Zohar Yakobson, whose name is synonymous with the entertainment industry in Israel, has represented the country’s leading actors and actresses for over 30 years.
Always on-the-go, she sat down with The Jerusalem Post for an interview just two days before boarding a plane to Los Angeles to accompany one of her leading actresses, Shira Haas, to the Golden Globes award ceremony.
“I think in Israel there is a lot of talent. We are a cultural powerhouse with many creative and talented people,” she said. “Israeli women especially have a strength – they are leaders, and they know from a young age how to be many things, including bold and daring and unique with a sense of individualism you don’t see elsewhere.”
Yet, despite her unbridled professional success, some 10 years ago Yakobson was struck by personal tragedy, as her daughter Tal, only aged 25 years old was diagnosed with a rare cancer and passed away 10 months later.
“We had a very difficult journey, there are not a lot of words to express the grief, the pain, the fright,” she said. “There is an infinite fracture, the pain of losing a girl who was so special, so smart and who accomplished in her 26 years what most people don’t accomplish in 80 years of life.”
This tragic shock has changed the course and focus of Yakobson’s life. “Thank G-d I have been lucky to represent many talented people over many years, but the most important thing in life now is the ability to help and make a difference in the field of cancer,” she said.
Tal’s battle with cancer took Yakobson and her family across four different hospitals and even to Switzerland for treatment, though most of their time was spent at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer, one of the world’s leading facilities.
“We were in one of the best hospitals in the world, with all the best technology and western medicine, and yet, doctors don’t really know what the patients go through – the chemo, the anxiety, especially for a young girl at the prime of her life,” she said.
At the time of her death, Tal was on the verge of completing a degree in Chinese and natural medicine and so, given her experiences and to continue her daughter’s legacy, Yakobson together with her husband, founded the Tal Center - the first of its kind Center for Integrative Medicine at Sheba Hospital.
“We made a choice to continue with life, to learn from what we went through so that we can help others,” she said.
Since its establishment in 2013, Tal Center has gone on to become one of the leading centers in the world, headed by the medical establishment alongside non-conventional medicine that provides holistic support for cancer patients.
“Since we opened, we have given legitimacy and influenced other hospitals in Israel, and today there are no hospitals in the country that do not have a natural medicine department,” she said. “There is an understanding in hospitals today that this is the way diseases need to be treated.”
While this innovative complementary approach to patient care has become the norm, Yakobson is still fighting for change.
“One of the things that really shook us, is that there is no solution or response for young people with cancer. There is a framework for children and a framework for adults - but what about someone who is at the height of their life, studying, in love, with dreams and suddenly thrust into a hospital with no framework for people of that age,” she said. As such, Yakobson along with her partner at the Tal Center, Shira Kuperman, is continuing her mission to help young adults with cancer. To that end, they recently established a digital community with over 25,000 participants called “HalaSartan,” translated to “Stop Cancer,” which provides support to young adults with cancer.
The platform was established with the support of MSD Israel, known internationally as Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Additionally, Yakobson has set out to establish dedicated departments in hospitals with large oncological units for young adults.
Over a year ago the first such department was established in Rambam Hospital, with a dedicated nurse and coordinator, a cancer survivor, that provide support for young cancer patients. Another such department is scheduled to open in the coming months in Sheba Hospital.
“There needs to be a change, and I think the world is headed in this direction,” she said.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has created unforeseen challenges to Yakobson’s vision. “This has not been an easy year, with coronavirus, it is hard to raise money and there are sleepless nights, but I believe in miracles and good surprises,” she said.
Indeed, Yakobson’s extraordinary strength and dedication in both her professional and social work have seen her achieve an unprecedented vision.
“I say this to my actors: that the sexiest characteristic is to be good-hearted – to help others, to prevent suffering, not to be indifferent to what is happening around you,” she said. “I try to manage my professional life and social work through this motto and live authentically with a lot of compassion and understanding that so long as you are here you must live your life and act and do towards the benefit of others.”
For more information or to donate visit: stop-cancer.co.il/תרומות) Hebrew) or click here for English site, www.jgive.com.