Riding the waves

Although they were born worlds apart, when Ora and Harold Janklovicz met as teenagers through the Hashomer Hatza’ir youth movement, it was love at first sight for both of them.

cute old couple 521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
cute old couple 521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Ora and Harold Janklovicz have several good reasons to smile. Happily married for 65 years, and living in a pleasant apartment with a great view of the sea in Netanya’s Ramat Poleg neighborhood they are also the parents of one of the most recognized Israelis in the world – Gilad Janklovicz, the muscular fitness instructor who has just celebrated 30 years of appearing on our television screens and telling us all to get up off the couch and join his Bodies in Motion’ class.
She is 80 and he is 82 and they have both been through difficult times, before they met and after. And although they were born worlds apart and came from utterly different backgrounds, when they met as teenagers through the Hashomer Hatza’ir youth movement, it was love at first sight for both of them, a love which is as bright and strong today as it was 65 years ago.
Harold was born in Berlin in 1931, and when he was eight his mother had the foresight to realize they had better get out of Germany quickly. She escaped with her son to Shanghai and lived there for the duration of the war, making a living as a milliner. Conditions for the Jewish refugees were hard and Harold has many nightmarish memories of his childhood, but they survived the war, unlike most of the rest of his family who ended their lives in Auschwitz.
Ora was born in Palestine, to a well-known Bukharan family in Jerusalem. Her mother decided to move to the United States in 1939 and Ora stayed to be raised by her grandmother. It was on a visit to her mother in 1950 that she met Harold.
“It was like a scene from a movie,” remembers Harold.
“We had been to a sports day of Hashomer Hatza’ir and on the truck that was bringing us home we were all squashed in like sardines. I looked up and saw this beautiful dark girl facing me. I couldn’t sleep all night knowing I must see her again.”
At the next club meeting they met again and this time he left nothing to chance. They were 19 and 17 when they married in 1951 in Los Angeles.
In 1952 they came to Israel after having spent some time in New Jersey preparing for life on a kibbutz. They joined Galon which had been one of the kibbutzim set up hastily in 1946. Ora was happy, working with the animals, but Harold disliked kibbutz life, communal living and having their first child, Gilad, born in 1954, taken away to the children’s house.
“He was the 100th child to be born on the kibbutz and there was a big celebration,” recalls Harold.
In 1957, after Harold had fought in the 1956 war, they left the kibbutz and entered an exceptionally difficult period in their lives.
“We had no money, no education and no profession,” they recall. Harold walked the streets of Tel Aviv looking for a job. He found a clerical job, hated it and wondered many times why he had given up his chance of having US citizenship back in 1950 for the idealism of settling in Israel.
At the beginning they lived above a vegetable store belonging to an uncle. There was no bathroom or toilet but they did have a cold water tap. Their daughter Ada, today also a television fitness guru in the US, was born in 1958.
Eventually, through connections, Harold became a driving instructor and worked in that field for 13 years and later he became a partner in a lamp shop. He drove heavy trucks in the Six Day War and also served in the Yom Kippur War alongside Gilad who, at an early age, showed extraordinary sporting skills, won the Israeli Decathlon in 1976 and was an officer in the army. In 1980 he left for the US where he has been ever since.
“Our son always had an amazing physique,” says Ora proudly, and Harold interjects, with a smile, “he gets that from me!” All their children are high achievers and they are justifiably proud of them. When Gilad was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in 1997 and they attended the ceremony, the nachas reached epic heights.
They spent 10 years living in California not too far from their famous son, who was now living and working in Hawaii, and Harold got into the jewelry business.
“They were the most successful years of my life,” he says. “I finally made some money.”
Their daughter Dana was born in 1970 and today lives in Israel and is married to successful television director Amir Mann.
When she was 50 Ora had a frightening bout with breast cancer and was given five years to live.
“That was 30 years ago,” she says. Her thankfully full recovery has meant she often appeared with Gilad on his program exercising and demonstrating extraordinary fitness. She even became a personal trainer herself for a time, having studied at Wingate.
After they returned to Israel Harold continued working in the jewelry trade until his retirement at the age of 70.
They moved to Ramat Poleg and in 1998 told their life story in their book Riding the Waves, with help from Ingrid Rockberger, Chava Sella and the Docostory project.
They exercise still, cycle and swim under the watchful eye of Gilad and Ada who visit often, enjoy their four grandchildren and look back on lives which, though filled with many ups and downs, have been fulfilling and never boring.