'I Left Israel for London in the Wake of a Trauma. It's Still Fresh.'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: One Israeli who is taking extraordinary measures to bring his dog to live with him in London, and another heading down an academic path that few women take

Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein
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Kobi Cohen
Kobi CohenCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein

Kobi Cohen, 31; lives in London and flying there

Hi, what are you doing here?

My flight to London, where I live, leaves soon. I’m trying to move my dog, Shoshi, there. This is the fourth trip I’ve made about this, because there’s so much hassle – quarantine, and the landlord wants documents and recommendations from the veterinarian, conversations. I wouldn’t wish it on you.

So what are you going to do?

I think in the end I’ll transfer ownership to my partner, who is Belgian and lives with me in London. Then we’ll send Shoshi via Europe, as a proud Belgian dog. The coronavirus epidemic has complicated things somewhat.

What’s the longest time you’ve spent away from Shoshi?

Half a year, I think. But it’s enough now. I can’t manage without her, and there is no one here who will look after her good enough.

What took you to London?

It’s hard for me to talk about it. Let’s say I’m recovering from a trauma. It’s still fresh, and the move to London is meant to divert my attention from it, to revive me.

Okay, we’ll try a different direction: How do you spend your time in London?

Mostly doing martial arts and music.

We’ll start with the martial arts. How did you get into that?

I’ve been boxing since I was 15. As someone who grew up in Netanya, fighting is no big deal for me. I was a kid who did every type of sports, and then I found out I was good at boxing. Knockouts come easily to me.

Are you really good?

Turns out that not really. After army service I went to the United States with friends and we boxed there with Mexicans in boxing academies. I picked up Spanish fast, and I also took blows and I realized that I was nothing – I’m not really good at all. But it’s fun.

Your nose is still in one piece.

Yes, but my joints are a mess and I tore all kinds of ligaments. I was injured more than once.

And now what?

Now I’m training with Roger Gracie, the grandson of the founder of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He has an academy with a few thousand students. He was a UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] and MMA [mixed martial arts] fighter, one of the greatest ever.

What about the music?

I’m an Abletonist.

A what??

Ableton is a program for creating music and sampling. I have a studio in Israel. In London I worked with all kinds of artists, but I don’t have my own studio there, so I go to other studios with a computer.

What kind of music?

Trance. My genres are mainly downtempo and Zenon. Downtempo is chill, relaxed, fun. Zenon is maybe frenetic for some people, but for me there’s nothing like a Zenon set at 10 in the morning, for going wild. Trance has been with me since I was 13, but in London the music at the nature parties is different. The BPM [beats per minute] is a lot higher. The parties have a different character, too. You walk for an hour and a half in the forest, through mud, like in the army, to get to the party. In Israel you’d go all the way to the place in a jeep.

Do you want to become famous from the music?

No. You don’t make money from it, and I’m not the type who will perform onstage. It’s a lot more fun to pass the music on to someone, and see people flying and frolicking with the track I created. There’s nothing more satisfying.

Is your Belgian girlfriend also into that?

Not really. We’re more connected in our way of life – we’re both vegans and do a lot of meditation and yoga.

How did you get into that world?

Through Koka. That’s the trauma I mentioned at the start, and it’s still hard for me to deal with it. Koka was a dog I took from the SPCA in Tel Aviv. A Dogo Argentino, 55 kilos of beautiful dog. But after a year she contracted cutaneous leishmaniasis, a severe skin disease. She was very sick, and I had to stop working for two years in order to care for her. I also tried alternative treatments, Chinese acupuncture, yoga for dogs, and that’s how I got drawn into that world.

Did it help Koka?

At first, but the disease caused her epileptic fits and spasms that grew worse. I had to go around with syringes in my pockets. To start getting over her death, I had to get away. The first anniversary of her death took place not long ago, and it’s still very hard for me. I’m hoping that life in London, and Shoshi, will help me get over it.

Keren Levine.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Keren Levine, 25; lives in Philadelphia, arriving from New York

Hi. Where are you coming to us from, and where are you headed?

From Philadelphia, I’m an undergraduate there, in geology. I’m coming back now to quarantine in Haifa, where I grew up and where my family lives.

Where will you do the quarantine?

In an apartment in Haifa that my father is planning to renovate. There’s a mattress on the floor, and a microwave; that’s more or less it. And I have my computer, which is important for bingeing on TV series, which I’m going to do. And I’ll use it for the summer semester, which will begin just as the quarantine is about to end.

Why are you doing a summer semester?

I have to pass the time somehow. Last year I came back for the summer vacation and didn’t do a thing for three months – I thought I’d go crazy. Because of the coronavirus epidemic, the semester will take place remotely, so it’ll fill up at least a month and a half.

Why an undergraduate degree in America?

My dad is American and I have U.S. citizenship. He’s a professor at the Technion, and he encouraged me to go to school in the United States. It was always clear I would go there, I don’t like the system in Israel. There you have some choice, the focus isn’t only on the degree; there are lots of electives and you emerge with knowledge about many things. You also don’t focus only on exams, like in Israel. Faculty are very accessible there, very much in favor of their students. I see the differences compared to my student friends here.

Why a university in Philadelphia?

It’s good, and my father also went there. He mentioned it only after I decided I wanted to go there – “Oh, by the way, I went there, too.” There’s also a program for older students, which is nice, because I don’t need to study with 18-year-olds. Many other students are ex-soldiers, who enlisted at 18 and were discharged at, say, 27. Oh, and I also knew I hate New York.

What’s to hate about New York?

After my army service I went there for a year and took all kinds of courses – psychology, English, chemistry, math. A year of trying out this and that. I stayed with my dad, who was there on a sabbatical, and that was nice, but I was in shock from the overload and the chaos, the competition and the pace. Everyone there is in a hurry. Everyone was rushing around, so I did, too. I couldn’t bear that mentality. My mother says that Philadelphia is the Haifa of the United States. There’s something to that – it’s quiet and a bit boring, but suits me.

Why geology?

I didn’t know what I wanted to study but then I took a course in marine geology and it turned me on. It really is a niche thing, a degree few people choose, and women even less. There are many fields in geology: mineralization, geophysics, geochemistry.

What do you like about it?

As of now, I’m most drawn to geophysics. It’s about the behavior and movements of the planet, from the most microscopic level to the most macro. All the physics of planet Earth. I love it. Not long ago we were on a six-day outing in the dunes of New Mexico.

During the coronavirus epidemic?

A day before. We landed there, and that day everything changed. The moment we landed we got a notification from the university: Everything is canceled, we’re closing down, all flights are canceled. But we said that as long as we’re here, in the middle of nowhere, we should take advantage of it.

What did you do there?

We had to write a paper on the physics of the sand there. It’s actually about the shifting of the sand, what makes it move. I wrote about sand waves comprised of grains of different sizes, what’s needed for them to move, what characterizes the way they move. The physics of movement.

What does that mean with regard to sand?

Sand moves both in fixed ways and randomly, it is something that changes. There are grains that can move with the air, and they form a pattern, and grains of a different size, so it’s all more chaotic and random. When there are “illustrated” symmetrical signs on the sand, that means the grains are all one size and made of one sort of material, and they are small enough for the wind to blow them around. As soon as they land, they link with each other and create the form of a wave, the symmetrical shapes we see in the dunes. Interesting, right?

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