Growing up in Berlin’s rough and tumble neighborhood of Wedding, Arye Sharuz Shalicar never considered himself a religious or political person.
In fact, he spent his teen years as a wannabe gangster, rarely leaving his house without a gas pistol, knife and brass knuckles.
But in a dramatic transformation, Mr. Shalicar eventually left his life of petty crime in Germany to discover his Jewish heritage and become the spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.
“People always harassed me when I was 13 years old because I was Jewish,” the now 36-year-old Mr. Shalicar said. “And now it is the same thing. People hate us because we are a Jewish state.”
During his childhood in Germany, Mr. Shalicar went by the Iranian name his parents gave him, Sharuz. At home, they spoke Farsi and had regular family meals with Persian dishes, he said. Only later, when he moved to Israel and embraced Jewish culture and religion, did he give himself the Jewish name Arye.
“We never went to the Synagogue and I did not have a bar mitzvah,” Mr. Shalicar said. “And when I visited an exhibition about (Nazi victim) Anne Frank during the 6th grade, I didn’t feel anything.”
Mr. Shalicar said at first he grew up in an environment where the religion and politics of the Middle East conflict did not play a role at all. He did not care what was going on in Israel or the rest of the world.
This is why it came as a surprise to him, when he got attacked at the age of 14 in Berlin. He was hanging out with a Turkish friend near a metro station in the multicultural district of Wedding, where he had just moved to with his family. A group of Palestinian teenagers came by and started to call him anti-Semitic names and one of them forced strawberries into his mouth with the words: “Take that, Jew!”
“I think this was the moment when it all changed for Sharuz,” said Sinan Corban, his Turkish friend who witnessed the attack.