Real Life Awaits These Young Israelis. But First, a Trip to Bucharest

Fresh from the Israeli army, four men ruminate on what's ahead; for the 'Puma,' Capoeira is a way of life

From left, Ovad Gavriel, Roy Itzhak, Ran Gad and Shon Refael.
Tomer Appelbaum

From left, Ovad Gavriel, Roy Itzhak, Ran Gad and Shon Refael, all 22 and all from Holon; flying to Bucharest

Hello, can I ask where you know each other from?

Ran: We’re friends from school, I’m the only one that wasn’t in their year.

Shon: Each of us has more friends, but the basis is this group. And you’re meeting the ‘small format.’ There are actually 15 of us. We were 16, but we dropped one. A true story.

What for?

Shon: Sports. He’s a fan of Hapoel Tel Aviv; we’re Maccabi fans. He started a quarrel in the group, and the ‘dictator’ got upset, so now he lives in exile in Indonesia until the dictator brings him back to Israel.

Who’s the dictator?

Shon: Ovad is the dictator, the organizer.

Roy: I’m the troublemaker.

Ovad: And he, Shon, is the masochist.

Do you travel together a lot?

Ran: Our first trip was to Burgas when we were 16.

Shon: A year later, Melia in Crete, and a year after that, Zakynthos.

What do your trips look like in general?

Ran: Tell her what happened with me and Carmon.

Shon: No, no, definitely not that.

Ovad: Before we started our army service, we rented four all-terrain vehicles in Crete, and the first second after we turned them on, one of them crashed into the front of a store – write that it was Ran.

Okay. Ran, what happened?

Ran: I started to drive, and suddenly I was on the sidewalk and went into a store. This giant with a threatening face came out. I wanted to run for it, but he said, ‘Come over here.’ I didn’t have any money on me, so Ovad paid.

Shon: Tell her the story about the old man.

Roy: No, anything but that.

Ovad: Then your story about Burgas.

Shon: No, it’s too extreme. I’ll tell her what happened in Melia.

Go for it.

Shon: We were on ATVs again and I didn’t know how to work my vehicle. There was this old man on the road on a moped with his wife who passed by, and I hit the brakes because he was really close to me, and he just ran toward me fast with a clog in his hand, screaming in Greek. That was a trauma I won’t forget.

What’s this trip in honor of?

Roy: It’s a post-army trip.

Did you see the TV report about the sex tourism in Bucharest?

Ovad: I saw it with my girlfriend. She trusts me. Don’t get me in trouble.

Ran: Anyway, we’re going to see museums.

Roy: Landscapes.

Shon: Parks, nature.

Ovad: We waited a long time for this trip.

How long are you going for?

Ovad: We’re going for a few days and we’ll sleep in three rooms. Two, two and two, with two more who will join us.

What are your plans?

Ovad: We’ll go to thermal baths; we checked and it’s not in the nude. There are palm trees and a pool; it looks like paradise. Besides that, we’ll definitely go shopping.

What will you buy?

Ran: Clothes, watches, things that look good.

You know that you have pretty similar hairstyles?

Ran: We have a friend who’s a barber.

That explains a lot. What will you do for entertainment?

Shon: We’ll probably go to clubs, dancing. We don’t know exactly what they have there, we haven’t checked it out.

And when you come back?

Ovad: There’s always this kind of talk at this age. The moment someone gets out of the army, he’s at a stage of wondering where to go, what to do with his life.

What, actually?

Ovad: You enter life.

Roy: Go back to routine.

Ovad: You have to start working, studies. With this trip we wrap things up. That’s it, it’s over. Maybe I’ll study business administration, I’m not yet sure. When the moment comes, we’ll see.

Do your parents want you to go to university?

Ovad: Mine do. It’s important for them that I succeed.

Roy: They’re prodding.

Ran: It’s not a threat. But let’s say I don’t work for a long time – then, yes, they’ll put on pressure.

Shon: I want to travel with the wife to Thailand during the best season, which is December, but the time has come for life. The truth is that I’m excited.

Roy: I’m starting to study information security in two weeks at John Bryce [College]. I’m interested in getting into the whole computers thing.

Ran: Walla, I haven’t thought about what I want to study yet. I’m working in a hotel now, in a subsidized preferential job [for discharged soldiers], and it’s alright, even fun. Better than the army, that’s for sure.

Anabelle Ben Zion.
Tomer Appelbaum

Anabelle Ben Zion, 41, from Ramat Hasharon; arriving from Athens

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Greece?

I was at a capoeira festival, a Mediterranean Basin event. There’s the European championship and there’s the world championship, in Brazil, and this is the first year there’s been a Mediterranean Basin championship.

Who’s considered part of the Mediterranean Basin?

Israel, Greece, Spain and Turkey. There were five of us from Israel. I’d like to add that there were a few categories and that in every category Israel won!

What do you mean, “won”? I thought that in capoeira everyone stands in a circle and just dances together.

Capoeira is a full-fledged martial art. When we do it, it’s called “playing,” but there’s toppling and attacks, and there are people who come out of the game with injuries and blood.

So whoever bleeds the least wins?

Every round has points, which are awarded above all for technique – whoever fights cleanest – and there are acrobatic elements, too. In capoeira, everything depends on rhythm, and you get points for entering and exiting the circle according to the rhythm – slow, fast. It’s also a game with a strategy, just like chess. You can’t play capoeira without thinking; you have to concentrate on the game.

How did you get into it?

I’ve been doing capoeira since 1999. Eighteen years already. Wow! I really don’t want to know how the time flies. I lived in New York back then for a period, and a girlfriend gave me a month of capoeira training as a present. From the first moment it grabbed me. There’s something in the Brazilian culture that draws you in: the music, the movements, being together, the circle. And I love everything that has to do with movement and spirit and creativity. Before I got to capoeira I’d danced for almost 20 years, since I was a kid.

Capoeira really does look like modern dance.

There’s a slight resemblance. And there are different streams of capoeira, too, like in dance. For example, I belong to the Abada stream, which in Portuguese is an acronym for something like “the Brazilian organization that supports the development and research of capoeira.” The organization’s founder lives in Brazil, in Rio. He’s an absolute genius, he’s always reinventing capoeira. Every word he utters is gold.

Capoeira is dynamic? Isn’t it a fixed method?

Capoeira today isn’t what it was five years ago. There’s a process: There are constantly new movements and songs that you’re not familiar with. If it’s found that a certain movement might be harmful, then Mestre Camisa, our master, will change it.

Where do you train?

My teacher and trainer in Tel Aviv is Isaac Ben-Assulin; he has people with him who don’t leave. We’re about 30 in the group, and every two years we go to Brazil, to learn from the master.

Sounds almost like a religion.

Capoeira isn’t a religion, but it is a way of life. You learn how to evade problems both in the game and in life. Capoeira has always saved me in difficult situations. I can come to a training session depressed, but the moment I play and sweat, something is liberated. In capoeira, you also learn how to receive and to give. When you’re inside, playing, it’s like a dialogue with another person, and you make contact with that person. If the dialogue is good, the game is good. It’s all very warm and supportive and loving.

Do you make a living from capoeira, too?

I teach 2- and 3-year-old children in the morning. In the afternoon, I work at a community center as a coordinator of activities for children and adults. It’s important for me to have a job that gives me the freedom to do what interests me.

I forgot to ask how you did in the competition.

I was injured, so I didn’t compete, but I did workshops and I came to cheer for the delegation.

What kind of injury?

I had shoulder and knee surgery, but because capoeira is so varied, I came to play an instrument and sing and applaud. There’s no excuse for not doing capoeira. Capoeira is great for everyone, including children and also for people with disabilities. Also for injuries. You can play at the age of 60, too; it’s ageless.

Wasn’t it frustrating to see everyone competing and you just cheering for them?

Obviously it was frustrating, but the moment you accept that it’s all temporary, like all good things and bad things – you simply try to extract the maximum. We call this competition a festival, and even if you don’t play, the competition itself can be empowering. The preparation, the path. These contribute to the work, to the dialogue with the person you’re training with. In capoeira, you also learn how to play an instrument, so even if you lose, you gain something. And everyone in capoeira also has a nickname.

What’s yours?

I am “Puma.”