Flipping Out. Directed by Yoav Shamir. 2008, 60 minutes. Reviewed by Gefen Ridley. Watch online at http://j4j.co/israeldrug

Flipping Out begins with this information: “Military service is compulsory in Israel for all Jewish school leavers. Every year 50,000 soldiers complete their service, and many use their discharge bonus to go backpacking, with 30,000 traveling to India. 90% of these travelers will experiment with drugs and at least 2,000 will suffer a mental breakdown. This is commonly known as ‘flipping out.'”

Flipping Out follows several people who are involved with this phenomenon in one way or another. Several Israeli travelers are interviewed who share their experiences of using drugs in India. Interviewees also include two people from Chabad House, someone working with the Warm House (a center funded by the Israeli government in order to fight drug use), and an Israeli former secret agent who works to find and rescue Israeli travelers who have ‘flipped out.’

The Israeli trekkers offer a variety of perpsectives. Some who recently finished their army service don’t seem to be processing it very much; they say that it was good, that they don’t feel like they did wrong things, nor that they should ask themselves questions about it. An older Israeli who attended art school in Israel and has lived in India for several years reflects that for him, the army was three years of self-destruction. It’s hard to think of the things he did, he says, shameful things that reflect on himself and the Israeli government and nation. The hands that shot people are now supposed to work. You are alive, while someone else is dead. An Indian woman who works at a guest house oberves: “They like to come here after the army. After three years they just want to enjoy. They love parties and are very noisy. They never listen when they are on drugs.”

On the side of the interveners, the two men from Chabad House both came to India following their army service and then became religious. One tells how they used to sit around and do drugs all day long—LSD, coke, grass. One of them, Dany, says: “The Jewish soul seeks for something and when it doesn’t find that thing, it will use drugs, or will climb mountains.” He goes in search of an Israeli traveler who flipped out. Dany finds him sitting in the corner of his room. He isn’t willing to talk, but Dany manages to convince him to go to Chabad House.

At the Warm House, a minister from the Israeli government comes to speak with the trekkers. “Will they come back to Israel soon?” he asks. Many hope not. They don’t feel like they belong to Israel anymore, they say, while in India they feel relaxed.

Hilik, the former secret agent, says: “The travelers reach a point of loneliness in their trip, and that leads to a mental breakdown, even without the drugs; they just make it worse . . . They start to ask existential questions, like ‘What am I doing here?’ and then they walk into Chabad house—something they will never do in Israel.” One trekker had hired Indian workers to plant orange trees for him but didn’t pay them. He was also looking to buy a gun. When Hilik comes to take him, he threatens him, thinking he has connections with the president of the USA. In the end, Hilik forces him into a taxi and puts him on a plane to Israel.

In all these varied portraits, Flipping Out shows that Israelis are looking for answers when they are in India—whether they know it or not. And it shows that some are ready to reach out from an Orthodox Jewish or secular viewpoint. We, as Jewish believers in Yeshua, need also to be there to give these hurting and seeking travelers the truth.

Gefen Ridley is on staff with Jews for Jesus in Israel.