Scene I: Tattoo
Five years ago, Yael gave her firstborn daughter from her first marriage, Noor, a birthday present: a tattoo of a black winged mermaid on her lower back. At first she objected to the tattoo idea and even tried to bribe Noor, then 16, with money to buy clothes. But she couldn't persuade her, and in the end paid for everything. For two hours she sat next to two young motorcyclists who were waiting their turn in the reception room of the tattoo parlor in Dizengoff Center and listened to the whirring of the tattoo machine as it worked on her daughter's back.
"I didn't go in with her," she relates, "because I can make faces that are downers and if she already decided, there was no reason to make her feel down." Noor's girlfriend was with her inside and occasionally came out to tell her that Noor was enjoying every minute. "I sat there, thinking the whole time about the way my daughter had grown up," Yael says. "She came out pleased, smiling, and showed it to me. It came out nice. It's still nice, even though today she says she would do something different."
Since then, Noor has had five more tattoos and piercing all over her body. Yael thought that the last tattoo, three stars on her wrist, was excessive and punished Noor by delaying her driving license by a year. To this day her daughter doesn't have a license.
"She rebelled to the high heavens, but there was no one to rebel against. Before the army, she would leave home every month or two. It's amazing how they escape these days, with all their stuff in designer bags."
Scene II: Crazy Fortis
The Second City Club in Haifa, early 1980s. Young fans are milling around outside, ear-splitting music is being played inside. Levy, who had recently completed her army service,wore Levis, sandals and a throwaway T-shirt. In the years that followed, she also frequented Penguin and Roxanne, Tel Aviv clubs. "I was a [Rami] Fortis groupie," she says. "I have been to almost every one of his shows for nearly 20 years. It started with records I listened to after the army. It was cool, because it was rock and it was heavy and it was always in the wee hours. You drank outside, smoked, went in for the show, shouted 'Crazy Fortis' and waited for him to come out from backstage. Then you would go to drink a little more and get through the night."
Levy went on frequenting Tel Aviv bars and clubs even after she became a mother, and in recent years has been going out with Noor, now 21. At first they went to Freeland, a rock bar on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, where Noor was admitted even though she was only 17 - below the legal age. These days they go to Shesek, a bar on Lilienblum Street. "There is a serious age gap," Levy says, "and I feel that I'm everyone's mother. It's a shame there are no places where people my age can hang out. But never mind - give me a beer and music at full volume and I'm content."
Scene III: Chocolate balls
Cocoa, brandy, sugar, vanilla extract and margarine - those are the ingredients of the chocolate balls Yael Levy makes. The recipe is based on the same candy Levy used to make with her father when she was a girl. Every morning at 6, Levy and her husband, Tzahi, start rolling the balls. By 7:30, when she wakes her two sons and Tzahi leaves for work, the two will have created 40 to 50 packages, each containing a dozen chocolate balls. At 8:30, the boys, 7 and 11 years old, leave for the democratic school on Brenner Street, adjacent to trendy Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv.
Yael then starts to hand-paint the stickers for the packages. When she's finished, she packs them in baskets for distribution to grocery stores in the city. Six years ago, when Yael and Tzahi started to make chocolate balls, they had the market to themselves, but since then competitors have sprung up, some of them aggressive, selling at lower prices.
At lunchtime she has coffee on Sheinkin with Sheli, who makes "Sheli's Couscous." The two met at a neighborhood pediatrician's clinic when they were young mothers with infants and became close friends. On the way to the cafe Levy chats with friends in the neighborhood, among them Futna Jaber, from the "Big Brother" reality show, and Army Radio broadcaster Eran Sabag. "I would say that I am a well-known figure in the neighborhood," Levy says. "When I walk down the street with Tzahi, he is amazed at how I know everyone, how I talk to everyone on the street."
Scene IV: The one that got away
Yael grew up in Kiryat Yam, did her army service in the Nahal paramilitary brigade in the Jordan Rift Valley, moved to Tel Aviv and studied photography at the Camera Obscura school. "The photograph I like the most is the one I missed," Levy says. "I was driving on Sheinkin and I saw an elderly man dressed like a clown go over to his car, which was parked along the curb with the hood raised. I didn't manage to get the picture, but I won't stage it. I could have photographed punkists in the square, or drag queens, or groups that come to Tel Aviv at night from all kinds of places. But I didn't do it, because I'm a person who just sits and thinks about what she would do. I don't do most of what I want. I would like to learn to dance, and go to India and live there for a long time."
She hasn't fulfilled even more modest ambitions, she says. "Once I dreamt of going every Friday to a different place in the country where I have family, knocking on the door and saying: 'Shalom, I'm from your family,' and then sit with them and look at photo albums. But every Friday something else comes up, and I don't do that, either."