For 20 Years He Was One of Israel's Only Paparazzi. Then the iPhone Was Invented

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Daniel Cohen.
Daniel Cohen.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Daniel Cohen, 55; lives in Jerusalem, flying to Miami

Hi Daniel, where are you flying to?

I belong to an NGO called Rescuers Without Borders. It’s a group of French and Israeli doctors, generally Haredim, who go to regions of the world where there are disasters. I’m the spokesperson, dealing with everything that has to do with the French media, because I speak French. I was born in Paris and came on aliyah when I was 20.

What sites have you been to?

All of them. Sri Lanka, a typhoon in the Philippines, Albania not long ago.

Isn’t it tough to see so many disasters?

Happily, and also to my great regret, I look at what goes on with a professional gaze, via the lens. I have to look for a story that will help the NGO. The moment something happens, there’s a curtain between me and the situation.

What are you actually looking for?

A story that will give me an item I can feed to the international press. After the typhoon in the Philippines in 2013 there was madness in the hospitals, panic. Our doctors set up the tables with the equipment and started to deal the injured, one after the other. I saw a CNN crew and a crew from French television, which is what I’m interested in. I told them, “Look, guys, there are rabbis here who have started to treat the injuries, doctors with beards and earlocks, it’s a unique image.” It was a headline on every television newscast.

How did you get involved with the NGO?

The chairman knew me as a media person and asked if I had connections with the French press. I said of course, and since then I’ve been attached to them.

What did you do in the media?

I was a paparazzi photographer for 20 years.

What was that like?

First of all, I was alone. There were no other paparazzi in Israel. Besides that, I had a concept different from the Israelis. I knew what exclusive photography means: The moment it’s exclusive there’s money.

What is an exclusive photograph?

Something different, a shot that only I have. One of my scoops was a picture of Yitzhak Shamir at the barber a few days before he went to the [1991] Madrid Conference. In France they were looking for a shot of Shamir. I don’t go to the Knesset or to the Prime Minister’s Bureau to take pictures, but someone leaked to me that he was going to get his hair cut that day. I sold it all over Europe. But most of my work involved photos of European stars who came here, which I sold to the tabloids there. Some came here to cheat, some for a vacation, for a festival, to deliver a lecture. In France stars like that can’t walk on the street. The tabloids paid a lot for the pictures, and all the photographers here were busy with local events.

Who visited Israel?

Many French stars whose names won’t mean anything to you. Singers, stand-up artists, news anchors. A Spanish star came here with his male lover. Here he wasn’t afraid, because he was anonymous, he didn’t feel threatened. But I know who these people are and I had informants everywhere. I made a living from that for 20 years.

What’s the most you were ever paid for a picture?

One-hundred thousand dollars. That was a story of an Italian star, a news anchor who had just married, and who three months later disappeared. She fled from her partner and actually came to Israel with her lover. I took their picture at the Dead Sea. When she got back and saw the picture spreads in all the magazines, she said she hadn’t known there were paparazzi in Israel.

What made you make the transition to spokesman?

The invention of the iPhone. The iPhone did away with the profession, because now everyone takes pictures. There are also a lot of French people in Israel now, so if some star goes to the Dead Sea with his lover, two French people will be there to take a picture with their phones. I realized that in the Mount Carmel [forest fire] disaster. They wouldn’t let us, the photographers, in to shoot the bus where the prison service personnel had been, and when I opened the newspaper I saw that everyone who took pictures used an iPhone. And they had much “hotter” material than we did, because we only arrived after two hours. I realized it was time to stop doing paparazzi, and I became a tour guide. Also with French people. I’ve even guided people whom I had once photographed. Of course they didn’t know I’m the one who took their picture.

Do you miss the paparazzi days?

Absolutely not. I want to erase that profession, to forget it. I didn’t contribute much to humanity other than voyeurism in the newspapers. Becoming a tour guide was like discovering America. Until COVID-19, it was the best job in the world. You show Israel, you reveal Israel, and you have answers for every question, because you studied hard. I deal with a lot of non-Jews, and I get lots of questions people don’t usually dare to ask: What about the Palestinians? What about Judas Iscariot, who turned in Jesus? I love it.

What do you reply?

About the Palestinians I answer according to history, I don’t take a stand. As for Judas Iscariot, I say that he is a national hero. Because if he hadn’t informed on Jesus, Christianity would not have arisen.

Almog Gilad, Maayan Cohen, Bar Hoshen and Michael Zaltzman.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Almog Gilad, 31, Maayan Cohen, 26, Bar Hoshen, 26, and Michael Zaltzman, 29; live in Tel Aviv, arriving from Venice

Hi, where are you guys coming from?

Maayan: Our flight was from Venice, but we went to Slovenia.

What’s happening in Slovenia?

Bar: A month ago we found a really cheap flight – 64 euros, round-trip. It’s two-and-a-half hours from Tolmin, so we said, “Great, a weekend in Tolmin, why not?”

What was going on in Tolmin?

Michael: There’s a metal festival there that we go to every year, on a beautiful river called the Soca. It’s an event that attracts 12,000 people. Last year it didn’t happen because of the coronavirus, and it won’t take place this year, either, but we went there anyway – even without the performances. This time there were a lot more animals, more flowers and so on, because there weren’t a lot of people.

Almog: When we get there, it feels like we did a pause in one movie of our life and went back to another movie, which takes place there. One path of life that was cut off, but that actually continues. You always meet the same people from the year before. The girl at the gas station remembers me from 2013.

Bar: Tolmin is a small, cute city that becomes a metal town during the festival. All the restaurants and cafés play metal music. You drink coffee and someone on the loudspeaker burps, it’s great. You do yoga, drink melon shakes, swim in the river a little, go to axe-throwing workshops. The location is paradise, the water is turquoise, the hills are green.

That’s not how I would imagine a metal festival – yoga workshops and melon shakes.

Bar: The festival is called Hell over Paradise.

Michael: Everyone comes with their drinking horn, Viking-style, but also with a unicorn-shaped float. Yesterday we were in the lake and a girl went by and looked at the float with big eyes. We gave it to her father. People show up with a metal look – beards, smelling of alcohol, and they’re offering – a unicorn float.’

Bar: Two years ago we started a joke that we’re a band. We’re called Blood Foot Rabbit and we do Native American Black metal. It’s got potential.

Sounds like it’s a meaningful part of your identity. How did you become metal people?

Almog: I was a Ra’anana religious kid, boys school, yeshiva high school. I liked it that in metal, no one judges anyone. I didn’t hate religion, but there were people who made me like it less, there’s a lot of hypocrisy. Every religious person thinks he’s better and that he can make remarks to other people about things, that he can judge. There were teachers who snapped at me sometimes or commented about a T-shirt of a band that I wore, but I kept wearing it to school. This wasn’t Mea She’arim, it was Ra’anana, so there wasn’t much they could do. They had to accept me the way they accepted the other students who have a TV at home, for example. Televisions are not accepted in religion, so don’t scold me about my T-shirt when your children are watching television at home. I didn’t abandon religion until I was 24, but it made me realize what I connect to more. I would go to synagogue on Shabbat, and after the end of Shabbat I would go to a metal performance.

Are there a lot of knitted kippas at metal performances?

Almog: I didn’t feel like a freak, but there aren’t too many. In performances by Orphaned Land, which is the most famous Israeli metal band in the world, I would see a couple in the audience where the woman has a head covering and the man has earlocks. But at other performances, too, no one cares – come as you are. Metal is the most anti-religious, but I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that now I’m not religious just because there are songs that are anti-God. At some point I took off the kippa, but only because I thought it would fly off.

Do you always travel in a foursome?

Michael: I’ll probably bring my partner in another month to see. We talk about that all the time – it’s hard to be in a relationship with someone who hasn’t seen it. She needs to know what I’m talking about.

What do you do besides metal?

Ma’ayan: High-tech. At this stage we’re all in high-tech.

Bar: In the end all the metalists are geeks, it’s the Digigdol of geekiness.

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