Ido Cohen is a man who knows people. A walk along the tree-lined boulevards of Tel Aviv is punctuated by passers-by shaking his hand, slapping him on the back, waving as they whoosh past on the battery-powered bikes so ubiquitous here. How did he get to this stage? We speak to him to find out.
Ida’s near-fame is especially useful at dinner. Restaurants in Tel Aviv rarely bother with anything so formal as taking bookings, so mostly you wait on the street with a beer until a table frees up, which is pleasingly Mediterranean, but not so great if you’re ravenous starving. Not with Ido. Here, doors swing open, tables magically appear and acres of bread and hummus arrive in a matter of seconds.
Partly it is because of his job – or maybe it is why he has the job in the first place. As International Head of Marketing for the city of Tel Aviv, Ido needs to be plugged in. Meeting at his municipal building overlooking Rabin Square, even the gruff security guard cracks a smile as he ushers us in. Ido takes us up to the rooftop for a breathtaking, panoramic view of the city – literally and figuratively.
“I like to say to people that Tel Aviv is very much like a lighthouse. It has always been ten steps ahead of the rest of Israel and the Middle East. In every aspect – from its technology, to its liberalism – and it is super organic. It comes from the people.”
The people here are young – a third of the population is between 18 and 35 – and they mostly punch above their weight.
“Israelis aren’t afraid of failure. When Tel Aviv was established, all this was just sand and they said they were going to make the New York of the Middle East. They were pretentious, but it worked. Now we’ve got Facebook and AOL. 50 of the top 100 tech companies are headquartered here in the city.”
As we pause to take in the view, I notice the huge skyscrapers. I had read before coming here that there were very few tall buildings, because people couldn’t use the elevators on Shabat, the holy day of rest. Ido just smiles and says, “This place is not what you think.”
This economic oasis began to blossom only recently, after the Oslo Accords brought relative peace to the region. As we leave the building, we see the site where Yitzhak Rabin – the man instrumental to ushering in that new era – was assassinated.
“Rabin is a symbol for peace everywhere in Israel,” says Ido. “He was shot by an extremist Jew. I remember my parents waking me up to tell me. It was like Diana.”
It now stands as a monument to freedom of expression, and two nights ago we attended the largest animal rights rally in the world. We took to the streets with a horde of screaming vegans and badly disguised secret police. Afterwards, we went for steak shawarma.
We nip across the busy street to a diminutive pastry and coffee shop sandwiched between two other restaurants. Ido decides he’ll pass on the pastry though.
“My boyfriend gains weight easily, so I don’t eat this stuff,” he says patting his perfectly toned stomach. Like everyone else in this city, Ido is obscenely fit and healthy.“I was a fat kid,” he says.
“Moving to Tel Aviv was like entering a new world, where you realise you can have any identity you want.”
“By Israeli standards, or by normal standards?” I ask.
“By Israeli standards,” he concedes. Which I infer means only ten percent body fat as opposed to five.
In the two days I’ve been here, I have seen enough six packs to induce mild body dysmorphia. Ido puts it down to the military service that every Israeli must undertake.
“The army puts you straight, and then for the rest of your life you’re set. I did six months of training, then I became a training commander, putting new recruits through the training I had done myself. I basically ran miles every day from 5am.”
As for the pastry-averse boyfriend, an engineer and gender studies student, he met him very shortly after he moved to the city. Though he had yet to come out to his family.
“I’m from a picture-perfect family. My brothers are in banking and medicine. Everyone went to the best schools and hold the best jobs.”
It seems the Cohens are a high-achieving, ambitious brood, even in a country of ambitious high-achievers.