Veterans: Space, man

From the heights of the aerospace industry to the depths of meditation – a magical mystery tour.

Jonathan Harrison 311 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Jonathan Harrison 311
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
After working in the aerospace and hitech industries for more than 30 years, Jonathan Harrison made an abrupt career switch and for the last 10 has taught nondual meditation. A graduate of Edinburgh University with degrees in mathematics, he made aliya in 1969, and was snapped up by the government even before he set foot in the country thanks to his aeronautical background. Forty-something years later he looks back on the hard times and the good times, and has no regrets about how things turned out.
Born in Manchester, Harrison studied in Scotland where he met his wife, Diana. They married in 1965 and decided, a few years later, that they wanted to move here.
Like all potential immigrants from the UK, they visited the Jewish Agency in London to find out about working.
“They were not very helpful,” remembers Harrison. “They told me I would never find work as an aerospace engineer. But as a last effort to help, they sent me to the embassy to talk to the military attaché.
“As soon as the attaché heard what I did, he said I already had a job and asked me to sign on the dotted line, then and there. He said they would deal with security later.”
The young family, Jonathan, Diana and their baby son Reuven arrived at the airport at 1 a.m. and were picked up by an Israel Aircraft Industries van and taken to their rented apartment in Lod. The same morning Jonathan underwent his security interview and was plunged almost immediately into work, knowing only one word of Hebrew, shalom.
After one and a half years, they left Lod and moved to Petah Tikva. Diana, who today is an art teacher, was teaching English and the couple had two more children, in 1971 and 1974.
“I was working, first on the Arava, the transport plane, and later the Kfir combat plane.
After 11 years I left and went into hi-tech, working for an American computer company,” says Harrison. He stayed with computers until 12 years ago when he decided that since he had always had an interest in psychology and self-awareness he might switch careers.
In his study in the apartment in Hod Hasharon where we have the interview, small brown cushions and colorful mats are scattered around the floor, and on the wall are framed illustrated calligraphic texts in Kan’ji. This is where Harrison teaches his meditation to groups (and individuals) whose members sit either on chairs or cross-legged on the floor. He also teaches outside the home, conducting large groups of sometimes as many as 100 people in various schools for mind-body medicine and coaching.
“I also receive many referrals from doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists,” he says.
“They send me patients with very serious illnesses who want to live more comfortably with them.”
He teaches a form of meditation inspired by Indian, Tibetan and Chinese masters, after having studied both on his own and at several retreats in the Swiss Alps. Later he went to India to study in a Tibetan monastery for several weeks.
For many years he has also been a formidable practitioner of magic and is a member of the Israel Magic Circle and also of the prestigious International Brotherhood of Magicians. He tells me that the IDF had three official magicians in its ranks, and he actually taught the magician of Northern Command. He even sees a connection between the mental skills needed to be a successful magician and a meditator.
And is if this were not enough for one man he is also a folksinger and guitarist who has sung in Tel Aviv clubs in exchange for free beer.
“The language was a major problem as I don’t have flair for languages,” he says. “In the technical work I managed as most of it was in English.” Now, many years later, he teaches only in Hebrew. He says it took him five years to be able to understand the news on television.
“For me Hebrew is the language of emotion, English is the language of accuracy and precision. I still express myself better in English.”

“There’s so much, that’s a very hard question to answer,” he says. “Starting with the weather, for a Mancunian, it’s a garden of Eden. Manchester’s a good place to leave. But it’s also not being in a minority, having your children grow up in a Jewish state and not feeling different from the others.”

“Be as realistic as you can and have both feet on the ground. You must get all the facts right before you come and have a clear idea of the reality here. Be ready to take knocks with the good stuff. It can be very tough here, as I discovered in my first five years, although going back was never an option. As someone who was a keen Scout I endorse their motto: Be prepared.”
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