Sex Symbols, Generals and Bohemians: A Look at the Tabloid That Captured Israel's Euphoria Between the Wars

Gili Izikovich
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Gili Izikovich

The March 1973 headline in the weekly magazine Ha’olam Hazeh said it all: “Moshe Dayan versus Moshe Dayan: The Battle for the Cologne.” Pictured on the center of the page were bottles of Moshe Dayan aftershave and cologne, which had come on the market a few months before. As befitting the name, the bottles had very manly lines, and the label featured the familiar profile and the slogan “an unforgettable name.”

This wasn’t a business initiative by the then-defense minister − the big star of the time. It was the brainchild of a 35-year-old advertising exec also named Moshe Dayan, who, to the dismay of the “big” Dayan, had gone into business for himself.

“Until 1972 I worked as advertising director for Helena Rubinstein, and my name was well known in the cosmetics field,” relates the “little” Dayan, who now lectures on various subjects and is a sculptor. “It was natural that after I left there, a business opportunity arose: Two cosmetic store owners came to me to help them come up with a cologne for men. They offered me money for the use of my name, or stocks, and I chose stocks. In retrospect, it was a dumb move.”

Why?

“We chose a fragrance, we designed nice labels, we went to Italy and selected a masculine-looking bottle. In the spirit of the time, we wanted to base it on a militaristic message − I actually wanted to design a bottle in the shape of a hand grenade! Dayan had the image of a commander, an image that said victory. I managed to sell 4,000 units in Germany and another 4,000 in South Africa. But when we started to advertise in Israel I started getting letters from the defense minister’s lawyer and the Defense Ministry spokesman, threatening legal action.”

Dayan the advertiser was planning to take the case all the way to the High Court of Justice, “but I underestimated Dayan’s power. A few months after we started selling it I received letters from South Africa and Germany, saying they were canceling their contracts with us. I was stuck with bottles of aftershave and cologne. I still have some at home.”

Looking back now, this amusing anecdote seems to exemplify the spirit of its time: unbridled admiration for an army commander and militaristic displays, for sexual exploits and for all that Dayan − perhaps the biggest symbol of that period before the Yom Kippur war − embodied.

A perusal of the prewar 1973 issues of Ha’olam Hazeh − at least the parts not concerned with politics − reveals a reality that is quite astonishing to a contemporary reader. The magazine is filled with tales of sexual affairs, gossip, a boundless lust for life, and an agenda that was all about turning a curious eye upon the world. The writers covered all sorts of wild partying, roguish generals and glamour girls who swapped “female friends” and husbands at a dizzying rate.

“It was the last days of Pompeii,” recalls Ha’olam Hazeh’s editor from the time, Uri Avnery. “The people living in Pompeii never thought a volcano was about to erupt, just like the partyers in Tel Aviv never dreamed that their joy was about to come to an end.”

“Israeli culinary culture, which is gaining more importance in the life of the average Israeli, gets a new addition this week,” read the subhead of a January 10 article that year in the magazine about a guide to wine that had just been published by Haaretz journalist Yoel Marcus. The book contained a glossary of wine terminology and an explanation of different types of wine, all culled from Marcus’ years as a correspondent in Paris. The article also helpfully included some guidelines to help readers “talk intelligently about wine.”

“In Israel at that time there were just two kinds of wine − sour and sweet,” Marcus recalls today. “The sweet wine was red wine and was beneath all criticism. The sour − the white wine − was drunk with soda. I wrote about the different flavors, how to drink wine, types of glasses.”

Why just then? What happened right at that time that prompted you to come out with the book?

“Honestly, the book didn’t sell that many copies, maybe 3,000, and the part where I talked about the Israeli market was very small. At the time, Amos Kenan had published his ‘Book of Pleasures,’ and if I have to really think about it, I’d say that the period between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War was a time when people lived it up. Fancier restaurants opened and people went out more. We were popular, and wines from abroad started to be imported to Israel. Today it’s possible to obtain the finest wines in Israel, not to mention all the other excellent local products. But that wasn’t the case then. My book was a textbook.”

The festive atmosphere was clearly evident days later that January, at the lavish and highly publicized wedding of 1973’s star couple, actors Yona Alian and Sassi Keshet. The couple, who fell madly in love on the set of the movie “Nurit,” married on a stormy winter’s day. Reporter “Rachel the Gossip”, aka Shula Yariv ‏(later Tavor, after marrying journalist Eli Tavor, a founder of Ha’olam Hazeh‏), waxed poetic. “Two enormous green lions, made of congealed margarine, led a huge wagon brimming with fruit,” she wrote, describing what took place in the brand-new Pan American Hotel on the Bat Yam beach. “Big fish, also made of margarine, served as fountains for a pool of margarine.”

At the end of the double spread filled with pictures, she wrote, bitingly: “The celebrants of this grand event certainly fit the Hollywood backdrop: Both are stars, both are gorgeous, both are glamorous. Above their heads was the poster from the movie ‘Nurit’ − made of margarine, of course.”

“On the morning of the wedding it was announced on the news, and we were in shock − we didn’t know it would be this way,” Alian remembers now. Reminded of the “Margarine Wedding” title, she laughs. “We got married in a hotel that put on the wedding for free, for the publicity. We didn’t get involved and they did the reception and decorated it with these margarine sculptures − really big margarine sculptures. It was a kind of art at the time and they wanted to surprise us, but we were never aware of any of what was planned or thought that the wedding would make such a big splash. At the time there weren’t so many famous people, the proportions were different, because there was only Channel 1 and a few movies that everybody went to see − everything had 100-percent ratings.

“Our falling in love on the movie set, and everything that happened afterward, received lots of coverage, but not because of us,” Alian continues. “We ran away, we traveled abroad. The exposure and the love that we received − it was all much bigger. Between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War it was a period of normality. We lived in a paradise. Everything was wonderful and we were the best. Not like everyone else − we were the best of all, and everything was the best and the most. I couldn’t walk down the street because of all the love. They called us ‘gods’ even, not celebrities. Gods.”

Maybe it was really this curiosity that Alian talks about and the euphoric feeling of joy, or maybe it was something else that distinguished Ha’olam Hazeh − which, in a clever marketing strategy, blended incisive political criticism with tabloid articles and nudity.

Arrival of waterbeds

A long piece in Ha’olam Hazeh, which eventually closed in 1993, reported on the welcome arrival of waterbeds in Israel. After they’d become a big hit in America the year before, two students began importing them here in ‘73. What was ostensibly just an article about a new consumer product helped sell papers with pictures of scantily clad young folks on the bed, in the spirit of free love. “‘Waterbeds are a good thing, right?’ she whispered in his ear,” the magazine writes, flirtatiously describing the dialogue between one of the entrepreneurs and his girlfriend, following a “night of pleasure on a double waterbed.” “‘And we both know it. And besides waterbeds, you love Israel too − so why not both together?’”

The issues are filled with pictures of the rising models of the time: Cheli Goldenberg and “the 12th-grader,” Tzipi Levine ‏(mother of Bar Refaeli‏). Rachel the Gossip’s column features pictures of all sorts of beauty queens from the pageants that seemed to take place every other day. The romance between singer-model Daliah Lavi and much younger Mike Brant, a popular singer, is reported as hot news, as is the marriage of Tzadok Kraus ‏(brother of musician Shmulik‏) and stewardess Rachel Perry, formerly Tyrie, best known for an affair with Leonard Cohen. “I’d go to pick her up from the airport, only to find that she hadn’t gotten on the plane because Leonard had come at the last minute to get her,” says Kraus today, about their marriage. “It was that crazy time in the 1970s. And she was a very free sort of person. She’s been living in Los Angeles for the past 33 years.”

In late February 1973, the magazine reported on the new hot-spot next to what is now Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square: the Jacky restaurant, frequented by the bohemian crowd, as well as businessmen, army officers and glamour girls. Their pictures adorn the page: “The restaurant that has usurped Cassit is the place where all the ‘who’s who’ − especially of the female variety − must be seen on Friday afternoon.”

“It was a time of bars and clubs and going out. There was a certain atmosphere then,” recalls producer Micha Shaufstein. “An atmosphere of letting go. Clubs and hot nightlife spots opened, all the beautiful people and the freaks, everyone was going around half-naked. It was an atmosphere of total freedom. At Jacky you had the army officers, guys with money, and beautiful women. I was a little over 20 and I used to go there. I think Ha’olam Hazeh got the atmosphere right. The magazine arrived every Thursday and we would wait for it. Moshe Dayan was the star, and Gandhi [Rehavam Ze’evi], too. Officers were gods. All the generals would show up in uniform to the clubs and not pay. They’d invite them in. They were the real celebrities of the time.”

In early 1972, the movie “Last Tango in Paris” came out and caused a huge stir. There were reports about how the uncut version of the movie was smuggled to New York from Italy, where there was no censorship. There were stories about the famous scenes, about the actors and the director. A few months later, on April 14, the magazine published a big article comprised of local viewers’ responses to the movie, which, surprisingly, was being shown in Israel at Tel Aviv’s Studio Cinema, without a single scene having been cut by the censor. The responses ranged from “That’s how it goes in life,” from 25-year-old Haim Aharon, to “What’s all this with the rear ends?” − the appalled reaction from one Mitka Aharon as she left the cinema.

“It was a huge international sensation,” recalls Haaretz movie critic Uri Klein. “It was definitely the cinematic event of that year. In Israel, too, it caused a lot of excitement. There was a lot of talk about the butter scene and there was a discourse, but mainly it was a sensation, an event. It’s hard to think of another movie since that has caused that kind of excitement.”

Klein continues: “At the time, not all the important movies of the year made it to Israel. That wasn’t happening yet. The Cinematheque [in Tel Aviv] only opened in 1972, and that same year the film studies department at Tel Aviv University was started. It was a time of cinematic flowering in Israel, a time of historical importance − you now have an institution where you can study cinema, and an institution where you can watch important movies. Before then there were film clubs, but it was all very random and happenstance, not institutionalized.”

And suddenly there was this feeling of ‘We’re part of the world’?

“Absolutely. I also remember the excitement surrounding the screening of ‘The Godfather,’ which came out around the same time. A feeling that things were happening.”

This feeling that we were at one with the world and the messages of those years − the curiosity and rebellion, the defiant youth culture, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles − found expression in Israel, too. But perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it was a counterforce to the insularity and self-protective attitude of the years that preceded the victory in 1967’s Six-Day War.

One aspect of this trend can be found in journalist Dahn Ben-Amotz’s 1973 novel “Lo Sam Zayin” ‏(“Does Not Give a Damn”‏), which became an instant best-seller among young people. “Just two weeks after its publication, and despite the secrecy surrounding its appearance, the book promises to be one of the most talked-about literary works of the year.” That declaration by Ha’olam Hazeh apparently derived from the book’s impressive sales considering its subject − a wounded combat soldier, the contemporary of the signers of the high-school seniors’ letter complaining about the lack of peace efforts by the Golda Meir government; the book is filled with the soldier’s heretical thoughts against the army and the war. And with its unequivocal title, the book was also a political provocation as well as a generational clash.

“Dahn Ben-Amotz gathered around him a group of young people, Tel Aviv high schoolers, and for them he was the whole world,” explains Levi Zini, director of the documentary film on Ben-Amotz, entitled “Daba: The Story of an Israeli Icon”; Levi was a teenager himself at the time. “He dared to ask questions. It was a cautious testing of the patriotic boundaries, and Ben-Amotz gave it expression. The kids of my generation eagerly devoured the book, because it gave voice to our questions and to our individual selves. Suddenly there seemed to be a place for who we were. It suited the spirit of the time.”

“We were kind of a group, a bit radical, political. We made noise,” recalls Ami Amir, now a television producer, and one of the young groupies who gathered around Ben-Amotz. “We would hang around Cassit, and one day we met [writer] Amos Kenan. That’s how we hooked up with him and Ben-Amotz.”

The book was about all of you?

“The book doesn’t depict the time. Ben-Amotz had to return to the army, he needed to exploit his hero’s disability to explain his heretical views. It was a banal reason, and meanwhile it was the time of the Greater Land of Israel − we’re kings of the world and anything goes. Our group was against that. We objected to that, and Ben-Amotz did, too. He saw something in us that he could identify with.”

Song and dance

In the early spring, the magazine reported that “a private businessman has volunteered to fund Israel’s representation in Europe − since the Israel Broadcasting Authority did not find the budget to do so.” It was referring to the Eurovision Song Contest of that year − the first year Israel participated − and Daphna Tours’ offer to pay to fly singers Ilanit, Shlomo Zach and Nurit Hirsch to the competition in Luxembourg.

“In 1972, I worked with Shlomo Zach in Germany, and I was approached and asked to represent Germany,” says Ilanit, who represented Israel in the competition and came in fourth with the song “Ey Sham” ‏(“Somewhere”‏). “I happened to see Israel on the lists of countries eligible to take part in the competition, and I contacted the Broadcasting Authority.”

It was already too late for 1972, and a year later the trip was nearly canceled due to funding problems, which the singer herself solved: “I went and did an ad for the travel agency Daphna Tours, and they put the picture on the cover of Lahiton [a weekly music magazine]. The agency paid for our flights − for me, Shlomo and Nurit − but there wasn’t money for the backup band, so I sang alone. I performed there without a band; I got the dress from [designer] Roji Ben Yosef, and there was a whole story with the judges, too. According to the rules, two judges from each country were supposed to be there on stage − one senior and one junior − but the Broadcasting Authority didn’t have money to send judges. The [Channel 1] correspondent in Paris, Nakdimon Rogel, was recruited for the job, he brought his son with him, and that’s how Israel had its two judges.”

The 1973 Eurovision Song Contest was apparently one of the most-watched broadcasts in Israeli history: The streets were deserted that night, when the competition was being aired live for the first time, and beautiful, golden-haired Ilanit attracted the attention of the foreign media and forecasts for greater things.

On Israel’s 25th Independence Day, things looked good. Prime Minister Meir was interviewed on television and asked about the possibility of Egyptian aggression. In February 1973 Israel had downed a Libyan passenger jet that mistakenly entered Sinai airspace, and Golda blew a puff of smoke from her cigarette and replied to the interviewer: “If [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat is thinking of messing with us, he should ask [Libyan leader Muammar] Gadhafi whether it’s worth it.”

In June 1973, the wax museum Armon Shalom opened in Tel Aviv’s Shalom Tower, and the ads for it starred the figures of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan − more prominent personalities than even singer Yehoram Gaon, the big star of the period. Edna Lev’s “You and I were Born in ‘48” won that year’s Israel Song Festival, and Shlomo Artzi’s “The Song About the Land of Sinai” was playing frequently on the radio.

“There was great love for Israel then, and in Israel, too, people felt invincible and complacent,” says Ilanit.

“The whole early ‘70s was a time of cultural ferment,” adds Zini. “There was the Lul [comedy] troupe, and [poets Yona] Wallach and [Meir] Wieseltier, [artist] Jacques Katmor and [poet-writer] David Avidan, and everyone experimenting with drugs. It was like this giant valve had been released − this great discovery that there was a world outside that was trickling in to us here. It was the most marvelous cultural era ever here. A fantastic burst of creativity.”

“In retrospect, it was like everyone was going wild,” reflects Shula Yariv ‏(aka Rachel the Gossip‏) today. “People were carried away. There was this new openness and sexual permissiveness. And, by the way, I don’t think they were doing anything then that isn’t done today; it’s just today it’s not reported on. There are stories, they’re just not being told. Maybe that’s something that’s happened since then. When the [Yom Kippur] war came it shattered everything. So it’s not that there were no more stories, but who felt like hearing them anymore? Who felt like telling them?”

Adds Avnery: “I called this period the ‘ship of fools,’ and it was a war between the two wars. The entire country was in a state of euphoria, the military officers were gods and the supreme god was Moshe Dayan. There was a general air of optimism: Our power was unlimited, our army was unbeatable and we could do whatever we pleased. It was reflected in everything − in poetry and art − until the Yom Kippur War came and put an end to it. We at Ha’olam Hazeh reflected the life around us, and the life of the bohemian crowd in Tel Aviv, of the cultural leaders, was carefree and pleasant. It really was.”

Total liberation? Permissiveness?

“Moshe Dayan was God, an international sex symbol, and tales of his sexual exploits were famous around the world. A cause for admiration. Dayan was the symbol of the time, and he embodied its spirit. You don’t find that anymore. The war put an end to that special time, a very fertile time in many ways, and it’s gone now.”

You make it sound like everything changed all at once.

“The Yom Kippur War changed the public atmosphere − or call it the public culture − all at once. The day after the war, it was a different Israel from that standpoint. The nightclubs emptied out, the whole thing came to a halt. I lived above Frederika’s nightclub at the time, and I often used to stop in there for a drink after work. From the time the war began [October 1973], all the nightlife was shut down. It was all over: the promiscuity and the sex, the whole ethos of the invincible army, the all-powerful Israeli supermen. The days of great joy did not return. In a certain sense, the present days of joy and euphoria are also the last days of Pompeii, just different ones.”

What do you mean?

“The joy then came from excessive self-confidence. There were cultural figures and generals that everyone admired, and glamour girls. That doesn’t exist today because it’s not the same society anymore. What is similar is that feeling of the last days of Pompeii. Israeli society is closing its eyes so as not to see what’s right in front of it, but the self-confidence of that earlier time is gone now.”

Not so much the last days of Pompeii as: Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die?

“Like partying on the Titanic as we’re heading for the iceberg.”

Dahn Ben-Amotz.Credit: Yakov Agor
Sassi Keshet and Yona Alian.Credit: Yakov Agor
Ilanit.Credit: Yakov Agor
“Last Tango in Paris,” 1972. The uncut version was shown in Israel.

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