An Interview with Translator and Author, Peter Wyetzner
Peter Wyetzner and I met when I moved to Jerusalem from Efrat having finished my studies at Yeshivat Ha’mivtar. That was in August of 2011. That’s when I saw a Janglo ad for a room on Derech Beit Lechem. Peter just happened to have been looking for a new roommate.
Four third roommates later, Peter and I still live together in the same apartment. We’ve always gotten along and even when we get into political discussions (Peter is much more liberal than I am), they always remain in the realm of “discussion”—and not “argument.”
Peter is an interesting guy to spend time with and learn from—and I’ve learned a lot from him. The following is an interview I recently conducted with Peter:
Me: Where did you grow up? Who were some of the people who influenced you most as a child?
Peter: In New York. I was influenced most by my teachers, especially the ones who treated us more like adults.
Me: How did you decide to make aliya? What was it like coming to Israel?
Peter: I didn’t decide to make aliya; I got a job in Israel and waited to become a citizen for a number of years until I was sure I was going to stay.
Me: How did you adjust to life in Israel? What were/are some of the issues that bother you about Israel–on a social and political level? Do you prefer life in Israel over life in the U.S. or vice versa?
Peter: People here tend to treat you with less formality, which I like, but even in Jerusalem it seems like there’s a pretty small minority of openminded and curious people who are genuinely willing to consider other people’s ideas and try new things.
Me: Do you think it’s OK to have separate seating on buses? What should be done in cases where a religious man asks a woman to move to a different seat?
Peter: Regardless of my own opinion, I don’t see how I could tell people who want to sit together that they can’t. And if a man is asking (and not telling) a woman to move, doesn’t that mean he should politely accept her refusal?
Me: What’s your take on the anti-gay bills that have recently been passed in Russia? Would you boycott the Sochi Olympics if you were an athlete?
Peter: I think they’re a cheap way of exploiting the fears of uninformed people for political gain. If a boycott would embarrass the people who did this, then I would.
Me: Do you think the Palestinians want to live in peace with us? Do you think the peace process has a chance of succeeding?
Peter: The question’s too vague- which “Palestinians,” and which “us?” I don’t think it’s fair to place Palestinians who are willing to compromise in the same category as those who aren’t, or the leaders of Fatah with everyone else; and I don’t think Israelis who think Arabs have civil rights would want to live with them in the same way as those who consider them an enemy or worse.
Me: Do you think Charedim should be drafted into the military? What about Arabs?
Peter: Drafted, or accepted? I don’t think anyone should be forced to serve against their will; the question is whether Charedim are changing their attitude toward participation in society as a whole. If Arabs want to serve I think they should be given serious consideration.
Me: What’s your opinion regarding religious Jews who live in America? Do they have an obligation to make Aliya? Do you think it’s hypocritical of them to stay in the U.S. and still voice their opinion regarding Israeli politics?
Peter: I’m in no position to comment on their religious obligations, though I think the tradition does tend to include a person’s individual well-being as a factor in their life decisions. I do think that as a group, the olim I know tend to be less concerned about money and career than people in the affluent Jewish communities they left behind, and that is something I respect. As for politics, I think anyone should feel free to voice their opinion, and that’s it’s a misconception that people who are in the middle of a problem or conflict know better how to deal with it than someone seeing it from the outside.
Me: What are some of your dreams and aspirations? Where do you see yourself…say 10 years from now?
Peter: My motto is “no expectations;” I try to appreciate life as it is.