I wanted to give the book to my children at some point when they ask “Papa, why did you leave Germany?”. That was the reason why I began to write. I only gave the text to my parents and siblings to read. It made them cry, they were distressed by it. Then they all said I should publish it because hardly anyone in Germany knows this experience.
Since the publication of your book do you have more friends or enemies?
I have had a great deal of positive feedback – from all parts of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. On Facebook, for example, hundreds of people wrote to me to say how much they like the book. But there were, of course, some negative reactions, even threats, but most of them were positive.
Will you publish another book?
I have begun to think about it. But it’s difficult because I’m currently serving as a press officer of the Israeli army and I hardly have time to breathe. But I do have some ideas that I’d like to write down at some point.
Press officer of the Israeli army? How did that happen?
That was a coincidence: three years ago there was the Israeli military operation against terrorists of the Hamas organisation in the Gaza Strip, and I noticed how many people – particularly in Europe – were expressing negative opinions about Israel on the internet, and that many people had prejudices against the Israeli army. One could read things like “They are all criminals, they kill children and women”. I felt personally very distressed by this for I have many friends who have served in the army. A friend told me there was a job vacancy as press officer; I applied, was accepted and have been very happy to do this work for the past two and a half years.
You didn’t serve in the army yourself?
I served in the German army as a paramedic as well as doing my military service in the Israeli Army (IDF). I also served as a reserve in Israel until I started on a career as an officer in the IDF towards the end of 2009.
Where do you see your children growing up?
Definitely in Israel. My wife is pregnant, and we’re expecting out first son in summer. As we live in Israel, I won’t have to explain what being Jewish means to him. I’d like to see him grow up in a modern way but with a healthy portion of identity and Zionism. The sense of belonging is important to me and so is the love of one’s country. I hope that later my son will be able to live in Israel in peace and without fear of missiles .
The interview was held by Caroline Meurer
Arye Sharuz Shalicar, born in 1977 in Göttingen, comes from a family of Persian Jews. In 2001 he emigrated to Israel and studied International Relationships, History of the Middle East and Political Studies, followed by a degree in European Studies. In 2010, his autobiography was published Ein nasser Hund ist besser als ein trockener Jude (A Wet Dog is Better than a Dry Jew). Shalicar is honorary chairman of the Organisation of Young German-Speaking Emigrants in Israel (NOAM) and since October 2009 he has been a press officer of the Israeli army (IDF). On Friday April 27, from 8 PM, Arye Sharuz Shalicar will reading and discussing with the Israeli author Eshkol Nevo in the Lieraturhaus Berlin. The event is part of the deutsch-israelischen Literaturtage, which takes place from April 25 to 29 under the title beziehungsweise(n) in Berlin. The Literaturtage are organised by the Goethe-Institut and the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.