‘I feel very alive here’

Freddy Gershberg may have grown up in Mexico, but he has already adjusted to life in Israel.

Freddy Gershberg (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Freddy Gershberg
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
For Freddy Gershberg, living in Israel, which he has been doing since July 2012, is a revelation.
Coming from the more closed and formal society in which he grew up in Mexico, he loves the freedom here.
“The other night I was at the port in Tel Aviv and people were still jogging and working out, even though it was 11:30 p.m.,” he says. “In Mexico City, where I lived, no one would feel secure running around the streets at that time of night.”
He finds many other differences between life here and there. With years of experience working with youth and Jewish communities in Latin America, he now uses his skills for the benefit of both countries, in his job as logistic coordinator for visiting programs of the Maccabi World Union.
Although he made aliya only a year and a half ago, he had lived here as a small child.
“My mother came here in 1983 when I was three,” he says. “I did kindergarten, first and second grade here.”
At eight he was taken back to Mexico, but never forgot the Hebrew he had learned in those five years he was here. He also stayed in touch with the friends he made at that tender age, which stood him in good stead when he came back here as a grown man.
He joined the Maccabi Youth Organization at the age of eight – he says it’s one of the strongest youth groups in Latin America – and became a counselor and the head of the organization in Mexico City.
“Funnily enough, I’m not really into sports,” he says. “It’s the educational side that interests me.”
As well as organizing competitive sporting events, Maccabi tries to inculcate Jewish values and Zionism, encouraging aliya, with many children being sent to Israel for short holidays and longer periods so they can get to know the country.
Gershberg earned a BA in communications at Anahuac University, then a master’s in education. He continued with his passion for Israeli folk dancing, which he had learned from the age of 14 and during his university studies, and became proficient enough to participate in and present it at the Aviv dance festival in Mexico.
Soon after graduating, Gershberg began working for the Maccabi World Union in administration and education.
His plans for making aliya had to be delayed when he was offered a job in Cancun as community director.
With several hundred Jews and an active Chabad emissary, the southern Mexican seaside town seemed an attractive proposition.
“I postponed my aliya as I felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says.
After six months he decided it was not right for him and just as he was getting ready to pack up again for Israel, he heard that the Guatemala community needed a youth director. He spent two years there and finally said, “No more postponements – I’m going to Israel.”
His decision was based partly on the feeling that he had accomplished everything he was aiming for in the educational world outside Israel, and now needed to think of the personal side and going to live in a place where he might be able to contribute his talents to the Jewish state – and also hopefully find a wife.
“My aliya was rather non-typical,” he says. “I went straight to stay with my mother in Herzliya, I already knew Hebrew and I was coming to a job.”
Nevertheless there were many adjustments to be made, in regard to both the mentality of young people in his new country and the way of life.
He found it quite hard to set up home for himself when he moved to a rented apartment in Ramat Gan soon after arriving. It was difficult for him to take on the responsibility of cooking and cleaning, when in Mexico there had always been maids to do these things.
Even harder to get used to was the way social life is conducted here.
“In Latin America if you are invited to a party or an evening in a bar with friends, everyone gets together and we organize carpools; here everyone arrives separately,” he says. “Israelis are more independent of each other.”
But he loves the busy social life revolving around bars and clubs, and considers the nightlife here much livelier than the one he left behind in Mexico.
He also feels a lot more secure. While he acknowledges that a subtle anti-Semitism exists in South America in general and Mexico in particular, with Israel often being depicted in the media unfairly, as in the rest of the world, he knows that the community has a powerful but invisible lobby that acts for Israel’s benefit.
“You don’t hear about it, but they get things done,” he says.
In Latin America, people always worry about personal security – for instance, no one will drive with their windows open. But here, on the one hand, security is a part of life and on the other, no one would consider not opening a car window.
“I feel very alive here,” says Gershberg, “and when I drive in Israel I always open my window.”