From left, Lily Merhav Zeltcer, 32, lives in Jerusalem; and Yasmin Burda, 33, lives on Kibbutz Nahal Oz; they are flying to Barcelona
Hello, can I ask why you’re traveling together?
Lily: Because Yasmin and I have been friends, for better or worse, since we were 14. We met in the Sea Scouts ... and I even visited her when she was going to school in Spain. I was studying at Bezalel [art academy] at the time, and participated in a student-exchange program in Valencia.
What were you doing in Spain, Yasmin?
Yasmin: I was studying chemical engineering.
Lily: And in Spanish yet!
Yasmin: I lived in Barcelona for 10 years. I have an incredible apartment there, at a terrific price, packed with furniture, and when I wanted to return to Israel a year and a half ago – I didn’t know how it would work out. So I said I would rent it out. Now I’m going back because I’m going to rent it to someone else. I make money from it and I don’t have the energy to dismantle everything; it would take a lot of time.
Why did you come back to Israel?
Lily: Because she’s a Zionist.
Yasmin: What Zionist? There’s high unemployment in Spain, and I wanted an Israeli boyfriend – a relationship in Israel.
And do you have that?
Lily: Did you ever see the likes of her? She just gets back and it happens in no time.
Yasmin: I originally met my boyfriend 10 years ago, when I did a year of national service, but we weren’t a couple then. But never mind me – ask Lily what she’s going to do in Barcelona.
Okay – what?
Yasmin: She’s going to fly.
Lily: I’m going to Barcelona for aerial yoga. It’s the next big thing. Yoga that’s done on a hammock that hangs down from the ceiling. There are a lot of upside-down poses. It combines acrobatics with yoga. I’ll practice with teachers in Barcelona, and then go to Berlin to meet my husband and train more. Because it’s new, you have to go abroad if you want more advanced training.
Do you already teach aerial yoga?
Lily: Yes. I teach Pilates and yoga, and have a Pilates studio in Beit Hakerem [a Jerusalem neighborhood].
Didn’t you just say you went to Bezalel?
Lily: Yes. I love to paint. But while I was at Bezalel I studied Pilates and my career in it began to develop. You can’t easily make a living in painting and photography ... and I didn’t want to be an art teacher, so I kept going. The creative tools I got from Bezalel actually helped me develop my business. As for aerial yoga, it’s only existed for 10 years. To develop it means to learn the basics of all the methods and also to develop a teaching method by yourself. It’s fun, because it’s creative.
Yasmin: I don’t exactly work in what I studied, either.
Tell me, are you already living with your new boyfriend?
Yasmin: Yes. I came to Nahal Oz a month before Operation Protective Edge. It was hard – there were explosions at night. I also lived there before my army service, before the Gaza disengagement. I remembered how we hid behind walls when there were missiles. Today I have a protected space at home and there are mobile shelters all over. There’s always one at the school bus stops. Whenever I left the house, even to go to the grocery store, I would have to calculate where I would hide. You only have 15 seconds from the time the siren goes off. You have to plan the way, calculate what the route will be. Like in Dungeons and Dragons.
Do you play D&D?
Yasmin: I try. My boyfriend is into it more. We just organized a LARP together.
What is a LARP?
Yasmin: A live action role-playing game. The game lasts three days in the field. You play in costumes and participate in activities related to fantasy, culture and magic. We built a castle. He’s a guy who is wildly imaginative. I just helped him organize it: insurance, chemical toilets, registration.
How many people came?
Yasmin: About 250 people ... It was terrific. There were lots of people. Only we should have brought generators. Next time we’ll invest in them.
Adi Barocas, 36, lives in Laramie, Wyoming; arriving from Ulan Bator, Mongolia
Hello, can I ask what you did in Mongolia?
I went as a tourist, on my own. It’s a large, expansive country with a low population density. I was especially drawn by the desert, where there is a culture of nomads who live with their horses in tents. That’s the way humanity lived for thousands of years. Nature in Mongolia has been preserved in its original state. I wanted to see animals; mostly I saw birds – it’s hard to see mammals in nature.
Are you into mammals?
I study otters.
How does one become a researcher of otters?
You do an undergraduate degree, then graduate degrees, and specialize in wild animals. I took biology as an undergrad, and for my master’s degree I worked with hyraxes. Afterward I wanted to advance in terms of the level of intelligence and the challenge.
Are otters at a different level?
I think they’re cool and charismatic. After I completed my master’s studies, a position to study otters in Alaska became available. I’m still studying my group of otters. I have less than a year left to complete my Ph.D.; I’ve done the fieldwork.
Where is the field, actually – in the sea or on land?
It depends on how much time we have. Our work is done by boarding large cruising boats and then moving on to smaller craft. Sometimes a camp is set up for us on land. We’re there for the whole summer.
How many people are involved?
Eight to 10 people at different levels: professors, biologists, volunteers. Each person has a different responsibility.
What was yours?
I’m supposed to lead the group, but sometimes my Ph.D. supervisor intervened.
Are you sure you want me to print that?
We have a very good relationship.
What happens out there, in the field?
I deal with special cameras installed on the ground. We do surveys in which we collect the droppings of otters and extract DNA from them. That also makes it possible to estimate the size of the otter population. We also trap and tag them. Antennas pick up their movement, and then I download the data and find out what’s happening with all the otters I’m studying in the vicinity.
How are your otters this year?
We are seeing a decline in the otter population compared to 10 years ago. In Alaska they are not endangered and not becoming extinct, even though they are hunted for their fur. By the way, the situation is very bad in Israel; there are only a few dozen left.
We think the decrease in numbers in Alaska is due to climate change. Otters are dependent on fish as their main food, and the rise in water temperature and changes in salinity are bringing about a decline in the fish populations. That’s the subject of the second chapter of my doctoral thesis.
How many chapters will there be?
Five or six. I’m hoping organizations in Israel, such as the Nature and Parks Authority, will draw practical conclusions from my research. Maybe I will go on working even after I submit the thesis. This research has opened up many interesting avenues.
What did you discover?
For example, that otters choose a place outside to defecate and that this is how they leave messages for one another. The droppings of each otter have a distinct odor. We also discovered that this phenomenon has an effect on creation and dispersal of groups. In other words, otters are social animals – or at least some of them are. Only the males are sociable. The females are solitary and usually move around with the pup they are raising; they are more aggressive toward each other. The males are engaged in social interaction all the time. They groom one another and wrestle. The cameras we placed in the field documented the interaction between them and also what otters do before they mate.
It’s a kind of dance. They raise their tail and do a sort of hokey-pokey beforehand; their droppings and anal jelly apparently transmit their identity. It’s their method for signaling to other otters that aren’t present that you were here.
What about the dance?
The dance says: Look, I’m here now.