As some of you may know, I am Israeli… well, sort of. I was born in Montreal, Canada in a very Israeli household. I moved to Tel Aviv when I was about 11 years old and spent five of my most formative years in this country. This post has nothing to do with Jersey City, but everything to do with a country that made me who I am.
My parents currently live in Tel Aviv and they have some very interesting friends, one of which is the subject of this article. Shalva Hessel is an incredible woman who wrote a memoir about being married to an agent of the Mossad in Israel. The Mossad is the National Intelligence Agency of Israel, which is the equivalent of the CIA here in the US. She has an amazing life story. The title of the book is misleading, you would think that it’s all about her being married to someone who is risking their life, but essentially, she is the hero of the story. You have to read this book.
Married to the Mossad was actually under censor for a decade before it was released. Shalva didn’t take “no” for an answer and she made it happen. Since its publication, it has enjoyed massive popularity and has made the Israeli best-seller list, where it has remained for the past four months.
While I was in Israel visiting my family for the holidays, Shalva invited me over to her apartment to chat and hear her story. She is incredibly intelligent and strong, I was so inspired after meeting her.
As soon as I got back to New York, I ordered her book on Amazon (which was translated from Hebrew to English) and I finished the book within a few days. It was a rollercoaster ride and I am still in shock this is a memoir and not a fiction.
What’s your name?
What do you do?
SH: By profession, I’m a computer engineer.
So we’re here to talk about your book, what’s it called?
SH: It’s called Married to the Mossad. The Mossad is the equivalent to the CIA, MA5, KGB.
Without giving too much away, tell us about the story.
SH: The Mossad is considered to be the number one secret service in the world. It is known for its unique missions. There are very famous operations that Mossad has done for Israel.
The Mossad is not a job, it is a way of life.
The story is… I married someone who was in the Mossad and I didn’t know it at the time.
So, he was not allowed to tell you?
No, it took time. Suddenly, my husband was disappearing in the middle of the night, or on the weekends. So one day, I stopped him and said, “You aren’t going anywhere until you tell me what is going on.” This is when we lived in London.
You didn’t think he was cheating on you?
I did think that, that is why I stopped him. I locked the door and said, “You aren’t going out until you tell me where you’re going and why.” The story is about when I found out that I belonged to the Mossad, and what happened after. I was younger and just married, and I didn’t know a lot about the Mossad. I just knew it was very important and prestigious, but I felt like I was losing control. I thought, what does it mean? I didn’t know where my husband was going or what he was doing. I needed control over my life. Then I found out where he was going and I was really proud, but really very fearful.
Since I found out, my life has changed. I want to tell you that the story isn’t about the Mossad, it is about my mission in an enemy country.
Where does the story take place?
I cannot tell you. In the book, there is a name for the country, but it isn’t the actual country.
No one wanted me to publish this book. My husband objected big time. There was a group in Europe that threatened me. If I were to publish the book, they were going to sue me and ruin my life. I waited 8 years and nothing happened. So I decided this was my life, and I had to tell my story. Because the story is talking about a regular person…I am a regular person, a country girl from a traditional family, a religious family, and can do things greater than herself.
I think there’s something to learn – that everyone can do things, only if they have a belief. So I decided I wasn’t going to ask my husband, I told him I was going to publish it, I didn’t care if I had to sit in jail.
In the book, I talk about what it’s like to be the first family to live in an enemy country, how we did it, and what happened. I risked everything – I risked my family, my children…
The book talks about a situation I got into I sort of became my own Mossad, to save some people in Europe from very cruel people. It was life-threatening for them, and they sent people to kill me.
Wow, sounds like a movie.
It wasn’t a movie. It’s real life. In the book you have love, money, death. There is everything. I am not going to tell you what is in the book, because I want you to go and buy it and read it, but what I can tell you is what brought me and gave me all these tools to be capable to be a small Mossad.
My family was broken at that point, my husband almost divorced me because he thought what I was doing was so crazy, but I couldn’t leave those people alone, especially the children. And my parents pushed me to do it. They said if I could help them, don’t be afraid do it, no one will touch you.
And my motto in life is only those who dare can succeed.
What do you mean?
Look, if you don’t dare doing something, you don’t have a chance to succeed.
Were you ever afraid?
When you belong to the Mossad family, you need to a lot of discipline. You lead a double life. You have your normal life with your friends and other people, then you have your other life that nobody knows about. You have to do certain missions, and you live in a lot of lies. You live in constant fear, all the time.
People didn’t know you were Jewish?
But did you have an accent?
Yes, but I had a story. I was an orphan from Finland. My parents were killed when I was little, and so they sent me to England, that’s why I have a little accent.
People believed that?
People will believe everything you tell them, if you know how to tell it. You’ll find normally people like to talk, not to listen.
We lived as non-Jews. We had different names. The funny thing is when you live as non-Jews, there is a load off you.
That is really interesting.
Yeah, suddenly you are nobody. No one cares who you are, you don’t have to prove anything.
I had a lot of incidents that we were in a situation when we were nearly caught. There was a very famous incident when I went to a fashion show. There was all women, and one man. I was a little bit stressed when I went to big places. So I went to sit, and the guy sat next to me. He was a very nice, good-looking man. I was stunning, so of course he would sit next to me. So we said hi. “Hi, my name is Sally.” And he said he recognized a little bit of an accent, so I said I don’t want to talk about it. He said, “No, tell me.” So I told him I’m from England and he said, “No, that isn’t an English accent. Where are you really from?” I said I don’t want to talk about it, I’m from Finland. “Oh, you’re from Finland. I’m from Finland!” I said, “Oh that’s very nice, but I don’t want to talk about it, I have bad memories.” He pushed, and put pressure. I told him Corso, and he started talking in Finnish!
Did you know any Finnish?
SH: No! I told him, “Listen, if you go on, I’ll start crying and I’ll leave. My parents got killed when I was a little girl, and I moved to England, and I swore I’d never speak this language again.” Then he hugged me, became my friend, and stopped asking me questions.
Eventually, we went back to Israel. All I wanted to do was see my family. We started to live a normal life. Then suddenly someone calls me, tells me he got my number from King of Morocco, and tells me, “I need your help, please come to Switzerland.”
I asked, “Who are you?” He says, “I am ___.” I said, “Listen, I don’t know you. You want me, come to me.” He said he couldn’t, he’d send me a first class ticket. Of course I knew who he was, he was the one of the wealthiest people in Europe! Of course my husband came with me, and we went to Switzerland. Here starts my real story that I got sucked into for about two years.
So that’s what is in the book?
Yes, this is what is in the book. But I also talk a little about the Mossad, as well. A few things, but not a lot. The training I went through to live in an enemy country.
I feel within that I have a mission to do. Everyone has his own mission in life, we were all brought up with a reason, and everyone has to fulfill his reason. The thing is if you want to succeed, you have to be ambitious.
You should always know the balance to do it for others and for yourself. If I do it for others, I got all the strengths, and I knew I’d win. I was not born a writer. But, I had the urge to tell my story. And I do tell it, my book is the best seller in Israel. I am looking for a publisher in America. My book is going to be on Amazon, and I am giving a few talks in America. I am sure all the agents will all read it, the CIA, the FBI. The senzor told me, “Listen, everybody will read it. They will know what to find, what they are looking for.”
Do you think that will put you in more danger?
If you are very successful in what you are doing, aren’t people jealous of what you are doing? Aren’t you in danger? Isn’t everyone? But if you have faith in God, in the good thing you are doing… I am not worried.
I think it will be okay. I have my children. If you read the book, you know they went through a lot. They moved a lot, they never went to their father’s work. We used to tell them stories, but they knew when we would look under cars for bombs and things like that, they sensed our feelings. We get a lot of criticism – how could we take our children with us and risk them? But I think at the end of the day, they are very ambitious. They would say that they got a lot of things out of it. They can live anywhere, and live in any society, religion, and feel friendly. The only thing they hold onto is their religion.
Are you religious?
SH: I wouldn’t say I am very religious, but I am very traditional. I will travel during shabbat, but I pray everyday. I do feel that I need God, and I have a lot of faith in the Jewish religion.
Is there anything else you want people to know?
My message is: first of all, education and faith is power. It is power and a gift for life. I feel I am blessed for coming from the background I came from. My parents were always positive, and always pushed us. They gave us faith and said if you do the right thing and you are daring, you will get what you want to get.
Everyone has a duty. After looking after oneself, one should always look for their path and try to give it your children.
How did your husband feel after you published the book?
After you read the book, you will understand why my husband never wanted me to write it. He will never read the book.
Was this a problem for your relationship?
In the beginning, it was a problem when the operation took place. This was a tough situation for our family. Our family was almost broken. He didn’t want me to write a book about it because it went back to a very stressful time in our family life. But he knows me, and he will not read the book. He never listens when I go to speak. He is surprised that it has become best seller.
Do you think he’ll ever read it?
People tell me maybe he read it and nobody saw.
Or maybe he read, but he doesn’t want you to know that he read it?
It’s hard for me to know. But I know when the newspapers published me, I was on all the channels. I know he read a few of the things in the paper and he was very upset. Not only him, Mossad was very upset. I had to call the top people in the Mossad. I told them it was very hard for the Mossad to recruit women. After my book, you know many women wanted to go to the Mossad? Many, there were many women that wanted to join the Mossad.
Really, don’t you need to be qualified to go to the Mossad?
Yes. But the Mossad for the first time in history put an ad for the paper, because they were short of women. People didn’t want to. But after my book, wow.