Eliezer and Yonatan Coobi

Aviva Lori
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Aviva Lori

Eliezer was born in 1945, Yonatan in 1978 both in Tiberias.

Eliezer lives in a detached house in Ramat Tiberias; Yonatan in an apartment in a city, close to the sea.

Eliezer and Yonatan Coobi.Credit: Ilya Melnikov

Extended family:
Eliezer’s mother, Masuda, is 83. He has one sister, Ettie, 64, a pensioner, and three brothers: Shimon, 57, who owns a store (Everything for NIS 2) in Tiberias; Micha, 52, who works in air conditioning; and Itzik, 50, who is in real estate. Eliezer’s wife, Hili, is a retired English teacher. He has four more sons, in addition to Yonatan: Asaf, 40, an importer; Itai, 37, in marketing; Roi, 22, an officer in the air force; and Daniel, 20, a soldier. Eliezer has four grandchildren. Yonatan’s wife, Ayala, an economist by profession who is currently working on a PhD, is a senior administrator for the Clalit HMO. They have a two-year-old daughter, Michaela.

Camels and donkeys:
Rabbi Meir Baal Haness and Maimonides are buried in the holy city of Tiberias. Eliezer’s family on his mother’s side, the Al Halwa family, came to the Holy Land from Morocco in 1750 on camels and donkeys, and together with the Al Hadaf and Abulafia families rebuilt Tiberias, which had been destroyed in the 12th century. “Everyone came for religious reasons,” Eliezer says. “My paternal grandfather arrived from Morocco in 1928. They too made their way on foot and on donkeys, via Egypt and Libya. He brought all the silver and gold in boxes. In Tiberias he was the gabai (sexton) of the synagogue.”

Eliezer and Yonatan CoobiCredit: Ilya Melnikov

Creative solutions:
Tiberias was surrounded by a wall and had a plentiful water supply back then, but few options for earning a living. Not even the tombs of the righteous and the stories of the miracles helped; the inhabitants had to look for creative solutions. Eliezer’s father, Yosef, was 13 when he received a merchant’s permit from the British. “My father was one of the first to leave the walled city. What did he do? He rented beds to the British, who didn’t like to sleep on the floor. A few years later he started to manufacture straw mattresses, and he had a store before the state’s establishment. He sold iceboxes made by the Kor Oz and Friedman companies, and afterward we were the exclusive agents for the Amcor company [which makes refrigerators] in the northern region.”

Nothing’s changed:
The country is in trouble, Eliezer observes, but isn’t aware of it. Just like the situation before 1948, the country’s focus is still on the area between Gedera and Hadera. “It’s an upside-down pyramid,” he says, “in which the periphery leans on the center for support, whereas it should be the opposite: The center should lean on the periphery. It’s a miracle we have continued to exist until now.”

Eliezer in school:
He wasn’t a very good pupil. He attended a Tiberias high school without much joy. “I liked soccer, I liked motorcycles and I liked girls who liked motorcycles,” he says. “I wasn’t into school.” However, he sent Yonatan to a boarding school of the Society for the Advancement of Education, in Kfar Sava, and afterward to a prestigious high school. “The standard of the schools in Tiberias wasn’t high enough,” Yonatan says. “My brother Itai had gone to the Kfar Sava school, and I saw that it was good, so I followed in his footsteps and it was really good. I enjoyed the experience, the culture and the social aspect. I had been an introverted boy and I opened up in the school, but I wasn’t an especially good student. In fact, I was middling in everything.” Eliezer has a theory: “If you love your children, you have to send them away, let them go. That was my motto after I returned from New York.”

Because he knew Arabic, Eliezer was posted in the military government in Galilee (which was disbanded in 1966). “Arabic was the spoken language on the street,” he recalls. “In Tiberias even Ashkenazim spoke Arabic.” Yonatan was a health noncom in the Medical Corps.

Beauty queen:
In the 1960s, the whole north of the country was Lebanon-oriented. Clever merchants sold black-and-white television sets, and even more clever technicians installed antennas on rooftops to pick up the Lebanese channels. The inhabitants of the north could rattle off the names of all the Lebanese beauty queens. “My father sold televisions and radios,” Eliezer says, “and I installed antennas. But I wanted something else. I wanted to move forward. I thought of going to Tel Aviv or New York.”

Leaving home:
With $200 in his pocket, Eliezer arrived in New York and stayed for a year and a half. He worked at odd jobs until he moved in with an American girlfriend and through her came in contact with a riveting phenomenon. “The whole thing with the hippies started then the long hair, the flower children. I learned a lot there, and one of the oddest and least understood things was the connection between American youngsters and their parents. I was stunned to see 18-year-olds cutting themselves off from their parents, moving to a different place and calling the parents ‘my old man’ and ‘my old lady.’ I remember one time when my girlfriend was burning up with fever and I had to go to work. I didn’t know what to do, so I called her parents and asked them to come and be with her. They came and thanked me very much, but were also surprised at the phone call. She was angry. She said they cashed in all their savings in order to come to New York.”

Flying in the air:
He had a hard landing in Israel. “I found it very tough to go back to Tiberias after New York,” Eliezer says. He chose Tel Aviv as an interim stop to ease the transition. “I opened a business in south Tel Aviv, selling televisions and antennas, and it went fantastically well. Every evening I went to a different club, everyone knew me, I had a motorcycle and money. I was a bachelor and I did what I wanted. Things were good, but I had the feeling that something was missing. Tel Aviv is a city of unlimited possibilities, but in a split second everything can change. In Tiberias I had a base and everything was a lot easier. Now I am sorry I didn’t stay in Tel Aviv, though. I would have gone a lot farther.”

Mom’s work:
Return to Tiberias, Act I: Although his father was ready to hire him to work in his store, after New York Eliezer felt he could go it alone and opened a furniture store. “Things went really well,” he says, “and Dad offered me a partnership. When he died, in 1987, I told my brothers to say which they wanted, electrical appliances or furniture, and I split the business.” Return to Tiberias, Act II: His mother declared with sorrow that he was becoming the male equivalent of an old maid, and asked: “’So, when are you going to get married? I’m tired of seeing girls come and go all day.’ One Friday I was sitting on the balcony and I saw a pretty girl with a braid down below. I said to my mother, ‘I would marry a girl like that.’ A few days later, Mom sent me to a certain house, saying that their television had stopped working. I get there and see the girl with the braid. I learned afterward that Mom had looked for her and set up the whole thing. She was 17 and a half, from Moshav Sde Eliezer, and I was 25. Half a year later she was drafted and I was afraid someone would steal her away from me. Two months later, we were under the bridal canopy. That was one of the biggest successes of my life.”

Yonatan’s birth:
“I was at the birth,” Eliezer says. “It was very hard, because he was a huge baby, but he was beautiful right from the beginning.”

Eliezer’s television store gave rise to three electrical goods shops, all called Electro Coobi, in Tiberias, Safed and Afula. In 2004, he found himself at a crossroads. The business seemed to be too big: He was afraid to lose control and started to downsize. But then his three older sons Asaf, Itai and Yonatan stepped in and said, “We are here to help you.” Eliezer agreed to give them a chance. “I don’t believe you can run a business without being in control of every detail, but the boys said that with computers you can know what’s going on everywhere at every moment. It was expensive NIS 2 million to develop the program, a fortune but they proved to me that it was possible.” “Dad is very conservative,” Yonatan says. “He wants to touch every order personally.” Yonatan also was at a crossroads just then. “I had the possibility to study business administration, but I preferred to forgo university studies and stay with Dad. I sat by his side for three years and learned the business. I learned from him everything he does.” Each brother is now in charge of one aspect of the business: Yonatan on the development of the chain of stores (there are now 23 branches), Asaf deals with imports and Itai with marketing. Eliezer has learned to let go a little. He even allows himself to travel.

“Dad is an honest person and says what he feels directly. I often tell him there is no need to say everything, because that doesn’t always advance your interests. But he is from the generation that says what’s in their heart.”

Eliezer regrets that time slipped by the way it did, and that when he finally noticed, his children were already grown and he had not been home and hadn’t taken part in raising them. “I feel that I missed something,” he says. “And suddenly, without noticing how it happened, I have grandchildren.” Yonatan regrets slightly that he urges his father to quickly do things he does not always agree with.

Rebel with a cause:
Not in this case. Yonatan was in boarding school at the relevant age and there was no one to rebel against.

Something never before said:
“It’s important for him to know how proud I am of him for what he did with his own two hands, and for him to take a step back,” Yonatan says to his father.

Yonatan’s fantasies haven’t yet been fulfilled. He wanted to go to college, travel and seek his fortune abroad and raise a large family. Eliezer had a Tiberias fantasy: “To have an Ashkenazi girlfriend. We in Tiberias considered the Ashkenazim, and especially the kibbutzniks, to be awesome.”