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Thread: Young israeli vets seek escape in India

  1. #1
    frizzer1
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    Young israeli vets seek escape in India

    Israelis' Dose of Unreality

    India is a favored getaway for the Jewish state's many young army veterans seeking drug-filled escapes from the pressures of home.

    By Megan K. Stack, Times Staff Writer


    SEDOT YAM, Israel — For young Israelis wedged between war and adulthood, it's a chance to escape the struggle of their homeland — and to be unapologetically young for the first and last time.

    Once mandatory army service is behind them, they flock overseas for a year, maybe two. Many head for Bolivia, Peru or Thailand. A few venture to Australia or New Zealand. But mostly, former soldiers go to India. On a journey that promises spiritual renewal and usually includes trips of the hallucinogenic sort, Israelis tramp off to the subcontinent in droves — about 30,000 a year, so many it's become a generational cliche.


    "Orit, for example. She hasn't been to India." That's how author Gadi Taub opened a recent magazine piece about twenty-something Israelis. "She doesn't have to go to India, she says. 'Let others go. I understand what it's all about without going there.' "

    To understand why so many young Israelis flock to India — and why they dope themselves into a daze upon arrival — is to understand something about the peculiar mix of pressures and existential questions that bear down on the Jewish state. The rite has its dark side — every year, hundreds of the Israeli tourists overdose on drugs and have to be rescued from India.

    The India phenomenon was born as Israel wrestled through its invasion of Lebanon and the outbreak of the first Palestinian intifada in the 1980s. The trend has grown stronger during the current, 3-year-old Palestinian uprising, a wrenching and controversial war that has cast the Jewish state into ceaseless bloodshed and ideological uncertainty.

    "The vital center, the ideological center, has collapsed, and people have started questioning," Taub said on a recent afternoon, perched at a sidewalk cafe in Tel Aviv. Before him, a stream of young, listless Israelis slinked along trendy Shenkin Street, clad in glittering halter tops and slumped jeans.

    "There is this strange mood in Israel now," he said, "this intense anxiety coupled by a dreamlike apathy."

    Young Israelis used to go to America or to Europe to study, intern and build careers. These days, though, they lose themselves in the developing world. Instead of self-improvement, many are looking for debauchery, escapism or some sort of New Age-style spiritual renewal.

    In India, time doesn't mean very much, said Omri Frish. A reserve soldier and social worker, Frish recently joined Israeli officials for a government tour of India's popular drug hangouts. India, he decided, is "the antithesis of Israel, which is totalitarian."

    Trekkers wander from village to village, and local entrepreneurs advertise their hostels and restaurants in Hebrew. There's liquid acid and opium, Ecstasy and lots of hashish.

    Most of the Israeli tourists are young ex-soldiers like one 23-year-old woman who worked for two years after the army to sock away enough money for her ticket to the subcontinent.

    "India hit me — boom. Right in the face," said the lanky, tanned woman with intense blue eyes, bone-blond hair and a pierced nose.

    "I'd completely forgotten about politics, about what was happening in Israel. It was amazing, absolutely amazing, to be all day long with friends and not do anything," she said. "We smoked ourselves silly morning and night. There weren't any limits or boundaries."

    The woman, who did not want her name used, was camping on a beach when she felt the fear swell. She didn't sleep for two weeks.

    "I started seeing faces in the clouds, in the bushes and on the sand, everywhere," she said. "I became very nervous. I thought I was going to drown. I was crying hysterically."

    Even now, after months of medical and psychiatric treatment, she can't be sure of the sequence of events. Somebody called her parents, who called the Israeli government. Some friends got her back to Bombay, where an Israeli social worker and a former Israeli pilot accompanied her on a plane bound for Tel Aviv. In her head, the young woman was hearing the voices of her parents and siblings — she thought they were there too.

    "I must have tuned out, because it seemed perfectly normal," she said.

    Upon return, she was tormented by delusions. She kept looking over her shoulder. She was terrified of Arabs, certain she was being stalked, obsessed with security.

    The post-army India meltdown has become so common that the government is crafting a policy to respond. Weary of organizing teams to scoop the wayward soldiers out of backwoods hospitals, Israel is negotiating with the Indian government to install treatment outposts in popular hiking regions to keep an eye on the travelers.

    "We Israelis have a militarized mentality," said Frish, who spearheaded the project. "That means you don't leave your injured countrymen in the field."

    It sounds extreme, but this is a country that chartered a plane to ferry its citizens out of Bolivia when the government collapsed; a nation willing to release hundreds of Arab prisoners in trade for a lone Israeli captive who may or may not be alive.

    To Israel, the thousands of young veterans who arrive home in need of psychological treatment are deemed a problem worthy of organized response.

    "Drugs have a special influence on kids who are under the enormous pressure of Israel, with weight on their backs from terrorist attacks and economic pressures," says Isaac Herzog, a Labor lawmaker and former antidrug czar. "They tour the world, and they come back — we call it scratched, totally scratched."

    Like many of her fractured peers, the 23-year-old ex-soldier washed up in a sort of New Age treatment center called Kfar Izun, Hebrew for "Equilibrium Village." A quiet cluster of ramshackle cabins on a remote Mediterranean beach, this is the only psychiatric hospital in Israel devoted to helping overdosed trekkers find their way back to themselves.

    It looks like a summer camp for wayward young adults who roam the grounds, barefoot and scruffy. "Trust in trance," one of the men has painted on the side of his cabin, alongside an oversized yin and yang. Pet dogs wander over the sea grass. The young patients go to group and individual therapy, yoga and crafts classes. They pay $1,500 a month, subsidized by Israel's socialist health-care system.

    "It was born of frustration," said Frish, who founded the treatment village with a few army buddies. "These are not junkies. They're top-notch Israelis, reading the most serious literature. They're wonderful people."

    Look what happens to Israeli youth, he said. Straight out of high school, they go immediately into the army, men and women alike. By the time they are allowed to make their own choices, they are in their early 20s, they have tasted war and fear, and have grappled with hard questions of conscience.

    "They've been through so much they feel invincible and desensitized to danger," Frish said. "They've already lived through so much that they have to go much further to get a rush."

    Frish says he helped pluck a young man from India who was babbling that God had ordered him to make peace on earth, but that he didn't know how. Another former soldier had become paranoid, convinced that his father had been killed in last year's attacks on Israeli targets in Mombasa, Kenya, but that nobody wanted to tell him.

    They see ghosts. They believe they are inside a movie. They are tormented by blood-smeared memories and thoughts of their families.

    "A lot of things float up in psychosis," Frish said. "It's a spiritual breakdown, an emergency. Your parameters for examining reality just go off."

    If you ask Taub, the writer, the India overdoses are a symptom of "Israel's first post-romantic generation." As a group, he pointed out, the generation of Israelis now in their post-military years is more Americanized, more urban and more heavily bathed in secular pleasures like shopping malls and rap music.

    It is also a group that fought for the Jewish state at a time when the support of their countrymen is far from unanimous. Israel is at war with itself over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategy in dealing with the Palestinians.

    Many fear, and say so ever more openly, that harsh measures imposed on the Palestinians in the name of stifling terrorism will only end up stoking the hatred.

    "Suddenly what the army is used for is not so clear," Taub said. "Think what that does to an 18-year-old."

  2. #2
    wellofvow
    Guest
    I certainly do not deny that this disturbing phenomenon exists.

    However, it is not true for all Israeli kids finishing the army. Most of the ones who are serious about education and their future go to work to earn money for university.

    I have three kids. Two went directly from the army to university. One went to Africa for 6 weeks between army and university. He backpacked in southern Africa, was interested only in experiencing a foreign country and its sights. He freaks out at cigarettes, let alone drugs. Same was true for my kids' significant others.

    Just like in the 60s, you could find plenty of young Americans tripping and wasting years of their lives, Israelis are showing the same trend now. It is a huge pity.

    Interviewing people on and around Sheinkin in Tel Aviv nowadays is the equivalent of interview on Haight-Ashbury in the 60s.

  3. #3
    danholo
    Guest
    I don't find this disturbing, I find it rather normal. After 3 years of service almost every Israeli kid takes a vacation. They either go to India (like Goa specifically) or other South-Asian countrie to attend raves in the middle of the jungle and smoke pot and do other "natural" drugs, to relax and get away from all the hectic atmosphere. Some also go to Finland (!) to hike in Lapland etc.

    Of course it's different if they stay!

  4. #4
    wellofvow
    Guest
    Originally posted by danholo
    I don't find this disturbing, I find it rather normal. After 3 years of service almost every Israeli kid takes a vacation. They either go to India (like Goa specifically) or other South-Asian countrie to attend raves in the middle of the jungle and smoke pot and do other "natural" drugs, to relax and get away from all the hectic atmosphere. Some also go to Finland (!) to hike in Lapland etc.

    Of course it's different if they stay!
    What I find "disturbing" is when the kids get into heavy drugs and psychedelics, totally cut themselves off, and often die.

    Israeli kids are under intense pressures from the time they are 15. As soon as they enter high school, teachers (and sadly, sometimes parents) pressure the kids to study, to get into the "best" courses, and strive for high grades on the bagrut, the all-important national matriculation exams. Bagrut exams are mostly in the junior and senior years.

    At more or less the same time, there is also the Israeli equivalent of the SAT, called the psychometric exam, which is needed to get into university, along with a high bagrut score.

    AND at the same time as all of this at school, in their junior year starts the army recruitment process. First, there is the medical, then a long psychological-cum-aptitude exams, lasting all day. Then interviews. Then, the kid is given "choices" of units he is eligible to try to get into. Then these units have their weeding-out procedures and tests (some very grueling).

    The last 2 years of high school are unimaginable pressure on these kids. And THEN they go into the army.

    So we are talking about at least 5 years of serious unrelenting pressure on adolescents.

    Of course, it is understandable for them to want to get away from this hell! I understand and sympathize with these kids all the way. But I feel for their parents too.......

    One of my kids was talking about going to India after the army too. I kept shoving headline articles under his nose about the kids who died in avalanches, jeeps flying off mountains, getting shot by somebody mistaking them for someone else, and so on. He changed his plans to southern Africa. (Only came back with bilharzia, but at least he came back!)

  5. #5
    Salim
    Guest
    sounds like a mother to me

  6. #6
    Gilgamesh
    Guest
    Originally posted by Salim
    sounds like a mother to me
    ad hominem attack deleted.
    Last edited by ibrodsky; 11-22-2003 at 10:12 AM.

  7. #7
    Communication
    Guest
    Had I been able to afford it, I would have gone myself about two years ago. The one comfort that I can give parents is that for most people, raving gets old rather quickly (unless you're a dj or promoter). Two, maybe three or four years is about as long as you have to hold your breath.

  8. #8
    minusthejihad
    Guest
    I agree. That and Techno sucks! And don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

  9. #9
    Kev
    Guest
    For whatever it is worth:


    CAMERA - Committee For Accuracy In Middle East Reporting In America

    The Los Angeles Times' Unreal Reality



    The Los Angeles Times' Megan Stack inserted unsubstantiated and hostile editorializing in her Nov. 10 article about the phenomenon of Israeli youth traveling to India after the army (“Israel’s Dose of Unreality”). Suggesting that the number of Israeli students bettering themselves by studying abroad has dropped in recent years, she writes: “Young Israelis used to go to America or to Europe to study, intern, and build careers. These days, though, they lose themselves in the developing world. Instead of self-improvement, many are looking for debauchery, escapism or some sort of New Age-style spiritual renewal.”


    Later in the article she attributes what she claims is a growing attraction to India to Israel’s policies vis-Ã-vis the Palestinians:



    It is also a group that fought for the Jewish state at a time when the support of their countrymen is far from unanimous. Israel is at war with itself over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s strategy in dealing with Palestinians.



    Many fear, and say so ever more openly, that harsh measures imposed on the Palestinians in the name of stifling terrorism will only end up stoking the hatred.


    In this vein, Stack quoted Israeli author Gadi Taub: “Suddenly what the army is used for is not so clear. Think what that does to an 18-year-old.”


    It is important to note that Stack failed to present any evidence that India’s drug scene is indeed detracting from the number of young Israelis coming to America to study. To the contrary, the number of Israelis studying in America has increased since fighting started in Sept. 2000. According to the Institute of International Education, which receives State Department funding to track foreign students in the United States, the number of Israeli students enrolled in college or university programs in the U.S. in 2002-2003 has increased 8 percent since the 1999-2000 academic year, before the violence started. Thus, three years ago, 3,238 Israelis were enrolled in secondary academic programs in the U.S. Last year, that number jumped by almost 300 to 3,521.


    Furthermore, Stack did not substantiate her claim that Israel “is at war with itself over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s strategy in dealing with Palestinians.” In fact, polling data show just the opposite: the majority of Israelis back Sharon’s specific policies for dealing with the Palestinians. For example, in an Oct. 10 New Wave survey for Ma’ariv, 66 percent of Israelis polled support the bombing of the Islamic Jihad base in Syria by the air force, 71 percent support the erection of the separation fence, 63 percent believe Ariel should be included in the fence (as Sharon has started to do), and 67 percent do not support the protest letter from Air Force pilots against Israel’s policies in the territories. Similarly, a Dahaf poll for Yediot Achronot (week of Oct. 24) found that 66 percent of Israelis surveyed support the continuation of targeted killings by air and 63 percent think the Israeli military does enough to protect Israeli civilians.



    I lived in Negril Jamacia in the early 80's and you saw plenty of young Jewish kids coming there to hang out, tune out, smoke hash, etc etc............and one could say if they chose to, that there was a problem....................but you also saw plenty of Italian Kids, and even more kids from Quebec.

    Whose to say what one person makes of a certain group in one place?

  10. #10
    New Member Firewire's Avatar
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    Angry Re: Young israeli vets seek escape in India

    Unfair!!
    I can understand your tension as a parent that your child may go off track but blaming India for it doesnt help change the fact that taking drugs is a personal decision
    Drugs are available in every country but it depends on the user discretion whethe he/she wants to use them or not
    If they can have drugs in India i bet you can in SA too, and FYI India is not at all hostile ground to jewish ppl infact jews have lived peacefully in India since the past 200 yrs

    PS: I have known and met 7 israeli all of whom have come to Mumbai after finishing their compulsory military training, they never drugged or they were never shot 'mistaken for some1 else'. infact they went on to become great frnds and admirers of India and have revisited India on countless occasions
    Im even going to one of their weddings this month

    Although I agree a country and its law affect the tourists ,I also believe the fact that habituating into drugs is more of a personal choice

  11. #11
    Senior Member Pleepleus's Avatar
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    Re: Young israeli vets seek escape in India

    Actually Firewire the Cochin Jewish community arrived in India 2500 years ago. India has treated its Jewish community well.

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