Inspiring Israelis we met this decade
From showstopping celebrities to tech disrupters, these are the Israelis who moved us in the 2010s.
They awed us with their brilliance, they wowed us with their beauty, they inspired us with their struggles. For the better part of the past decade, we at From The Grapevine and the Israeli Kitchen have been following these 14 impressive Israelis. And now, as a new decade dawns, we're taking a look back at the heroes, humanitarians, scholars, showstoppers and groundbreakers who have shaped the 2010s.
Once called one of the 25 most influential people in space, Harvard University astronomy department chair Avi Loeb is actively searching for alien life with the hopes of asking them if we could move to their planet in the event that something happens to ours. His out-of-this-world aspirations have raised more than a few brows among his colleagues. But what inspires us about Loeb is that he's not afraid to push the boundaries of his field. "To innovate and discover new things," he told us, "you have to take some risks."
It was her biggest role yet, and in 2017, the blockbuster Wonder Woman film made once-Miss Israel Gal Gadot a household name. Since then, the 34-year-old mother of two has been praised as one of the sweetest, most generous actors in Hollywood. In January of 2018, she received the annual #SeeHer award at the Critics Choice Awards, which recognizes women who change stereotypes in the entertainment world. "I think because I'm a mother, I want my girls to have good role models for themselves," Gadot said. "We showed it in the movie ... that you can be vulnerable, you can be innocent in a way, and truthful and loving ... you can have it all."
If an academic can be a rock star, then Duke University professor Dan Ariely certainly is one. As one of the world's leading experts on decision-making, Ariely was named one of the 50 most influential living psychologists in the world in 2018. His books about irrationality and dishonesty are New York Times bestsellers, he has close to 200,000 Twitter followers, and his numerous TED Talks have been viewed more than 13 million times.
"I ask questions that economists would ask, but instead of assuming straightaway that people behave rationally, I just observe how people behave," Ariely said.
As a newborn, Inna Braverman almost died after the Chernobyl Power Plant exploded near her home in the Ukraine. Now, she's using her second chance at life to give back. Braverman launched Eco Wave Power, a company that harnesses energy from waves and converts it to electricity. She was named to Wired Magazine's list of “Females Changing the World." CNN chose her for their "Tomorrow's Hero" series and she named one of the world’s “100 Makers and Mavericks." And for all this, she simply says: "Passion is the greatest renewable energy source. If you have passion, I think you can achieve anything."
In 2017, Tel Aviv-based designer Danit Peleg unveiled the first-ever commercially available 3D-printed jacket. It's the culmination of years of researching fabrics, patterns, printers and structures for her one-of-a-kind line, and it's earned her a world of acclaim and accolades. "I really enjoyed the fact that I could create without intermediaries. I could design my own textiles and manufacture my own clothes, all from my own home," said Peleg, a graduate of Israel's prestigious Shenkar College of Engineering and Design. "I think this is just the beginning. As technologies evolve, we will soon be all printing our own clothes at home."
From one natural disaster after another, from one corner of the globe to the next, nonprofit organization IsraAid is on the scene. The group provides relief, support and sustainability to survivors. One of the key figures behind this grand effort is Navonel Glick, IsraAid's 32-year-old co-CEO. In 2016, he was one of six people to receive the prestigious Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award, an honor he called "a dream come true."
"I'd like to think we are helping people help themselves, so that when we have to leave, they are stronger and more capable than they were before we arrived," he told From The Grapevine.
When she was 20, Sivan Ya'ari developed a passion for the people of Africa, millions of whom lived with no electricity or clean water. After earning her master's degree, Ya'ari installed a groundbreaking solar energy system in a Tanzanian village. She then launched Innovation: Africa, a nonprofit organization that now operates in eight African countries – Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Senegal, Ethiopia, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa. The group builds much-needed medical clinics, installs computers in classrooms and powers solar refrigerators. To date, they've installed solar power in 133 villages. "It makes me happier when I'm in the villages," she told us. "That's where I feel best. Seeing the joy in the faces of the children and the hope in the eyes of the mothers, it's so rewarding."
In the culinary world, the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant is analogous to the Academy Award for Best Picture; it's the goldest of gold stars for the super-competitive food industry. The 12-year-old Philly landmark Zahav, owned by now-six-time James Beard winner Michael Solomonov, won the prestigious award in 2019. And it's no surprise why: Solomonov essentially wrote the book on bringing Israeli food to American consumers.
“I think it's becoming popular in the U.S. because it's flavorful, healthy and easy to prepare,” Solomonov said of Israeli cuisine. “I like to keep it simple and use the best ingredients possible and showcase them.”
Dr. Orna Guralnik, an Israeli psychologist, is the star of Showtime's hit documentary series "Couples
Therapy," which follows four couples as they go through six months of
intense therapy. Her calm and soothing energy keeps each session from becoming a tinderbox of explosive emotions. And her clients, for the most part, are grateful for her tutelage.
"My goal is to help people communicate about their differences, and what's bothering them, in the best way possible. And in a way, make it possible for them to make their own decisions," Guralnik told From The Grapevine. "I just help them detangle or deconstruct their defenses, so that they can have more honest conversations."
Showtime has already ordered a second season.
After a decade playing professional basketball in Israel, David Blatt went on to a highly regarded career as a coach. He participated in two Olympics. He took Maccabi Tel Aviv to the EuroLeague championships and was named Coach of the Year. He led LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. This year, adversity threw a wrench in Blatt's career, as he revealed that he had multiple sclerosis.
"Life throws different things at you, and no one guarantees you anything," he told us. "The question is what do you do with the cards that you're dealt, or the situations that you're in. How do you turn that into a positive, or into a way that can, at the very least, help others? That way there's certainly some reward in all of this, and that's the way I'm looking to take it."
In November 1988, Michaela Bercu became the first model to wear jeans on the cover of Vogue, shunning the usual formality of the high-end fashion magazine. It's now 30 years later, and Bercu is hoping to change another norm: toppling the barriers of entry to volunteering. She launched Tribu, an app that connects volunteering needs with those who wish to help.
Bercu believes volunteering does more for the giver than the one who receives the kindness. "It makes you who did the service feel so good," she said. "So much research has been done with people of all ages that volunteering makes you feel wonderful, and makes you feel that you did good. The experience of bringing someone a smile on their face gives you so much satisfaction."
Oz Pearlman is known for his stunning feats of mentalism on stage and TV. He's also a devout marathon runner, having competed in 50-mile ultra-marathons and at one point held the title of 28th fastest American of all time in ultras. But it wasn't until the 2015 season of "America's Got Talent" on NBC that Pearlman's career really catapulted. Week in and week out, the mentalist impressed the judges with his performances, where he read their minds and baffled the audience, leaving viewers amazed.
While he may not have won the grand prize, the adoring TV coverage propelled him into the pop culture stratosphere. After the show aired, he became a regular on daytime TV, appearing several times on The "Today" Show. NBC is even considering giving him his own show. "This is the next level," he said of his "AGT" success. "I'm hoping this propels my career in a way that nothing else has ever done."
Former concert pianist Michael Pasikov was diagnosed with cancer at age 55. At the time, he vowed that if he survived, he was going to give back by performing 100 concerts for charity. He did that, but the health setbacks weren't over. After fainting in his home, Pasikov lost the use of his right hand – his dominant hand for playing piano. So he rewrote famous classical compositions to be played one-handed. He also began giving one-handed concerts.
"To me, life is every day," Pasikov said. "Life isn't about making plans that are way in the future. Life is every day moving forward and enjoying the day and the gift that you're given. Every day is a life on its own. That's my attitude. That's my philosophy. It's not just that life is a certain span of years, but every day has a beginning, middle, end, and it's a complete life in itself."
In June 2015, at 19 years old, pitcher Dean Kremer became the first Israeli to ever be drafted by a Major League Baseball team. In addition to his major league play, Kremer, who holds dual citizenship with Israel and the United States, pitched for Israel's national baseball team at the 2014 European Championships and in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
As for his future plans, Kremer prefers to live in the moment. "My main goal is to get better every time I step on the mound or I step to the rubber, or even during days where I don't have to throw off the mound," he told From The Grapevine in a podcast in 2018. "Just tweaking stuff and mentally working on things. Just to try and get better every day. That's kind of my main goal. I feel like if I do that and pitch to the best of my ability, then things will take care of itself."
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