Israel and Rockin’ the Friar Lifestyle

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I don’t want to be a friar.

I don’t know if that’s how it’s spelled. To be honest, I really don’t care. The concept disturbs me, and it pains me to waste my time looking up the proper transliteration.

The word is an Israeli concept and as far as I can tell, the best translation is “loser”.

And we’re told in Israel that this is something we should not be.

There are a lot of divisions in Israeli society. The religious and the secular. Left wing and right wing. Ashkenazi and Sephardi.

But none intrigue me like the division between those who get walked upon (the friar) and those who do the walking. It seems it’s the only real difference that matters, and it matters in every walk in life.

Tyrant Over Your Domain


I don’t know if it’s like this in other countries, but in Israel, everyone becomes a tyrant in whatever domain they control. If you’re in charge of a store, you run the place. You and you alone. No one alive could tell you what to do differently. If you let them control you, you are a friar.

Now, you might leave the store you run and find yourself getting told what to do by your spouse. You might find that you have a 500 shekel parking ticket based on some insane machinations by the police that is nearly impossible to refute. And you might get a call from your landlord saying he’s raising your rent by 20%, and if you don’t like it, you can just move.

But when you’re in your store, you are king. No one can tell you what to do.

And the Tyrants are Everywhere!


I felt this effect when I was in the army. In 99% of my experience, people were obnoxiously and aggressively telling me what to do. But the one place I was in charge of, I became a psycho about making sure I ran the show. No one could break my rules. I was the almighty ruler of the useless computer lab!

This effect seems to worm its way into every corner of society.

If you step into a cab, they’re likely going to try to rip you off. You’ll need to decide whether to fight back and get the driver to justly put you on the meter, or just accept what’s happening. Believe it or not, choosing the former might mean getting kicked out of the cab.

When a government office tells you that you owe some small amount of money you clearly do not, you need to decide whether it’s worth the fight. If you fight back, you might win. But it will be at the expense of your time, energy, and a bit of your sanity. You might just give up and say it’s not that much money. They’re counting on this! And when you give up, you are a friar. Someone else wins, you lose, and society continues rocking on.

Why be a Friar


So for those of us blessed with living our lives in the Holy Land, we are ultimately left with three choices:

(a) We can fight our way to the top of the food chain. (b) We can get trampled on throughout our days. (c) Or we can leave.

They’re all viable choices, but how do we decide and what are the consequences of each decision?

Why would someone choose to be a friar?

Well, something happens to you when you decide to be on top, knowing what you need to do to get there.

In my first apartment after moving back to Israel, I had an incident in which my kitchen sink stopped functioning. I contacted the landlord, and the next step was three miserable weeks of nothing getting fixed, some worker making my home filthy, and washing all my dishes in a bathroom.

When I decided I couldn’t take it anymore, I had a yelling match with my landlord’s boss… and my sink was fixed the next day.

But when you scream at someone, you get angry. You become angry. It damages you. And impresses upon you this painful idea that if you want to make things happen in this crazy place, you have to become a different person. And that’s not necessarily the person you want to be.

And to make matters worse, my son was watching me and listening to the whole thing. So I was not only impressing upon myself that I need to learn to fight like an animal to get what I want and need in Israel, but I was teaching this to my son as well, whether I wanted to or not.

Friars and Landlords


And speaking of landlords, it makes me wonder what I would do if I ever found myself on top. What if I were the owner renting out to some poor sucker who couldn’t fathom owning property in this crazy expensive city? Owners can seemingly raise rent by as much as they choose, unregulated by anything except the market and their whims. Would I tell my respectful and reliable tenant they need to pay 20% more the following year or get the hell out, just because I know I have the power to do so and I’ll certainly be able to find someone to replace them?

I’d like to think I would be a good landlord. I would take pride in my home and be very attentive to its needs. I would be cautious about keeping the place in good repair, both because I care about my tenants and because I want the house to retain its quality and appreciate in value.

But what happens the day I see myself on the top of the country’s awkward food chain? Do I let it get to my head and become the mini-tyrant I’ve so learned to loathe as I stood beneath so many of them?

Regardless, if I want to survive in this crazy ecosystem, I need to worm my way to the top of the heap and stop letting the world trample me down. I need to be the one receiving the rent, not the one paying it. I need to be the one standing proudly at the front of the line, not the poor fool at the bank who has watched the last twenty people go ahead of him. I need to shove my way through life, not let myself be tossed from here to there.

Or, of course, I could just leave.

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