Departures / Arrivals: Ofer's family didn't come to pick him up; Yasmin has packed her dog
Maki the Chihuahua is already a frequent flier with a furry polar bear in his hand luggage.
Ofer Cohen, 27, skydiving instructor
Sorry, maybe I can use your phone?
I can’t find my family. I haven’t been here for six years and now I can’t find them. I get an answering machine. What’s the deal? Your son is finally here! I’ll try my sister, too.
Where were you?
Now I was in the United States. I came to see my family; tomorrow is my birthday.
Congratulations! Where do you live in America?
I don’t actually live in the United States. I move every six months. I am a skydiving instructor − in the United States, Argentina, Mexico.
What’s this on your bag, a parachute?
So if the plane goes down you will be alright.
Exactly! Even though it’s a bit tricky to find a place to jump from a Boeing 747. But I told the flight attendant that if something should go wrong, we will go down to the wheels, I will hold her and we will jump together.
How does it work?
I take the people and attach them to me in front with a harness. Actually, lately I have been doing the documentary thing more: video and photos. I have two cameras that are attached to my head, a Canon and a Sony, and I have a bite switch in my mouth. When I chew, the camera shoots.
How many jumps have you made?
Did they all go okay?
I used the reserve [parachute] twice. It was exciting. It was also a bit amusing, because the first jump in which I had to use the reserve was my 666th jump.
What does it mean when the main parachute doesn’t open?
It means the kid didn’t fold it right. It’s not so terrible. I was once a kid, too, and I probably folded parachutes badly.
How did you get into this line of work?
Four years ago, I was living in Argentina and running a hostel. One day two guys came to my place for couch surfing, and it turned out they were skydiving instructors. They told me about it and, later, when they opened a place of their own, they invited me to come along.
How many times a day do you jump?
My record is 16 times, but it’s usually less: three or four.
What does it do to you?
Skydiving releases quantities of adrenaline in the body. Now, after so many jumps, it relaxes me. It used to put me on speed. These days, when I get on a plane I am calm. The truth is that if I don’t jump for a few days, I go nuts.
Are there no negative effects?
It’s said you lose a little memory, and the truth is that I tend to forget and to lose things. Just now, for example, I left the United States and couldn’t find my previous passport, with the visa in it, so now I won’t be able to return to America − I had a bank account and a steady job, and now I have nothing. But I don’t take it hard; it’s a sign to me that I should make a switch.
Where have you lived?
Argentina, Singapore, Spain and, in the United States, in New York, L.A. and Chicago. I went abroad after doing my army service and haven’t been back until now. I am originally from Mishmar Hashiva [a moshav], but now the family lives in Givatayim.
You don’t have a bank account and you make all these jumps: are you fearless?
I sometimes feel afraid. But I always tell people who come to jump that fear is the start of the best feeling there is. Fear is the best feeling to overcome; I love overcoming fear.
Can you tell in advance who is not cut out for skydiving − someone like me, say?
It’s the people who say they are not afraid who get really stressed, and when they are at the door they get confused and don’t listen to what you tell them. The people who show that they are uptight usually go through it smoothly.
What altitude do you jump from?
It’s a minute of free fall without a parachute from an altitude of 4,500 meters − 14,000 feet.
The horror. Sorry, I have a fear of heights.
Then it won’t affect you, unless you have vertigo. Because when you are on a plane there is no feeling of the ground. When you look down from the tenth floor, for example, you have a ground reference point. In skydiving you will look around and see clouds.
What was your most successful jump?
In the club they are always joking that I have an accent like Borat, so on my 200th jump I bought a yellow mankini − like he wears in the movie − and jumped like that.
And the worst?
One time, someone passed out on me toward the end of the jump. That was really stressful, because I had to make sure he didn’t break his legs when he hit the ground, and he was a big guy. About 100 kilos.
It must be easier to jump with girls.
Obviously it’s simpler when you don’t feel the weight, but for me thin girls or huge guys doesn’t really make a difference. It’s all happy. And besides, I haven’t yet found the love of my life in skydiving. And I am always looking for a place where I would like to stay, or a woman I would like to stay for.
Yasmin Levy, 27, industrial design student from Gederot
Hello, who’s with you in the box?
That’s Maki, my Chihuahua. He’s already a frequent flier.
Because I’ve lived in Amsterdam for the past two years, and before that in Belgium.
What do you do there?
At the moment I am studying industrial design at the Rietveld Academie and working for El Al. I got the job with El Al after completing my army service. I went to Belgium and was a security officer. A year later I took a course for senior personnel and became the head of a security team, and then I moved to Amsterdam.
What does the head of a security team do?
I am in charge of the person who asks you, “Did you pack the suitcase yourself?” Also of all the checks. In Amsterdam, people often try to smuggle things in the shampoo.
What do they bring? Grass?
And worse. But it’s not necessarily the Israelis. At bottom, I think it’s easier to grow it here.
What’s it like to fly with a dog?
You have to buy him a ticket. But it’s not as expensive as people’s tickets − it’s just airport tax. He also has to get a passport from a veterinarian. He’s checked for the rabies vaccination and he also has a blood test. Maki is actually set for life because he has a European passport, but that also means he has to have a chip.
Do you give him relaxants for the flight?
No. Even though I did bring something special that makes dogs groggy, I don’t give it to him − I know from experience that there is no need. He flies quite a bit. I gave him the pill once, when we first started, and he came out of it high as a kite, with a dumb look in the eyes that lasted for a few hours after the flight.
Isn’t it very cold in the luggage compartment?
He doesn’t fly there, he flies with me − either on me or under the seat.
I didn’t know dogs were allowed to fly like that.
As an El Al employee, I can tell you that there are two types of dogs that fly. There is “Petsi” − which is short for “pet seat” − and refers to a dog that can sit next to you on the plane, like a bag; and there is “Avi,” referring to a large dog that goes into the luggage compartment. Those flights are a bit dangerous. You probably heard about the cat that got lost at the airport when his cage opened, and dozens of people have been looking for him for weeks without success.
What about peeing?
It’s not a long flight. He doesn’t go in the crate, and the crate is on my knees or on the floor. I just make sure to take him out before the flight. And besides, he has his sex doll to keep him relaxed.
I bought it, because otherwise he climbs up my leg all the time. It’s a kind of furry polar bear. Though as a student of design, I really should think of a better idea. Maybe for my Master’s.
Do you plan to stay there?
I have it good in Amsterdam. I work in the morning and go to school in the evening. I paint a lot and I make jewelry. It’s what I always wanted. Amsterdam is beautiful, the studies are incredible. The food is no great shakes − the Dutch have never heard of spices − but there’s plenty of sushi. The beer is terrific and a lot of time is spent in bars. There are people from all over the world, and we go out and dance. There is a good atmosphere, and if I’m already there and speak the language, I want to get another degree.
Where do you live?
I live in the river area, a Jewish section but not religious. It’s not Brooklyn, but there are no Arabs yet. There are kosher restaurants and there are synagogues. Not that I attend synagogue.
Is the rent cheaper than in Tel Aviv?
Not really. A one-room flat costs 800 euro. That is a steep price for a small, cruddy studio, and you always have to climb tons of stairs to get to these tiny rooms. If I were a local, I would have it easier in terms of tuition.
What does it cost to study there?
It’s 4,500 euro per year, not including equipment. The equipment part is very expensive. For example, we are obliged to buy a MacBook. And you have no choice, because the schedule and all the lessons are always sent straight to the Mac. If you have a PC it will take four months to type it in. Tuition for the local students is a lot more reasonable, 1,700 euro, with free transportation. Student life is not a priority in Israel.
What does Maki think about Amsterdam?
He goes to the park a lot and has fun. It’s a bit strange in the winter, though: you don’t see him; only the traces he leaves in the snow.