Don't Be a Freier!

By Sales, Ben | Moment, September-October 2010 | Go to article overview

Don't Be a Freier!


Sales, Ben, Moment


Afreier, a naive person who lets others take advantage of him, is the polar opposite of the ideal early Zionist. The word, commonplace in modern Israel, traveled from German to Hebrew with the arrival of early 20th-century Jewish immigrants to Palestine. After centuries of persecution, these pioneers were determined that they would not be defenseless in the new state of Israel. Never again would they be the freiers of the goyim.

There are competing theories about freier's origins. Luis Roniger, a political scientist at Wake Forest University, and Michael Feige, a sociologist at Ben-Gurion University, authors of Freier Culture and Israeli Identity, trace it to the stereotype of the yekke, the orderly German Jew. Like theyekke, the freier was weak and submissive to audiority, fearful and careful to play by the rules. Others believe that freier was born in a brothel. Israeli slang expert Ruvik Rosen-dial, who compiled the Hebrew Comprehensive Slang Dictionary, tracks the term's evolution to early 20th-century German freiherr, or free man. It is an ironic reference to a bachelor who visits prostitutes: The bachelor may be "free" of a wife, but that he resorts to paying for sex, the reasoning goes, implies that he can be easily deceived in other spheres of life.

As the spirit of individualism took root in Israeli society in the 1960s, the meaning of freier shifted subtly from the national to the personal. Now one had to watch out not only for non-Jews but for fellow Israelis and the Jewish state as well! The man who serves extra guard duty at the army base? Freier. The woman who pays too much for the chicken at the shuk? Yes, in spite of the word's very male roots, she's a freier as well. In 1973, Israelis derided the soldiers who served as Prime Minister Golda Meir's pawns during the Yom Kippur War as "freiers of Golda." Instead of being seen as patriotic, the soldiers were looked down on as stooges of the state. Fear of being a freier "became the ethos of ordinary people and ordinary relationships," Rosenthal says. '"I am not going to follow the rules, I don't believe in the system.' It's on the road, it's in work, paying income tax, everywhere."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Immigrants from the former Soviet Union and other recent arrivals have embraced the term, sometimes even more wholeheartedly than sabras. …

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