On Friday June 18, 2010 I and a friend Debra Martinez had the honor of meeting Uri Hofi and hear his story of being a blacksmith, starting schools around the country, including the United States and creating the Hofi Ergo Hammer. People seek out Uri to come and train in the art of blacksmithing. He provides training right in his facility in Israel at Kibbutz Ein – Shemer. Even well known people like Jesse James (Sandra Bullock’s now ex- husband) sought out personal training.
Uri is one of the nicest men I have met. He is very honest, to the point that sometimes it’s hard to take but I appreciated his honesty. During my time in the political & religious life, I have found that honesty can be hard to find. People are always afraid of offending someone so we don’t hold anyone accountable. Uri is not afraid of this.
As we sat in Uri’s blackmith shop on the very hot day in Israel, I listened intently to every word he had to say. His eyes so soft and tender as his words pierced my heart. At times I could see Debra wipe her eyes as she could no longer hold back the tears. You see Uri Hofi has traveled this world and has met many people from all over but now he shared why he no longer will come to America.
With a glimmer in his eye he said, I’m at an age now where I don’t want to fly so many hours when I can simply accept the invitations from Germany, Africa, Europe and its only a 3-4 hour flight. Then his look became more serious as he reminded me that I had asked him to share his thoughts. He warned me that he was going to “speak straight” and I encouraged him to do so.
TEACHING IS AN ART
Uri started telling me his story about teaching in America, he had been teaching here for 6 years and he was an invited teacher. Now for Uri, he says he’s too old to educate people, he says he’s a teacher and he takes great pride in that. For Uri, teaching is who you are and is the utmost art. He says, “it’s more than making the sculpture, it’s transferring my idea’s into your head, this is art.” A good artist Uri Hofi is, he goes on to say “I sing, I play, I dance and tell stories, I do many things it’s not just blacksmithing, it’s many things.”
As a good teacher, Uri believes that students must learn to accept criticism, and also give productive criticism, he even asks students to criticize him as a teacher. Now this is where the story became hard to listen to, not because it was boring, but because I was hearing a sad but truthful experience of American culture. The story continues, Uri’s says, Americans are wrecked, not 100% honest in his opinion. He goes on, “All American people I met cannot accept criticism, instead they get offended.” This is a big problem for America. In his classes the students would be asked to criticize a piece of art, work or whatever but they don’t criticize it they just smile at you. When Uri is teaching in Israel, at the end of the class the students are asked to criticize him. He says this is the only way to learn if he is a good teacher or miserable one! Unfortunately, no one and he really means no one is telling him, ‘I hate it’! Then with a sweet grin, he says to me, I’m sorry about this, you understand?
Yes, I understand all to well. By this time my heart was beginning to sink. I have spent the last 17 years of my life in the political and business world where people ask for your opinion but if you give it, they are offended and think your picking on them. It’s a world where people come to you wanting everything from you but not giving anything back. In campaign season, candidates will tell you all they are going to do for you but then they don’t. In business, people will say ‘ Oh I support what your doing, I’ll help you with …..’ but then sadly, they don’t follow through. Now I was sitting thousands of miles away from home and listening to a man share his views on the culture and people of my country. I’ve heard it said, be careful what you do and how you behave, people are watching you. This became very real to me for our nation.
THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Now let’s pick up this story again, Uri went on to share many experiences he has had in his teaching time in America. The following stories really stick out in my mind. On one occasion, Uri was doing a demonstration in New York and a man came up to him and said “I’d like to study with you.” After several hours he came to Uri and said “for everything you are doing, I’m going to create a website for you.” Surprised, Uri shares, “I didn’t ask him for this as a matter of fact, I never ask for something.” The man persisted saying ‘I’m going to do this’ , so Uri said “ok”. The man would come to the class with coffee in hand, sit quite a distance away and then not do anything. Each time Uri, would call to this man asking him to join the class, after the third time, Uri became frustrated and confronted him. Sadly, the man became offended and Uri noticed it. After the last class Uri went to the man and apologized, but the response of this man was “You Israeli’s….To that Uri stopped him and reminded this man that, it was his idea to take a class and create a website for Mr. Hofi. If he wants to do it fine, but to come and simply sit around drinking coffee, not participate in the class was unacceptable. I couldn’t resist the question, “did the website ever get built by this man?” Of course not!
The next story that stuck out was that of Jesse James (Sandra Bullocks ex husband), he wanted to learn the art of blacksmithing and was given Uri Hofi name by four different people. He contacted Uri in Israel and asked to come and be personally trained. Uri gave him the agenda and cost. Then Mr. James says he’s bringing a camera guy and soundman. Uri says “that’s going to cost you a hell of a lot of money” he replies, ‘Money is not a problem.’ James came to Israel and spent one week and Uri taught him basic blacksmithing, one on one. After the classes were finished, he asks Uri ‘what do you need?’ He wanted to send something from the states. Uri didn’t need anything, as he had said earlier, he doesn’t ask for anything. After much pressure, Uri finally says, his granddaughter is a big fan of your wife Sandra Bullock, could you send her an autographed photo? After more pressure, Uri says, I could use some Prisma Verithin pencils in Metallic Silver #753 as they are very hard to get. James goes on to tell him, no problem, I’m making a movie, you’ll see it, I’m sending the photos pencils etc. It took 4/12 months but a photo and 3 pencils came. Yes only 3 pencils!
By this time my own anger was rising! Come on America, we are losing our way! We are becoming a people known for false pride, and not faithful to our word!
Uri relates a couple more stories, being called out as a Jew, “Who is this bloody Jew that is coming to teach us?”, yes that in an American class, but there is a moral to this story! Uri Hofi is a great teacher in blacksmithing, his passion for teaching comes out as he talks and walks around his shop. I am truly humbled as I sit and just listen, I have been left speechless the whole time. Uri finishes our talk with a story about him personally. ” I will set anyone straight, I’m afraid of no one, not the President, Queen Elizabeth, no one. I’ll set them all straight, and you know why?” Now Uri has a big smile and with a laugh he says, because “I’m a Kibbutz man!”
THE MORAL OF THIS STORY
Do you remember what our parents told us? ”Be careful what you are doing and behave nicely, because someone is always watching you and you don’t want to give a bad impression.” America we need to revive this message again! We need to teach our children to be respectful, truthful and just. We need to toughen our skin, and learn to correct people when they are wrong, and not be afraid to speak up even if you think it will hurt someones feelings. Like Uri said, how do we learn if everyone is afraid to tell you what you did wrong? Most importantly, we must return to being a people of our word! Our word is our honor, it gives respect for who we are and to our name.
I ended this day knowing that I would return and share the gift that has been given to Uri as a blacksmith with others. I made sure he knew that I would tell his story! Thank you Uri for sharing your afternoon with us and speaking so boldly from your heart! You are a good man, and I appreciate your openness! I look forward to seeing you soon! To see pictures and learn about the Hofi Blacksmith School and tools click here.