Michal was born in 1956, in Kibbutz Na’an, near Rehovot; Jasmin in 1985, in the same kibbutz.
Michal and Jasmin live in separate homes in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood.
Michal has a brother, Boaz, 75, who lives in Kibbutz Na’an (another brother, Amos, who would now be 65, died three years ago). Her husband, Meir, 56, is president of Michal Negrin Designs.
Michal’s father, Yisrael Grun, immigrated to Palestine from Plonsk in 1925, as a 15-year-old boy. His uncle, David Ben-Gurion, arranged immigration certificates for him and for his brother, Binyamin. Yisrael became one of the founders of Kibbutz Na’an. Her mother, Ada, moved to Na’an from Jerusalem. She was born in Ukraine and during the war fled with her parents toward the southern border. “My mother and my grandmother made it across, but my grandfather was shot on the border,” Negrin relates. “Just before he died he removed his wedding ring and gave it to someone, telling her to look for his daughter, Ada, in the land of Israel. It took her many years of searching before she found Ada and gave her the ring. When I was married it passed to me and then was lost in Palma de Majorca, while I was swimming in the sea. Maybe one day I will buy a fish and find the ring in its stomach ... but that fish has yet to arrive. My father was a master carpenter and the kibbutz treasurer, and my mother was the chief cook and the choreographer of all the holiday and other events in the kibbutz.”
Negrin’s family did not make a big deal about being related to Ben-Gurion. “It was cool to be modest about that,” she says, and recalls the trips to Kibbutz Sde Boker, in the Negev, where the prime minister later spent his retirement years. “When he saw me he would run toward me and say, ‘Now we will do a headstand,’ and that is what we did. I remember that he came to the bar mitzvah of Boaz, my older brother. It was the austerity period, and on top of that the kibbutz deprived itself in order to be able to wine and dine Ben-Gurion − up to a point. But when he saw it all he became very upset and said he couldn’t understand how the kibbutz could serve things like pastrami at a time like this.”
Michal was registered in the regional school at Kibbutz Givat Brenner but was more interested in extracurricular activities. Her father died when she was nine and her mother let her skip school when she felt like it. “I am very grateful to her for that,” Negrin says. “She was a bohemian, like me. She bought old watches and I would paint them and do miniature paintings on the back. I made all kinds of humorous jewelry and did embroidery on the standard, boring kibbutz clothes. I did not get to the stage of matriculation exams. One day a photographer who was doing an article about the kibbutz arrived in the school and captured me on film on the only day that I attended gym class. He took my picture doing a routine on the balance beam; for 20 years that photo hung at the entrance to Journalists House in Tel Aviv.”
Michal spent a year in national service at Kibbutz Na’aran, in the Jordan Rift Valley, as part of a kibbutz settlement group (“I arrived in high heels and a skirt, and no one could figure out what this lowlife was doing there”). Afterward, at the Tel Hashomer base, near Ramat Gan, she was in charge of recruiting soldiers for an officers course in the logistics corps. Jasmin was a disciplinary noncom at the Kirya in Tel Aviv.
Following her army service and a year on kibbutz, Michal visited her brothers in the settlement of Neviot (Nuweiba), in Sinai, where Boaz was a farmer and Amos ran a grocery store. She helped with the farming and was in charge of public relations for a holiday village there. After Israel withdrew from Sinai she returned to kibbutz, only to move to Tel Aviv. She got a job at the headquarters of the moshav movement and there met Meir Negrin. “I said: ‘Negrin? He was the Spanish ruler.’ He was very enthusiastic about me, but I explained to him that that was the only history lesson I happened to attend. We met during breaks and he asked me what I did. I told him I had enrolled in the Open University. ‘Why?’ he asked. I said I didn’t know, it’s winter and it’s cold, and there’s no love, and he wanted to know if he could ‘offer’ himself. I didn’t get a chance to study.”
Beads for NIS 1,000:
Pregnancy sent Negrin back to Na’an. Her husband wasn’t sure it was his style, but agreed to give it a try. Two and a half years later, he said he wanted to leave. They moved to Rehovot and then to Tel Aviv. Michal got a loan of NIS 1,000 from her brother, bought beads and lace, and created jewelry and did embroideries at home. “There was no colored jewelry at that time,” she says, “and I revel in color. A month later I held a show at home and sold everything. I felt like I was on cloud nine. That’s my matriculation certificate. I was accepted to the twice-weekly Nahalat Binyamin market for beginning artists, and for four years Meir and I crisscrossed the country. We took part in fairs and exhibitions and market days. We opened a store in Tel Aviv as the first Gulf War started.”
Negrin’s empire has its base in Bat Yam, the location of the factory, the studio and the visitors’ center, which looks like a vast dollhouse − a Disneyland for lovers of stylized kitsch: jewelry, apparel, furniture, flowers, beads, a riot of color. The company also has 25 stores in Israel, four of them franchises, and more than 30 stores abroad. “I create for myself the world in which I want to live,” Negrin says.
Negrin remembers mostly the ride to the hospital and a song by Meir Banai which was playing in the background. “That was our song. Jasmin was born by vacuum extraction at 10 at night, after four very difficult hours.”
Jasmin in school:
Things went reasonably well in elementary school, but far less so at the Gymnasia Herzliya high school. “I survived there until the 10th grade, which for me was a lot,” Jasmin says. “Most of the time I skipped class and all my notebooks were filled with drawings. At the end of every year I said I was quitting, but my parents wouldn’t hear of it. It’s odd that schooling was so important for two parents who had very little of it themselves. At the end of the 10th grade I had seven failing grades and the school said, ‘Either you make things up during the summer or it’s good-bye.’ I saw that the time had come to part and I enrolled in Ankori high school.” Michal: “From the moment she switched to Ankori, our life changed. Suddenly people believed in her and gave her a chance. The teachers called to say what an amazing student she was.”
Rebel with a cause:
A lone daughter who doesn’t play with Barbie dolls, but is a rabid fan of a soccer team (Hapoel Tel Aviv) and goes to all the games, including those played abroad − that was a little too much for Michal, who wanted only to braid Jasmin’s hair. “She simply spoke a different language,” Michal says, “a language of barks and growls that no one understood, and we just waited for it to end.”
Ring cycle reprised:
Jasmin doesn’t understand how the army turned her into a disciplinary noncom. Her messy adolescence was incompatible with her new task: to file complaints against improperly attired soldiers. One incident encapsulated the absurdity: “I detained a soldier for their sloppy appearance, and suddenly I saw on her finger a huge ring made by my mother. A few days later I get a call from my mother. She told me the manager of our Kfar Sava store had called to say I had filed a complaint against one of her best clients.”
Punk and street:
Jasmin, who is theatrically nonchalant in her appearance, studied public relations and has done some acting. She worked as a waitress and bartender before joining the family business in the customer service department and going on to manage the visitors’ center. Finally she had to decide whether to make a career in the company or do her own thing. The result was the emergence of a new apparel label called Stardust. “I always dressed differently,” Jasmin says. “One day I came to school at Ankori wearing pajamas with a frog pattern, and another time in a ball gown. It was crazy and cool and everyone knew it was fine. A year and a half ago, I found a designer and created my own collection and opened a store on Shabazi Street [in Tel Aviv] − a fusion of punk and street that suits women who are young in character, not necessarily in age.”
“She bugs me in every way that I bug other people,” Jasmin says, and also adds her mother’s freakiness, worry and cloying: “[She asks] ‘What did he say? Who was that?’ It’s stronger than her. She calls me half an hour after seeing me and asks, ‘When are you coming?’ That’s annoying.” Michal is not offended or irritated that her daughter no longer shares with her, tells her nothing and does not seek her advice. Especially now, when they have started to diet together.
Reflections in the mirror:
Michal and Jasmin are both inordinately sentimental, in their opinion. They cry over every little thing. “We see commercials on television and start to cry,” Jasmin says. She finds more points of resemblance: “We both express ourselves well in writing and we love music.”
“That I didn’t set enough limits,” Michal says, “that with us nothing was forbidden. We went ahead and hoped that next time it would be all right. I am not diplomatic and I don’t know how to do the right thing, and maybe I didn’t know how to be a mother but was more like a girlfriend to her.”
Jasmin regrets her impatience with her mother.
I will never be like my mother:
Jasmin: “When I was a girl I said I would never force my children to do homework. If they’ll want to go to an amusement park, I will take them, and not ask the kind of questions my mother asks. I can be on the phone with someone who I’ve not figured out yet − and she is already asking me who it is.”
Michal is disappointed that she does not have proper communication with her daughter. “She has such good communication with all her friends, but with me, of all people, she is not communicative about certain things. That can drive me crazy.”
Most important thing in life:
To distinguish between the wheat and the chaff − and also to have harmony (Michal); having fun and being interested in what you do (Jasmin).
Jasmin wanted to be an actress; Michal wanted to do exactly what she is doing: to live the fantasy.