She is a cool, one-woman social network who founded some of Tel Aviv's avant-garde institutions. But Renen Mosinzon is also still her famous daddy's little girl. In a new documentary she talks about life with the beloved writer Igal Mossinsohn.
Trying to describe Renen Mosinzon in a couple of sentences is like trying to ride a kite. It's impossible to explain in brief what she does and it's not clear exactly how she makes a living. She has no cell phone, for example, doesn't give out her home address (her mail is delivered to the restaurant where she hangs out) and she refuses politely to meet in her apartment.
Mosinzon, 33, is obviously out to envelop herself in an atmosphere of ambiguity. And the reason for that ambiguity is also ambiguous.
Because of her elusiveness, most people will still associate her with her father, the writer Igal Mossinsohn. (Renen spells her name differently. )
Her father wrote 70 books, including the 44 novellas of the wildly popular "Hasamba" series for youngsters. "Hasamba" is a Hebrew acronym for "The Absolutely Secret Group," referring to a group of fictional children who aid the pre-state Jewish forces in the struggle against the British and for statehood and afterward against domestic criminals and Israel's enemies.
The books first appeared in the 1950s and continued until Mossinsohn's death in 1994 at the age of 77 .
He also wrote 20 plays, of which the most famous is "Casablan," and five screenplays. Still, his daughter, who was 16 when her father died, has a rich resume of her own. She was a wunderkind in the Israeli media world, one of the founders of the culture magazine "Route 40," was involved in the establishment of mobile phone company Cellcom's record label and busied herself in yet more initiatives, all before the age of 30.
About a month ago, Israeli cable TV began broadcasting the series "Hasamba Third Generation," based on her father's books but with a sophisticated update.
The members of the group, including Yaron, the commander, and Tamar, his deputy, are now in their 70s, while the bad guys, the descendants of the arch-criminal Elimelech Zorkin, are high-rolling tycoons.
Renen Mosinzon accompanied the development of the project and its production and is credited as artistic producer. Two weeks ago, HOT's Israeli Entertainment Channel broadcast the first episode of a new documentary series, "It Runs in the Family" (directed by Nitzan Giladi ), which is about artists whose fathers were also involved in the arts. The first program was devoted to Renen Mosinzon (and can be viewed, in Hebrew, at http://hot.ynet.co.il/home/0,7340,L-8887,00.html ).
Even after 20 years as a independent force in the Israeli media world, she is still best known for her last name.
"She has a finger in every pie" and "She is a one-woman social network" are commonly heard descriptions of Mosinzon. Those skills also account for the large number of projects she is involved in and coveted jobs she has held, always without taking credit.
For example, she was involved in the Channel 10 comedy sketch program "Room for Concern" as part of her position as director of development in the Meter production company, was one of the founders of the Tel Aviv art gallery Hahalalit and is now directing and editing a documentary series about drugs for Channel 8 (Israel's equivalent to the Discovery Channel ).
Good-looking and lean, Mosinzon always wears loose clothes, most of which have seen better days, projects charisma with the intensity of a lighthouse and radiates a nonchalance for which the only viable term is "cool."
"Renen knows everyone and can be an excellent talent scout, but she's a bit spaced out," said a television person who has worked with her. "She's worked in a million places, always for a short time. She can spot talent in a second, that's her big skill."
Also well known in the lesbian community, her former partners include the singers Rona Kenan and Yehudit Ravitz.
"I don't like to give interviews," she declares, snipping off the end of her cigarette so she will not smoke too much - a habit that will repeat itself throughout the interview - "but I'm doing it gladly and it's important for me, too. I was thrilled at the premiere of 'Hasamba,' I was thrilled at the success and at the buzz, and I wanted my mother and my brother [Gili Mosinzon, a sports commentator and basketball player] to be pleased."
Her abhorrence of self-exposure is palpable. Direct questions, and certainly questions of a personal character, vex her, and she shows it through physical gestures. Such questions plunge her into deep thought, followed by a few seconds of stuttering, a shift in her posture, and in most cases she will tell a joke instead of answering or will snap a one-word reply.
Questions about her father, even if they are not sensitive, tend to produce a pause for nostalgic reflection, her eyes seeming to mist over.
"One of the most active areas in the house was the chess balcony," she recalls in answer to a question about the atmosphere in her parents' home. "When I was growing up I thought everyone had a chess balcony at home. My father was one of the best chess players in the country. Whenever some Kasparov came to Israel he would be brought to my dad and they would put on these showcase performances. For 30 years, every Friday, he played chess with Tommy Lapid [a journalist and later justice minister] and Yehoshua Bar-Yosef [a prominent writer]. My dad couldn't stand it when people talked during a game, so Lapid would play these tricks, such as drumming his fingers on the table or whistling. Mom and I would hide and peek at them when they argued and shouted that they would never play against each other again - and then would immediately go back to the game. That was a weekly Friday ritual for 30 years."
Did you and your brother know that your father was a famous author when you were growing up?
"Throughout our whole childhood, the seasons of the year were divided according to Hebrew Book Week. It was an absolutely concrete division. 'The harvest,' in June, was Book Week. [The writer] Devorah Omer, who is a cousin of mine, had a booth there, and Pucho [the writer Yisrael Wisler, a friend of Igal Mossinsohn's and the father of Yami Wisler, a childhood friend of Renen's who was a founder of the Biluim band and a co-creator of the TV show "Room for Concern"] used to read to the children on the grass. Life stopped for a week. The spaces under the booths were like an endless series of tunnels for us. We escaped into them and wandered all over and then suddenly showed up next to Devorah and Pucho."
Sounds like a family gathering.
"Family and beyond. I'm not sure that the feeling of a celebration still exists in Book Week. A commercial spirit has taken over. And the older generation of writers behaved somewhat differently. My dad autographed books like he was a kid in a toy store. He had this kind of sponge bracelet, which was supposed to absorb sweat, but he thought it would help when his hand would start to hurt because of all the nonstop autographing. There's a famous joke that my dad never got tired of telling: When a kid asked him for an autograph he would ask, 'Should I make it to sweet or sour Gili?' With his handwriting you couldn't tell the difference between the two anyway."
A few months after Hebrew Book Week, Mossinsohn would start work on a new "Hasamba" book. Renen recalls periods of study - before the writing began - marked by open volumes of the Encyclopedia Hebraica and "lexicons of weapons, Dead Sea animals and rare species of avocado, a well-known weapon in 'Hasamba.'"
After that stage, Mosinzon recalls, the most exciting season of all began.
"My dad was a boy until his last day," she says with a fleeting smile. "Oh, he was a man's man, with a deep bass voice lower than the Dead Sea, smoked more than a chimney and sported a beard to end all beards, but he was completely a child, terribly naive, too. True innocence. He himself was in a state of suspense from the plots. Really. And he would suddenly get scared that maybe it was too tense, because he himself was so charged up. It was charming and captivating - I remember that even as a girl I understood that it was magical and also quite illogical."
Did he try out plot lines on the family?
"He tried to, and was always careful not to scare us too much. During the writing stage his study would fill up with books from the ceiling to the floor, and everything would be yanked out when needed. He closed the sliding door politely, asking our pardon, and stayed inside for hours on end. It was clear that the room was off-limits, and we respected that, partly in expectation that he was cooking up something for us too. We would get the material and devour it, totally thrilled. We made comments and it was apparent to us that they were taken seriously. Then Uri Shalgi, the publisher, showed up with a book and you knew that Shalgi's wife was starting to make sandwiches for Hebrew Book Week, and a new year would begin."
Igal Mossinsohn was an unusual father not only because he was a famous author. He fathered Renen and her brother in his sixties, after having four sons from two previous marriages. When he lived in the United States in the 1950s he reportedly had an affair with Marilyn Monroe and he also had a side career as an inventor.
As a girl, did you understand that your father was different from other fathers, that he was much older?
"Luckily, I grew up in an environment that was rich and diversified enough for me to understand that everyone is strange in his own way. I was overjoyed with my father and he loved us very much and was very available to us precisely because of his age. We were his whole world. I believe that from the moment we were born he wrote the 'Hasambas' for us. He would sit with me in cafes and talk to me until the words ran out, and fortunately I did not get many nasty reactions. In our milieu, 'Hasamba' and my dad still, as his generation put it, had pretty big glik [Yiddish for good fortune]. When I think about it, I really grew up in the Palmach generation," she says, referring to the pre-state Jewish commando force. "When I was growing up he was in his 70s, and I'm positive that gave me something extra."
Is it possible that his elderly parentage forged in you an impulse to be equal, to accomplish a lot and grow up quickly?
"That's true, but I have nothing to say about it. It made me what I am, he was my father and that's how I grew up. It certainly influenced me, but what is there to say?"
Yami Wisler, Pucho's son, was a childhood friend of yours and is now a creative partner. Rona Kenan, the daughter of the writer Amos Kenan, was your partner. So a group of children of older writers sprang up around you.
"Yes, you only see it on Yami, but we all have a beard. We like the songs of the youth movements and the underground groups. Fortunately for us, somehow it synchronized with the passing fashions and made it possible for Yami to put together the Biluim, for Rona to create the 'Songs for Yoel' album and for me to do 'Hasamba Third Generation.' All kinds of notions like 'retro' made it possible, but I think it's something in our DNA. The three of us feel a lot more comfortable with the elders of Kassit [legendary Tel Aviv bohemian hangout] than in any trendy cafe." You and Rona Kenan grew up almost together. Were you a couple almost from adolescence, was it part of the connection?
"Of course, even though my dad and her dad were from different generations. My dad was from the Palmach, a generation that didn't drink, for which the whole world of pleasures and the 'Book of Pleasures' [by Amos Kenan] were nonexistent. Amos led a whole generation into a world of hedonism that was alien to my father. My heritage is face-to-face combat, which my father trained me in, using sticks and stones."
Mosinzon may be generous with descriptions of her famous father, but when it comes to herself, she becomes stingy with her words. A conversation about her career is almost taboo.
It began, by chance, when she was 12. Dr. Moshe Kroy, a philosopher and a social butterfly of the 1970s and 1980s who, before killing himself, wrote a book that magnetized members of the Israeli bohemia such as writer Dahn Ben Amotz, was a neighbor in Tel Aviv.
Renen was the only neighbor who developed a friendship with him. After Kroy committed suicide, she was interviewed by a reporter from the now defunct newspaper Hadashot and the article cited "Mossinsohn's young daughter."
Furious, she called the paper's news editor, Amnon Rabi. He invited her to the editorial offices, where she became enthralled by the long corridors, the darkrooms and the work of putting out a paper.
Within three years she realized her dream and became the proud owner of a journalist's pager. At the age of 15 she held a full-time job as a reporter for the local Tel Aviv weekly published by Yedioth Ahronoth. Three years after that she was already writing features for the paper's weekend magazine. School took a backseat.
"I went to wonderful Gordon High. I was working in the ninth grade and effectively dropped out," she says. "I wandered around the paper with a beeper and thought the sun shone out of my ass. Something in the proportions had changed: I was already living on my own and I had a newspaper column."
Didn't your parents object?
"They didn't like it - my mother is a teacher. But they understood, and between the two of them they were proud too. It was not alien to the spirit in which I was raised. They saw that I was working and not bumming around on the streets. I was also working as a copywriter at the time, which also looks odd in retrospect." Mosinzon's life as a journalist ended eight years after it began. At the age of 21 she decided to retire from the profession, because "I felt I had too much information in my head about things that weren't me. At 22 I concluded my career officially, retired and rested for a few years."
A move south
Not long after abandoning her journalistic career Mosinzon moved to the southern town of Mitzpeh Ramon - a trendy move. She rented a home, did a six-month course in caregiving for infants and toddlers and was employed in a day-care center run by Flora Shushan, the sister of former Labor Party leader Amir Peretz and later the head of the Mitzpeh Ramon local council.
In the four years she spent there she founded, together with Michal Romi, a local weekly called "Route 40," which deals with culture and social issues and is still going strong. Five years ago, she decided to make another switch and left.
"I had a yen to do things," she says. "I enjoyed [Mitzpeh Ramon] very much. It's riveting to work with children."
The return to Tel Aviv included a return to television as well. (She edited a youth program on Channel 2 when she was 19 ). Now she became, among other occupations, the creative director of Logia Mobile Content Solutions ("For a moment it looked as though cellular content would become the new local magazines" ). In the meantime, she looked for a way to produce a new version of "Hasamba."
That effort eventually led to the new series and the renewed publication of the books, but before that it led to a dispute involving the Mosinzon family, production companies and the cable and satellite TV corporations.
The family had sold the production rights to the producer Tamira Yardeni to turn it into a family drama series, but afterward the family changed its mind about the agreement. Yardeni threatened to sue but in the end let it go. "The Mosinzon family signed an agreement with us and with Yes [satellite TV] to produce 'Hasamba,'" Yardeni said. "The family violated the agreement and we were greatly relieved - I need say no more. We applaud and support the final result wholeheartedly."
Mosinzon was of course loath to elaborate.
"I knew that something had to be done with 'Hasamba,'" she says. "I toyed with the idea of a series or a movie. I have known Tamira for many years and at one point I saw her do something generous and thrilling. In the end, we parted as friends."
In the end you also took the original "Hasamba" to a completely different place.
"The choice of how to adapt it really scared me. I needed a lot of courage and confidence, which came thanks to the people I worked with - Dror Nobleman, the series writer; and Danny Syrkin, the director - to take that extra step. We were committed to the people my mother calls the 'Hasamba graduates,' those who grew up with the books, but also to the fact that this is commercial TV and also has to interest contemporary youth. It was a long process - I personally brought Nobleman's youth to an end - but the result is worth it."
Why was it so important to implement the project, to adapt 'Hasamba' anew?
"Because my dad wrote it and he died."
That was some years ago.
"Yes, the death thing is pretty static. He's still dead."
"There was no question at any stage. It's there, it's ours and I want it to stay alive. There is also talk now about 'Casablan,' which people don't actually remember that he wrote, and also about 'Judas,' which Dad considered his best novel but which, unfortunately, I did not read until a few years after his death."
Would your father like the new "Hasamba"?
"He would love it. It would thrill him. The day before the premiere I thought to myself about how he would react if he were there. Suddenly I was able to imagine him showing up. My father was a very simple person. He would certainly be embarrassed by the melee and joke about how there was catering and free drinks and how they were making such a fuss and smoking inside was prohibited."
Do you feel the weight of the family burden is on your shoulders?
"It's a commitment, and it's fine that it's a commitment."
The series received mixed reviews. Haaretz wrote in Hebrew that the adaptation is a "brilliant idea" and described the series as "a good-time, intelligent product."
However, Ynet said the story was "untenable" and would appeal neither to young nor older viewers.
News from bohemia
When Mosinzon is not busy perpetuating her father's life enterprise she is usually dealing with Hahalalit and with "News from 70 Hayarkon." The former is a gallery which has a spacious roof and also room for artists to live and work. One of my conversations with Mosinzon took place on the first floor of the gallery in such a space, laden with objects and small decorations, which until recently she shared with Dana Olmert, an editor and literary theorist (and the daughter of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ).
Even before the creation of the gallery, the Bauhaus building at 70 Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv (in which the singer Meir Ariel and the fashion designer Lola Bar lived ) accommodated a kind of community of creative artists. It began with Shabbat gatherings at which traditional songs were sung and a talk was given about the weekly Torah portion, continued with free lectures and courses and developed into an array of projects.
Three years ago, the community spawned Hahalalit. As part of their activity, Mosinzon and Maoz Degani, one of the partners in the project, created "News from 70 Hayarkon," an alternative weekly Internet newscast that is also screened before feature films at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Other media personalities also take part (among them Keren Neubach, Ilan Lokach, Itai Anghel and Nesli Barda ). Everyone works on a voluntary basis.
"In many ways Hahalalit brings together many of the things that are important to me, such as social and political involvement, a caring media," Mosinzon says. "It's a kind of urban kibbutz. It also connects with the series, which reflects simplicity and love of mankind and has none of this boring political correctness. It's a place where friends are truly friends and not just artificially polite to one another. The fat man is a fat man, the Yemenite is a Yemenite and the partnership is partnership."
Mosinzon's ability, attested to by friends and colleagues, "to collect people and get them to go with her ideas," is once again apparent.
As always, she squirms when asked about this, saying she doesn't feel comfortable with "schvitzing."
"What can I say about it? I am sociable, I like people, but what can I say?" Finally she adds, "There are a lot of things I would like to manage to do, there are many fields that interest me. Let's leave it like that, there's no need to dig deeper." W