Sharon Weizman.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Sharon Weizman, 42, nomad; arriving from Tbilisi, Georgia
Hi Sharon, what brings you to Israel?
My mother had open-heart surgery a few hours ago, and I had to get a flight fast. I usually escape on memorial days and Independence Day, but that’s exactly what I came back to. It’s very frustrating.
Health to all. Where are you coming from?
From Georgia. Yesterday evening, she had a cardiac catheterization that was unsuccessful, and at 10 P.M. I found a flight leaving at 4 A.M. But there’s a night curfew on in Georgia, so there’s no way to get to the airport. Through a group of migrants I found someone to drive me, but the police stopped us, because the driver was drunk. In the end, the police took me to the airport, but I went through hell. And at the same time I had to get a permit to enter Israel. I am vaccinated, Georgia is a “green” country, but I was denied entry. Finally, after a long series of phone calls, I managed to get hold of people from the Health Ministry. They said that because I hadn’t filled in the form 24 hours in advance, I was denied entry. I have a friend who’s better than me at shouting. He simply screamed at someone there, and after they rejected five forms, I finally got here.
So you don’t live in Israel?
No, I left Israel because I’m not prepared to be associated with what’s happening here, politically, socially and religiously. I can’t say that this is no longer the same country it once was, because Israel and I were never friends, and the occupation has always been there. But as far as I’m concerned it’s just getting worse. And I also have a relationship that needs to be maintained in another country, though I won’t elaborate on that.
- It started with a Palestinian woman’s arrest. It ended with Israeli officers investigated for rape
- ‘I didn’t feel comfortable with European mentality. I’ve wanted to move to Israel since I was 10’
When did you decide to leave?
I planned it while doing my master’s degree, and I worked on it for two years. I became a digital wanderer in order to leave and allow myself to move about freely.
What is a digital wanderer?
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I am a freelancer who works remotely so that my job won’t be geographically dependent on any one place and I won’t have to worry about being able to make a living while I move around the world. I want to end my official relationship with the state in every way, apart from family visits. I did a trial run: I wandered for two months, I saw that it was good, I came back, packed up, sold things and left.
Was there a trigger that caused you to leave?
I simply waited to complete my M.A. in migration studies. I had planned to work at the United Nations or in a human rights nonprofit, but they won’t have me because I’m over 40 – but that’s another story. For years I have felt that I don’t belong here. It’s not just Bibi – a government can be replaced – by now it’s the people. It’s whole generations who were raised according to a particular agenda. I see what’s happening here and I can see what the future holds. I tried very hard to persuade my sister not to raise my nieces here, unfortunately it didn’t work. I’ll come back for visits, but living here isn’t going to happen. I’m not someone who wants to bring up children, but I don’t understand how people can raise children here.
What does a wandering life look like?
There are nomads who are into quick hops; I’m more into what’s called nesting. You take an Airbnb that feels like home, stay there a few months, experience the place like the locals. You travel around mainly in the evenings and on weekends, because during the day you work. You see the world and work at the same time. I think it’s a wonderful way to live. I don’t see myself wandering all the time, because when all is said and done I need an anchor. But temporarily it’s very convenient, until it’s possible for me to settle down in a particular country and until my partner completes his master’s degree.
Where have you been so far?
We’re just at the beginning, and it’s still coronavirus time. We started in Istanbul, which was open, and stayed there two months. Now we’ve been in Georgia for a month and I don’t know how long we’ll be there – when we get tired of it, we’ll move on. We’re looking for countries where it’s cheap to live and where there’s great nature. I can live like a millionaire in places like that. I live a lifestyle that I could only dream of here. I have a personal fitness coach three times a week, I have as many massages as I want – I’m a hedonist, you know. And you don’t need to earn so much to live like that.
Is that how most nomads live?
No, I’m a pretentious nomad, most aren’t like me.
How much stuff do you have?
I go around with one large suitcase and a trolley bag. I sold or gave away all my property. I don’t have many clothes or shoes, only a few things. When you wander, you discover that you don’t need much. It’s a conceptual shift you have to go through. You’re not a turtle, you can’t take your home with you from place to place. It’s not a relocation, where you send a container. At the moment I don’t need more than two tights, two hoodies, two pairs of jeans, underwear, a few bras and a good raincoat. You don’t need more.
Where are you planning on going after Israel?
My dream is to get to a small nomads’ village in a cool place. Places like that are springing up little by little, the coronavirus really accelerated it. They’re like hostels, but they also have common work areas and all kinds of community activities. Wanderers usually go around alone and actually seek out community with people who live like them. I started to pick up a lot of information from Facebook groups, and I discovered that there are many communities like that. For example, there’s a group of families that wander with their children. They were in Turkey a few months, then in Mexico, and now they’re moving to Costa Rica.
How do you support yourself?
I went through a conceptual transformation. Today I am serving the way of life I chose and not the other way around – it’s not life serving a career. I provide maintenance and administration services remotely, translate, write content, conduct sales, help students with academic writing – whatever helps me be able to make a living and not have to be in Israel.
When did you first start thinking you’d live outside Israel?
From a very young age. The first time I traveled abroad I was in my 20s, but that was purely financial: I went to the United States to make money. It was after my army service – I was drafted like everyone, out of ideology and the thought of being part of this place. After my discharge I realized that this wasn’t my place, but back then I hadn’t been formed ideologically at the level I am today. I was in the Noar Oved Ve’lomed youth movement [Working and Studying Youth, a Labor-Zionist movement], as a scout, a group leader and a member of a garin [settlement group]. I was still left-Zionist.
When did things change?
It happened in university. I went to study for the first time in my mid-30s. I didn’t have a high-school matriculation certificate, I hadn’t finished 12 years of schooling, I ran away from school. As you can see, I’m not good with structure. And then, at the age of 30-plus I had a strong desire to study, and I was accepted by the Open University, without matriculation and without doing the psychometric exam, and I studied communications. Until then I’d worked at ad agencies and dealt with the commercial aspect of communications, but what interested me more are the ways in which communications can serve democracy. It was clear to me that my degree wouldn’t lead to much in this world, but I really liked the subject.
What do you miss in the nomad’s life, after all?
I lack the anchor. I feel a little like the Wandering Jew, not that I have any connection with Judaism.
What did you do before starting to wander?
I worked for Aley Shalechet, the company that arranges alternative funerals and cremations. I was client manager, I did ideological work and I helped a lot of people leave this world the way they wanted to.
How did you come to work there?
I’d followed their activity since they were founded, and one day I saw an ad that they were hiring.
Isn’t it hard to deal with death on a daily basis?
Yes, it’s hard. After a few years I had to get it out of my life. Death was a presence 24 hours a day, because it’s a job that wakes you up at night, on weekends. There’s no life, actually; death is always there. After a few years it has its effect. I was able to end that chapter with the help of psychotherapy. I still have a warm spot in my heart for them – it’s a small family company, ideological, and they’re doing sacred work in Israel.
Was it meaningful for the clients?
Very much. People sat with me and spoke to me about their lives and explained their reasons. You can ask why it’s so important for people what happens with their body after they die. It’s not like you feel any of it. But there are people who are traumatized by the Kadisha [Hevra Kadisha, Orthodox burial societies] – by the burial of their parents, for example – or who have a deep loathing for the establishment and aren’t willing to let it touch them. There was a very well-publicized story about a client of mine, a transgender person, who committed suicide. Her family, who are from Mea She’arim [Haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem], wanted her to have an Orthodox burial, and the whole thing went to court and it reached the Supreme Court.
What happened in the end?
In the end, the deceased got her wish [to be cremated]. She called to make arrangements with me before she committed suicide; I didn’t know about it. She went over all the documents with me and asked whether she needed to do anything else to ensure that her family would not get her body – because it was clear to her what was going to happen. A few days later I came to the office and was told that she had killed herself. That was a huge blow to the gut, because I understood what she’d done. On the day the court ruled in her favor – after weeks when her body was held in refrigerators – I sent over a teddy bear, something she wanted to be burned with her.
Would you yourself want to leave the world like that?
Yes, unequivocally. From my point of view, the earth is for living people. [Burial] is not ecological and also because for me personally, marking a place is meaningless. I don’t visit graves, I don’t need that. It seems a lot more free and more appropriate for who I am, simply [for the ashes] to be scattered. My dream is to be scattered in Sinai, in a particular spot, on the water, at a very specific time when everything looks pink. My friends have precise instructions, including how to smuggle the ashes across the border.