'Canada Took in Few Jewish Refugees. It's Not a History It's Proud Of'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: The best Jewish cage fighter in Western Canada talks about his upcoming graphic novel ■ The secret to getting your life together, according to an Israeli sales manager

Jamie Michaels.
Tomer Appelbaum

Jamie Michaels, 29, from Winnipeg, Canada; arriving from Toronto

Excuse me, where did you say you were from?

Yes, that’s the face people generally make when I say I’m from Winnipeg. “What is Winnipeg, for God’s sake?”

Sorry – I’m sure it’s nice.

It’s the most wonderful city in the world. It’s in the middle of Canada, and our river is so frozen in winter that you can drive a car on it. My father always says that if you can ski to work, it’s a sign that you live in a terrific city.

And what are you doing in a terrific country like Israel?

Visiting friends and family. I want to surf. I’m working on a new book and hope to do research here.

Let’s have a synopsis.

It’s a historical graphic novel based on a true story that took place in Canada in 1933: a street fight involving 10,000 people, between members of the Canadian Nazi party and a group of Jews. Imagine 10,000 people brawling.

Who won?

There were bats and fists and many wounded people, but because this is a Canadian story, naturally there can’t be a truly bad ending – no one died.

Were there many Nazis in Canada?

You have to remember that this was before people knew fascism was bad. It was seen as just another possible political system, maybe even legitimate. Canadians were anti-Semitic and scared of immigrants. When the Jews left Europe [in the 1930s and ‘40s], the Canadians took in as few as possible: When asked how many Jews they would admit, they said, “None is too many.” It’s crazy something like that happened.

Is this a well-known story?

It’s not a history that Canada is proud of. Today we want to paint a picture that Canada is for everyone: the Canada of [Justin] Trudeau, with the smile and great hair. But you have to be honest about history, and I’m happy to reveal it.

Why a graphic novel?

I think every story has a medium that suits it. “Star Wars” had to be a movie. “The Catcher in the Rye” had to be a book. What I’m writing has to be a graphic novel. It’s the best way to get into a historical era, and must be accessible. No one wants to spend their weekend reading a turgid historical novel.

Do you also do the illustrations?

I only write the story, someone else does the art. At the age of 21, a friend and I left university and canoed from Winnipeg to Mexico via the Mississippi, like Huckleberry Finn. A lot happened to us along the way and we wrote a comic about it. We worked on it for a long time. The book, “Canoe Boys,” was published last year.

Did it sell?

It didn’t do badly, relatively. Its subject isn’t heavy, and the illustrations are light, too – almost caricature-like.

Did you get an advance on the second book?

More or less. I submitted a request to the local Jewish organization in Manitoba, and they said they’d cover the bill. It’s amazing, because there will be money to pay the illustrator and for printing, and enough left over for me to buy lunch.

How will you pay for supper?

In the meantime, I’m working a half-and-half job – half a year I work and half a year I don’t.

Doing what?

Canada has huge forests and when a fire breaks out, a helicopter is sent to help the residents, with people on board who are bad at choosing sensible jobs – like me. I’m also a university teaching assistant and the best Jewish cage fighter in Western Canada. Actually, I’m the only Jewish cage fighter there, but don’t write that, because it doesn’t sound as good.

What exactly is a cage fighter?

You go into a cage with another guy and fight. I’ve been wrestling all my life. I was in three amateur cage fights and just started competing professionally, in the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship]. I go into the ring wearing a Star of David. On good days I get paid, on bad days I get whopped.

How did you get into it?

I just showed up: I went to a fight and they were one competitor short, so they told me to go in. I only had a minute to decide.

Ido Genosar.
Tomer Appelbaum

Ido Genosar, 30, from Tel Aviv; flying to Melbourne

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Australia?

I work for a company called Bring. It’s a working trip. We’re going for two weeks, and I’m excited.

It sounds exciting.

We spotted an opportunity – a conference on a topic that’s relevant for us – and we scheduled a lot of meetings around it. The Israel Export Institute and [the commercial] attache in Australia helped us spread the word, and we also have a big Australian partner that we’ve brought on board to help us. I had some work to do: Setting up 30 meetings is far from trivial. It involves sending lots of emails.

What does your company do?

We’re a startup in the logistics field that offers solutions to companies that are in competition with Amazon.

Tomer (the photographer): How does a mouse triumph over a dragon?

It’s a cloud system for companies, whether they’re retailers, e-commercers or food-store chains.

I lost you at retailers.

We supply all the technological tools of Amazon to manage distribution of products in the best and most efficient way, offering a customer experience like Uber. In short, you order something and you can see at each stage where it is and communicate about it.

Okay. How’s it going?

We’re a growth startup. Coca-Cola, Ituran and the Ofer Brothers have already invested in us.

Tomer (the photographer): And what will happen when the dragon awakes? Won’t it devour you?

We’re not a platform like Amazon; we only provide technology. Our product integrates with an existing system.

What’s your job in the company?

I manage IPC [inter-process communication] sales throughout Australia and the Pacific.

How long have you been with them?

I’ve been with the company for two and a half years. I started in technical support, I was the eighth employee. There are 70 employees now. My timing was fantastic.

How did you go from technical support to sales?

I actually studied philosophy and social sciences in Tel Aviv.

Surprising.

I started working when I was 15, washing dishes at a branch of the Giraffe restaurant chain in Haifa, and until two and a half years ago I worked mostly in the restaurant business. It was a long journey to get from there to this second working trip that I’m going on.

What’s more stressful, restaurants or high-tech?

What I’m doing now is hard and enjoyable, but to ensure that 400 people are served during an evening is more stressful and Sisyphean – barmen, waiters, suppliers, customers. That job prepared me for life.

What did you take away from that experience?

I try to stay calm and I like people. Working with people is 100 percent good.

So one doesn’t need to go study.

I don’t belittle people who studied business administration, but to do business, you don’t have to study that.

What do you need?

Determination and persistence. I killed myself, I worked days and nights and I gave what was needed. What’s important is not to give up.

Sounds like guidelines for an American movie hero.

From outside, it might sound like a bunch of clichés, but it worked. I took three units [out of five] in my English matriculation studies in high school, and barely three units in mathematics. If you’d told me four years ago that I’d be where I am now, I would have laughed at you. The guy who could barely get his matriculation certificat is now working, writing and talking in English all day long.

Definitely impressive.

Not long ago I was going through my papers from high school, and I found a letter from 10th grade: “Still not investing in studies, disdainful. I think he will have a very hard time later on.” In your face, Teach!

When did you start believing in yourself?

The truth is that it’s all thanks to my wife. She gave me a lot of strength and motivation when she entered the picture. She’s also the one who gave me the push regarding work, too. With her it was simply easier for me to believe in myself and, cliché though it is, simply to dream.

Very romantic.

My wife’s father, who is an army man and an industrialist, taught me the motto, “Determination, seriousness, tenacity.” And in the end, that led me to the place I’m at today in work.