'I Grew Up ultra-Orthodox. If I Remain Religious, I Want It to Be by Choice'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Israeli life insurance saleswoman exploring her religious options, and a violist making her way in the music world

Beki Yaccov.
Tomer Appelbaum

Beki Yaccov, 25, lives in Pardes Katz; flying to London

Hello, I have to ask you where the boots are from.

AliExpress, they cost me 20 shekels [under $6].

When I buy on AliExpress, the things just don’t arrive.

You have to buy only from sellers with recommendations. When you get into it you understand. I like buying a lot and cheap. If I didn’t buy on AliExpress, I’d need the salary of a Knesset member, at least.

What do you do?

I sell life insurance. You can’t buy health on the internet.

But you can buy boots for 20 shekels? Don’t they fall apart?

I’m less interested in how long the items last. I’m not someone who holds onto clothes. I have maybe one dress that I ordered four years ago, for 18 shekels. It’s my most beautiful dress – long, with a closed neck. I wear it when I visit my parents. They’re Haredim, so I respect that.

Haredim?

I grew up in Betar Illit [an ultra-Orthodox city in the West Bank]. My parents are Hasidic Haredim. I speak Hebrew, English and Yiddish. I was just offered a part in a series in Berlin – they’re looking for young people who speak Yiddish. First I have to find out what it’s about: If it badmouths Haredim, it’s not for me. I didn’t suffer. I made my choices and have no regrets.

Your family didn’t cut you off?

No way. I have good relations with my family. We’re 12 children, a real clan. And it’s not self-evident that they accept my different path. My mother is cool, I don’t know how she does it. Twelve kids and we’re all spoiled.

And what did your father say?

My dad is American, so he’s more open. He’s the gabbai [beadle] of an admor [the leader of a Hasidic community]. When he asked the admor to bless me, the admor asked what I’ve done to deserve a blessing. “She makes trouble,” my father told him.

When did the problems start?

I was kicked out of school at around 16. You weren’t allowed to use makeup, of course, and we had to wear long sleeves. I folded my shirt at the elbow, and the principal would run after me.

You were kicked out for that?

No. I used to listen to music – Eyal Golan and so on. One day the principal said, “Let’s hear what you’re listening to.” I ended up having to spend that whole night erasing songs from the player, but left a few songs in Yiddish. In the end, they kicked me out for Lipa Schmeltzer.

What is Lipa Schmeltzer?

Lipa Schmelzter is a singer who was Haredi and became Haredi-modern. He sings in Yiddish, and there are no girls in the clips, but for Haredim he’s an outcast. But, in any case, I was already going against the grain. When I got married it also wasn’t with someone from the Hasidic sect. I was married at 19 and divorced at 21.

Was that traumatic?

The family helped, and today we’re friends. A few months ago, we were looking at pictures from then and I said to him, “Just look at that makeup. Shocking! How did you let me out of the house like that?” (Laughs)

Do you think you’ll remarry?

I don’t know. I’ll definitely be in a relationship at some point. I still haven’t decided, religious or not, to “be strengthened” in my religiousness or the opposite. I don’t want to commit to someone who won’t suit me later. At the moment I keep Shabbat and am getting to know the world. I want to get to a point where, if I remain religious, it’s because I have explored and made a choice. Besides, I’m young and I want more children.

Wait – more children?

I’m already a mother. I have a 5-year-old daughter who gave my life focus and a reason to get up in the morning. If it weren’t for my daughter, I’d one million percent now be roaming a beach in India with dreadlocks, in search of myself.

What kind of school does she go to?

I’m raising her in the state-religious stream, but in the end she’ll choose for herself. There’s something my mother says that I accept. When she’s asked how she deals with me, she says: When I had children I didn’t get an insurance policy that they would all be the same. You bring a child into the world in order to give and to love, no matter what.

Miriam Manasherov.
Tomer Appelbaum

Miriam Manasherov, 37, lives in Tel Aviv; arriving from Hamburg

Hello, is that a violin in your bag?

A viola. Modern; $12,000.

Is that considered expensive?

There are some that cost a million dollars.

What were you doing with a viola in Hamburg?

I’m coming from Lübeck. I studied viola there and I was at a retirement party for my teacher, Frau Prof. Barbara Westphal. I hid for three days so she wouldn’t see me – and Lübeck is a small city.

Did you surprise the Frau?

It wasn’t just me. Other former students of hers arrived, without her knowing. On the evening itself her class started to play and then we all slowly joined them on the stage, and she saw us for the first time. She was thrilled. A kind of “This Is Your Life” concert.

Was she a good teacher?

For me she was superb. A music teacher is more like a personal trainer. It’s all very personal, and the connection has to work at many levels. Some students need a mother figure, others a father figure, some need distance and others like tough love.

So you went to a small city in Germany because of her?

I gambled on her and she on me. Germany is altogether a good option for classical musicians, and the studies were free, even without German citizenship. Besides which, I believed, and I still believe, that music should extend beyond a country’s borders. From an early age, we’re in the same framework with the same people; it’s good to go out and discover what you’re really worth.

What did you discover?

That the Israeli “imprint” I received is valid abroad, but also that I had a great deal to learn. There’s plenty of talent in Israel, but people don’t work hard.

Do you work in the field of music?

I’m a freelancer and do whatever comes along, from classical to crossover: with [singer] Keren Peles, the Revolution Orchestra, Infected Mushroom. Musicals.

What do you listen to at home?

Nothing. Even in the car, my radio is off. I have music in my head all the time, so listening disturbs me. It’s like listening to two CDs at the same time. My students are always shocked when I say that.

So you teach?

I’ve started teaching violin at the arts high school in Tel Aviv. It’s giving me wild flashbacks to my childhood.

What do you remember?

Violin is a difficult instrument for children. A lot of technical things have to happen for you to even produce a sound. With piano you just play and there’s a lovely sound; after just a few lessons you can already play a song. I don’t know why, but as a kid I actually wanted to play the violin.

I read somewhere that, besides falling in love, the only time the hormone oxytocin is secreted is when you’re playing music with friends.

I like being in an ensemble but don’t have the personality of a lead singer. Maybe that’s why I play viola.

Is there a connection between a musician’s personality and the instrument he plays?

Not really, but we laugh at the behavioral patterns of musicians. Violinists are said to be a bit arrogant, and there’s a standard joke about conductors.

Tell us.

A man goes into a pet shop and sees a beautiful parrot with a price tag of 1,000 shekels [$280]. “What does he do?” the man asks. The salesman says, “Sings songs.” The price tag on another parrot, also beautiful, is 2,000 shekels. “What can he do?” the man asks. “Sings Verdi and Mozart arias.” In a third cage there’s an ordinary-looking parrot, price tag 10,000 shekels. The man says, “This one isn’t even so pretty. What can he possibly do?” “Not much,” the salesman replies, “but he calls himself Maestro.” I laugh, of course.

What about violists?

They say that violists are underdogs, because most of us used to play the violin, and then switched to the viola. I remember that when I played the violin, there was a Sibelius concerto that I really liked, which I thought never sounded as good when I played it as it did on the recording of it that I love.

Sad.

On the contrary. Switching to the viola is one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life. In any case, I think everyone should study music at one level or another. You don’t have to be Perlman.