I was born in Israel in 1950 to pioneer parents. My mother, a German Jew, was an intellectually rigorous psychologist. My father, an Hungarian Jew, was gentle and poetic but also a labor organizer and engineer.Both had lost most of their families in the Holocaust. Together, they were a visionary, optimistic, determined, and idealistic pair who mirrored the exciting tenor of the times in Israel as the new nation was born from the ashes of the Holocaust. It was only natural that concerns with justice, peace, integrity, compassion, and fairness were discussed daily around our dinner table with lively discussions about social justice, peaceful co-existence with neighboring Arab countries, and the rights of women, Jewish immigrants from Arab countries, and Israeli Arabs.
Family times were precious and certainly have had a lifelong effect on both my sister (four years older) and me. I am an amalgam (powwow) of my parents: my mother’s rigorous intellect and my father’s gentle soul and both their devotion to social justice and to ‘doing good’. My name also reflects these complementary polarities within me. “Ofer” means fawn in Hebrew, a creature that is gentle and tender, while “Zur” (or “Tsur” or “Tsoor” in Hebrew) means hard rock and represents firmness and rigorousness. At dinner time we often would be asked about any good deeds we had done that day or about any worries or feelings. As a result, for many years, I felt I had to ‘justify my existence’ by doing a daily good deed. I remember one example of a family discussion just after my bicycle had been stolen. Obviously, I was furious, but my parents reminded me of how privileged (not wealthy) we were and that the boy who stole my bicycle probably has come from a poor or deprived home.
My time attending Hebrew University in Mount Scopus, Jerusalem (1972-1975), studying chemistry and oceanography, was one of my most profound and powerful spiritual awakenings, as Jerusalem embodied the convergence of three major religions. It was at this time that I experienced one of my most profound and powerful spiritual awakenings. In addition to studying, socializing, and playing college basketball, I drove a taxi on the weekend. This was not only anthropologically fascinating but also helped me discover the beauty, complexities and the multi spiritual nature of Jerusalem.
During my undergraduate studies at the Hebrew University, one of the more intriguing and valuable experiences in my life was the exposure that I had to a wealth of human experience while a cab driver in Jerusalem. It was an anthropologist’s dream. Customers waved my cab down and hopped into the back seat of the cab. Once in the cab, many of them (consciously or unconsciously) realized that it was a unique setting where they could fully trust the privacy, confidentiality, and most importantly the anonymity that the cab ride and my attentive, curious ears provided. Knowing that they had only a short time in the cab, they talked fast and revealed and shared a huge spectrum of rich human experience with me. Most of the stories were about lovers who betrayed them, parents who hurt them or friends who violated their trust. Then, some excitedly talked about upcoming weddings, marital affairs, graduations or spectacular adventures. Some tourists were pleased to realize that I spoke English fluently and proceeded to request a tour of old Jerusalem, Masada, the Dead Sea or the Sea of Galilee. I was happy to serve as their tour guide. While most people paid the full fee for the ride and happily added tips, on the rare occasion some flashed a knife or even a hand gun when I gave them the price. Others had unusual requests, such as an ultra-religious man who laid down in the back of the cab in order to avoid being seen, and asked me to take him to a prostitute where all he wanted was to touch her . . . thigh. Without a doubt this rich engagement with people, fantastically prepared me for my career as a psychologist.
Thinking back to my early years, I can see that encounters with death during my military service, testing boundaries, questioning commonly held beliefs, seeking the truth, questioning authority, and searching for ways to choose between intuition and logic were all inherent parts of who I was. I loved to learn by examining what I or others thought was right or wrong. I did not do it alone; for example, there was an incident where some soldiers did not come back from an R&R furlough to the base in the Gaza Strip, but instead admitted themselves to a mental institution [to avoid returning to the base in Gaza]. This meant that I could not give a much needed break to other soldiers in our unit and I was furious. I expressed my outrage to my mother on the phone. In a soft voice, my mother responded to my anger by saying, “Perhaps those who admitted themselves to the mental institution rather than coming back to the camp were the sane ones”. I was speechless. In that one, short sentence, she forced me to question the whole notion and definition of sanity. In my own way, I continue this path.
I received my B.Sc. in Physical Chemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in June 1975, heading in the direction of studying oceanography, which, for me, was an ideal combination of science (chemistry), adventure (deep-sea & free diving), and idealism (saving the world from starvation). I was intrigued with the idea of growing unlimited amounts of protein (fish) in the oceans, which, after all, cover more than 75% of our planet. Working for the Marin Laboratory in Eilat, I built this raft and conducted the research on floating fish cages and feeders in Dahab, a precious and glorious dot on the map on the pristine Red-Sea shore of the Sinai Peninsula.
After my time in Europe I returned to Israel, this time as a limnologist and found an interesting job at a fresh water fish pond research lab located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, not far from where Jesus walked on water and ‘healed’ Mary Magdalene. It was a scientifically stimulating and inspiring locale in which to work. My main scientific work was to explore some aquaculture ‘myths’ or commonly held beliefs among the fish farmers in Israel regarding the nutrition cycle in the fish ponds. (See scholarly articles.) Exploring commonly held beliefs was a theme that I grew up with and carried with me throughout my life, whether I was researching fish, war and peace, men and women, or ethics in psychology.
During the years of studying fish, I lived in the city of Tiberias and then in the charmed, ancient village of Rosh Pina, one of the oldest Jewish villages in Israel, where some streets were still paved with old Roman stones. I loved living in Rosh Pina and my daily commute down the mountain to the Sea of Galilee to research the fish ponds. During that time, I also played and coached basketball in the neighboring town of Hatzor HaGlilit, where certain racist aspects of Israeli culture became painfully obvious by the way the referees and other teams, who were ‘Ashkenazi’ (i.e., of Eastern European origin, with generally lighter skin) treated my team, who were ‘Sfaradim,’ (i.e., of North African origin, with darker skin). Anthropology again.
I continued my work, exploring the roots of war and promoting peace, which led me to literature that discussed the meaning of the fact that the average frequency of war is 25 years, which corresponds to the span of a generation. The theory posited the puzzling and odd idea that war may be the unconscious wish and impulse of parents to kill their children, or what is also known as the Medea Complex. I asked my mother her thoughts on this idea and did not hear back from her for a couple of months. Then one day, I got a package from her with probably all the available literature on this obscure topic. She noted that compiling this literature was one of the most difficult challenges she had ever faced. That was the last correspondence I had from her as she died soon after from her second heart attack in November 1982 at age 68. Mother repeatedly told us that she neither wanted to slow down in old age nor have a prolonged death. So on her gravestone we engraved her own words -“Trees Die Erect”.
Basketball, as mentioned, has been my sport. I have played basketball since the age of 10 and later coached. I love the intensity, mastery, camaraderie, as well as the strategic, competitive, physical, mental, and social aspects of the game. I played in leagues in Israel, college ball at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and in the Jack Benny League in Sonoma (over age 39). I retired from playing at age 56, but always find other ways to keep active.