Holistic activism

Talent agent Zohar Jacobson opens up with Israeli wine, discussing her shift from political activist to integrative health advocate.

ZOHAR JACOBSON at the Bariba restaurant in Tel Aviv (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
ZOHAR JACOBSON at the Bariba restaurant in Tel Aviv
 Zohar Jacobson has had a long and varied career. She began as an activist, involving herself in the 1970s with the anti-establishment group the Black Panthers, which was singled out by then- prime minister Golda Meir as “not nice.” She then moved into the film industry, becoming one of the most influential agents in Israeli cultural history. Under her guidance, actors such as Mark Ivanir, Noa Tishby and Alona Tal broke into the US market.
In this role, she left the publicity and accolades for her clients, staying away from the spotlight herself. Yet it wasn’t until family tragedy that Jacobson decided to take on a new battle, becoming an advocate for non-traditional integrative medicine in the treatment of cancer.
This course was tragically set by Jacobson’s daughter, Tal, who died of cancer four years ago. Working with Dr. Raanan Berger, director of the oncology department at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, and Israel Cassirer, manager of the project, the Tal Center for Integrative Medicine was opened earlier this year.
The center offers a full range of health support, with a special focus on non-traditional and Eastern medicine. In the short time it has been active, the center has already come to be considered an innovative model for dealing with cancer, which affects the lives of thousands of patients and their families.
Goal: To look deeply at Zohar Jacobson’s social initiative and her evolution as an activist and advocate.
The means: Tarshish Wine from the Binyamina Winery and a meal at the Bariba restaurant in Tel Aviv.
What childhood experience most shaped your adult life?
As a child, I grew up on stories of miracles. I grew up in a small, very picturesque and beautiful town in Morocco. One of the great saints of the Moroccan community, Rabbi Amram Ben Diwan, is buried there, and great miracles are attributed to him. Each year, tens of thousands of people visit his grave.
I grew up with the understanding that there are great forces and everything is possible. Those images accompany me to this day.
How did you get into a key position in the Black Panthers?
When I was a teenager, I was influenced by Woodstock and the exit of the US army from Vietnam. We made aliya when I was 12 from a very comfortable place.
We came here for Zionistic reasons, but we were exposed to ethnic discrimination that sometimes was harsh and jarring.
Children are more aware of injustice. That’s how I started becoming active. From that time, I made sure not to remain indifferent and not take injustices as reality.
You were on the Black Panther list for the Knesset when you were only 19 years old...
True. Fifth place on the list. We were staunch in our position, although we did not get into the Knesset. The idea is to be an activist and positively impact, no matter what the age. Don’t sit around doing nothing when you can make the world a better place.
We did quite militant things at that time, such as paralyzing the port of Ashdod for a month and a half. But it came from a sincere desire to unite with society, and not to tear it apart.
Today, I am married to an Ashkenazi and our children are mixed. It’s the right thing.
If Golda Meir had joined the interview, what she would say about you?
That I’m not nice (laughs). Today, I understand that darkness cannot be felt in the dark, but only in the light. Militancy and being anti-establishment only works until a certain age. Then you get older and realize you can have an effect in other ways.
But that was a special and interesting time.
You have chosen to set up a treatment center that deals with the heart of your personal trauma. Where does your strength come from?
Only great pain can be a driving force for such projects, only when it’s so painful and incomprehensible. Today I know I have come a long way on a spiritual journey which has prepared me for this ordeal. We are all temporal and I am also temporal, and soon I will be gone. I always say to myself that while I’m here, I want to create change.
When I lost my daughter, I had two options: Plunge into the chasm, or choose to act.
28 APRIL 4, 2014 WINE THERAPY I chose to act, with the understanding that everything I went through and was exposed to in my personal journey with Tal led me to work to change the attitude of the government and the medical establishment toward cancer patients.
What were you exposed to?
We are a family that handles everything in a natural way, and suddenly we were exposed to madness. Horror, fear, confusion and chaos. It was so terrifying that I didn’t want to hear about it.
Even the establishment itself was confused. We went to three doctors, and each one said something different. They sent us to experts in Switzerland and Denmark. And there was all sorts of information going around, a big mess. And what does the family need? Someone to hug them, be together with them, a little quiet and a lot of hope.
How do you handle such a situation?
You say to yourself, “I can’t believe I’m coming to the hospital with a 25-year-old amazing, beautiful and smart girl – and not returning home with her.” Everything there operates in a very dogmatic way, and no one has time to spare.
There is no organization and everything is collapsing. Individuals lose their personality and get confused.
While some angels do exist, many doctors lack empathy for a girl who is fighting for her life. There aren’t enough people who can give her the strength to succeed. This journey is so frustrating, infuriating and outrageous. You have to choose: Either fight the system, or try to push the hell forward by an inch.
You gave up traditional commemoration, and chose activism instead.
It is a very appropriate [way] to commemorate Tal, who was an activist from the day she was born. At age 12, she established Anonymous [the animal rights activist group] in Israel. Nothing stopped her. From the age of four, she did not let us step on ants. She looked at every detail in nature. She learned to speak English from a very young age in order to read about animal testing.
It makes me feel like I have a job to make a positive change in the world, and I feel this is the right way to proceed.
How does The Tal Center help patients?
We have been blessed with an attentive ear and a lot of sensitivity and empathy on the part of hospital administrators, Prof. Ze’ev Rothstein and Prof. Mordechai Shani. The center operates two main branches: treatment and research. The therapeutic branch is administered by Dr. Noah Samuels.
There are incredibly talented doctors and treating physicians who are familiar with a variety of Western and non-Western therapeutic practices. The center is within the oncology ward of the hospital, and works together with the doctors and conventional medicine to address all the various facets of coping with the situation. We use a large range of complementary therapies, homeopathy, naturopathy, Chinese medicine, acupuncture and much more.
The goal is to strengthen the immune system and give the body the chance to revert back to itself. Modern medicine is amazing, but cancer is a complex disease and must be dealt with in a multifaceted manner, beyond just drugs and chemotherapy.
The second part of our work is focused on proving the efficacy and safety of medicinal plants – just like in China, where the system is built on herbal medicine. It has worked for thousands of years, and that shouldn’t be underestimated. We study herbs and ancient knowledge, which is based on the wisdom of nature, under the direction of Dr. Yair Maimon. Integrative medicine takes the best from all of the worlds, alongside the knowledge from the East, and works on the correct dosages.
The center was established thanks to the good people who contributed to its operation, such as Raya Strauss and Avi Naor.
But we want to help many other patients who need us. I’m looking for strategic partners; people with values and resources who want to make a change. The center was created as a unique model of integrative medicine, to affect cancer treatment methods all over the world and alleviate the suffering of millions. Supporting the center will allow us to advance humanity to a place with much less suffering and fear.
Who would you like to invite for a conversation over a glass of wine?
Oprah Winfrey. She is a powerful and strong woman, who knows how to harness power and leverage it to the heights, to save people and change realities.
She is a woman I really admire; she is an example to me of a real activist.
Type of restaurant: Kosher dairy
Expertise: Health food
Location: Tel Aviv
• Roasted pumpkin on a bed of quinoa, nuts and herbs, with mint yogurt
• Roasted eggplant with tehina, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, pine nuts and olive oil
• House bruschetta: Fresh salmon pickled on the spot, served on whole-wheat bread, roasted with house vinaigrette and sprouts
• Shuk salad with feta: Cherry tomatoes, green beans, radish, carrot, cucumber, yellow and red peppers, mint, parsley, kalamata olives, and a lemon/olive oil dressing.
Entrees: • Baked salmon with almonds and parsley garnish, served on a bed of black rice and beet syrup • Whole fish grilled with purple onion filling, herbs and garlic confit, with a root vegetable puree
Zohar Jacobson’s score for the meal and wine: 10 
Tarshish 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
From: Binyamina Winery
Taste: The wine has a deep black-ruby color, intense aromas of blackberry, cassis, mint and vanilla. It is a complex, rich and full-bodied balanced drink.
Mixes with: Full-flavored hard cheeses; if enjoying with a meat meal, goes well with beef bourguignon or grilled lamb ribs.