The subject is a time when there were not yet Russian-speaking interviewers in Israeli military enlistment offices, but there were already Russian conscripts. Because, for the most part, they did not speak Hebrew, conscripts were often sent for examination to the so-called “officers of mental health” (by specialty – psychologists or social workers), so that the officers could check, just in case, whether everything was in order with the mute conscript. By the way, in Hebrew an officer of mental health – “ktsin briut nefesh” – is shortened to “kaban.” This does not, however, have a bearing on their level of professionalism. [In Russian, “Kaban” means “wild boar.”]
An officer of mental health at an enlistment office usually administers standard tests – “draw a person, draw a tree, draw a house.” These tests easily allow for investigation of the internal world of the future serviceman. The good thing about them is they’re universal and not dependent upon knowledge of the language. Anyone, after all, is capable of drawing a house. And so an officer was sent yet another Russian boy who spoke poor Hebrew. The officer of mental health greeted him, produced a sheet of paper and asked the boy to draw a tree.
The Russian boy was no good at drawing, but he was well read. He decided to compensate for his dearth of artistic abilities by the amount of detail. Therefore he depicted an oak, on that oak – a chain, and on that chain – a cat. Quite clear, no?
The officer of mental health moved the sheet of paper toward himself. On the paper he found a grub, not very adeptly hung on a branch. In lieu of a rope the grub employed a chain.
“What is it?” Gently asked the Kaban.
The Russian boy strained himself and started translating. Cat in Hebrew – “Khatul.” “Learned” – “Mad’an,” with a Russian accent – “Madan.” The boy didn’t know that in this case the word “learned” would sound odd – the cat is not an employee at the academy of sciences, he just knows a lot. That is, a different word is needed. But a different one didn’t turn out. The boy scratched the back of his head and answered the officer’s question:
The officer was Israeli. Therefore the present combination of words meant for him something along the lines of “a cat, taking part in studious activity.” Khatul Madan. Why a grub, hanged on a tree, is engaged in studious activity, and what exactly comprised this studious activity, the officer could not comprehend.
“And what is he doing?” the officer asked, tensely. (The depiction of a suicide in the projective test was in fact a very bad sign).
Pleased at the chance to display intellect, the boy said: “Well that depends on when. See if he goes over here (adding an arrow to the right), then he sings songs. But if over here (an arrow to the left), then he tells tales.”
“To whom?” the Kaban asked tearfully. [прослезился – brilliant, beyond my capabilities]
After a bit of concentration the boy remembered:
By the point of the hanged grub’s stories – the ones he tells to himself – the officer of mental health felt unwell. He scheduled another interview with the boy and sent him home. The picture with the oak was left on the table.
When the boy left, the Kaban called in his secretary – he wanted a fresh perspective on the situation. The secretary to the officer of mental health was a smart and competent young woman. But she had also recently arrived from Russia.
The boss showed her the drawing. The girl saw a depiction of a tree with carved leaves and an animal similar to a cat walking along a chain.
“What do you think it is?” asked the officer.
“Khatul Madan” the secretary replied.
Quickly showing the girl out and having a drink of cold water, the Kaban called the next floor, where his young colleague worked. He asked her to come down and consult with him on a difficult case.
“Here,” sighed the tired professional. “I have known you for a long time, you’re a normal person. Please explain to me what you see.”
The trouble was, the colleague was also Russian…
But here the Kaban decided to draw the line.
“Why?” quietly, but passionately, he asked his colleague. “WHY is this Khatul madan?”
“But it’s obvious!” The colleague stuck her finger into the drawing. “See these arrows? They mean that when the Khatul walks to the right, he sings, and when he walks to the left…”
I cannot say whether or not the army psychologist lost his mind or what diagnosis he gave the boy. But today almost all of the officers of mental health know: if the conscript draws oaks with animals on chains in the test, then he is from Russia. There, they say, everyone is learned. Even cats.