Recently I decided to research my last name – FREIER – on the WordPress search engine. The first blog posted this title: “Thou shalt not be a freier.” Taken-aback, I curiously read further and found that the term “Freier” has interesting roots in the current Israeli culture. The Israeli news source Haartez.com reports over 1,000 articles that mention being a “freier” besides hundreds of articles regularly using the term in the last decade.
This is an example of the fodder consistently repeated for readers: “‘Don’t be a freier’ is practically the 11th commandment of the Israeli,” wrote Haaretz’s Benny Ziffer in 2006. This theme is apparently repeated by politicians like former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and shoppers in department stores. The premise is clear: whatever you do, do whatever you can NOT to be a “freier.”
Why the strong stance? From what I can tell the term “sucker” isn’t even strong enough to describe what it means to be taken advantage of, so “freier” took its rightful place. One blogger wrote tongue-in-cheek, “If you set out to look for one [freier] here in Israel you will be hard pressed to find one because no one will admit to being one. A freier however is far from a mythical creature. In fact you could be standing next to one right now!” In order to make it practical he continued:
- A freier is someone who has paid for something at a price that of course you could have gotten for cheaper.
- A freier pays his parking tickets and a ridiculous TV tax that exists in Israel.
- A freier is the driver that allows another car to pass him.
- A freier is someone who does his shopping at the supermarket and then gets in line as opposed to someone who puts their half filled cart in line and then runs off to get the rest.
That may give a clearer picture but why the term “freier?” Journalist Bradley Burston gives some insight, “There is no small element of irony in the fact that the most truly heroic of Israelis fit precisely the mantle of ‘freier.’ People who give of themselves for the sake of others, people willing to do the work when no one else is, people of genuine honor, profound and silent self-esteem, people who see moral complexity without allowing themselves to be paralyzed by cynicism or seduced by simplicity.” This sheds a whole new light on the topic.
At the risk of bragging about my last name, a “freier” – at least the way modern Israel understands it – is someone who serves other people and expects nothing in return. That ideal sounds all well and good but it can lead to situations where a “freier” is taken advantage of. (This is eerily too close to home!) To counteract this phenomenon modern Israeli’s have adopted a slang, “What? Am I a freier?” We would translate it something like, “Hey! Do I look like a freier to you?”
When I asked one of the Israeli bloggers about being a “freier” she replied, “When I wrote this post I was being very tongue in cheek. Israeli’s on the whole are really a very warm people. The whole freier thing is really about not being taken advantage of as opposed to being inconsiderate of others.”
This may all sound like random and useless facts for you. But I have a question, “What if you decided that it would be okay to be a “freier” – no, not become my adopted relative – but choose to be a “freier” in the same way heroic Israelis chose to be a “freier”?
- Do the work no one else would do
- Be a person of honor
- Be inner-directed with a profound and silent self-esteem
- Be a person who sees the complexities of life
- Be positive and not paralyzed by cynicism
Wow! That’s the type of “freier” I want to be. The heroes of Israel adopted the attitude and practice of serving others. Those are people to admire! Anyone else want to be a “freier?”