Storm in an Irish cauldron

In her belief that ‘life really is for living’ Michal Ravid tackles everything – from practicing medicine to mountain biking and teaching Irish dance.

Irish dance 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Irish dance 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Michal Ravid never does anything halfheartedly.
Fifty-eight years young and in the prime of her life, Ravid spends the vast majority of her waking hours at work, at her private practice which specializes in early detection of breast cancer. But when she’s not working, she can invariably be found pounding her way along the twisting and undulating trails around and through Ben-Shemen Forest on her state-of-the-art mountain bike, or possibly clambering up to some challenging mountain peak.
And when she’s not doing any, or several, of the above, Ravid is generally busy orchestrating the behind-thescenes goings-on of the seven-member Tiltan Irish dance group, and administering to the needs of the dance school of the same name. The said hoofing activity has produced a show called Kdera Irit Lohetet (Burning Hot Irish Cauldron) involving the Tiltan gang, with music provided by the Bodhran band. Bodhran has been mixing Irish and Scottish rhythms with sounds from this geographic and cultural neck of the woods for the past 13 years.
Kdera Irit Lohetet will premiere at the Inbal Ethnic Arts Center in Jaffa on May 11 at 9 p.m., with choreography and musical directing in the hands – and feet – of Avital Zaharia, and Ravid’s daughter, Dana. Naturally, Ravid is also able to shake a keen leg or two in a definitively Celtic way, but not as a member of the Tiltan troupe. “I am much older than the dancers, so that would look a bit odd,” she notes.
On the professional front, unsurprisingly Ravid knew she’d be in the medicine business from the word go, although the inspiration for her career choice came from an unexpected source. She was not enchanted by some medical ability to heal the sick, and she did not undergo a life-changing recovery from some serious ailment. “I have always wanted to be a doctor, since I read comics about the Wild West, and the traveling medicine men. That really drew me into it,” she says.
This was followed by inspiring visits to her health fund’s local office. “I liked to hang around there. I had a wonderful doctor when I was a kid. I really loved her.”
Music was also on the agenda at an early age and, naturally, Ravid went for the very best tuition she could find. “I wanted to be a classical pianist, and I studied with [pianist and conductor] Daniel Barenboim’s mother, Aida. But I gave it up when I was 18, when I realized that medicine was going to be my life.”
It also seems that Ravid’s recent foray into the realms of Irish dance is not her first encounter with the art form, in a wider sense. “I also did some ballet as a child,” she recalls. “I was also active in all kinds of sports. I was involved in something to do with dance, music, sports or some area of the arts.”
Much of that, however, was out on a back burner for a few years. “I got married, had children, developed my career, so I was busy with all that,” Ravid explains.
Adding that dance was always there in the background and, a few years ago, she decided the time was ripe to put her thoughts into dance floor action. “I liked to dance the tango. My father taught me when I was five. And I met my husband through that. But when we got divorced I also lost my dance partner.”
Again, Ravid jumped into the activity head-first, and spent time in the birthplace of tango. “I went to Argentina a couple of times, and did courses in Buenos Aries. It was great fun. I like to do things the right way.” That, by now, had become abundantly clear.
Ravid also likes things to be organized.
“I tried folk dancing but I didn’t like it. Each teacher interpreted the dances and the steps differently. That’s not my approach.” Would it, then, be going too far to assume that Ravid likes the comfort of knowing where the boundaries lie? “Not at all,” she protests. “That is too limiting.”
She illustrates her point by citing her meandering career path. “In 2008 I decided to leave my job at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer [where she was head of the Division of Diagnostic Imaging]. I had a great position and a good salary. I was on vacation in Thailand and I just decided it was time to move on, time for a change. I returned to Israel and told them I was quitting. I worked there for 27 years, and I had job security.”
Shortly after that, the Ravid Institute came into being.
The Irish dance element wafted into Ravid’s life a year or so prior to that, by proxy. “My daughter Dana started to learn Irish dancing, and one day I went along to watch her, purely as her mother.” But passive parental observation soon sparked something far more proactive. “I really liked what I saw and I told Dana I’d like to join in the Irish dancing, but she said that didn’t want me to encroach on her patch, with all her friends there, so I gave up the idea.”
However, Dana decided to move on a year later and that paved the way for her mom to get some hands-on experience.
“Dana was learning céili dancing with Yair Verdiger – that’s a sort of a form of Irish folk dancing – and she said she was fed up with it, and that it was repetitive, and she wanted to do the performance format of Irish dancing.”
However, not all was well with Dana and her pals at Verdiger’s school of Irish dance. “One day I heard Dana and Avital [Zaharia] talking among themselves, about how they weren’t enjoying the classes and how they’d like to start up their own school of Irish dance. I told them they should think about the reality of that, and that it cost a lot of money to get a school going.”
True to character, Ravid stepped into the breach. “I told them that, if they wanted, I would finance the school. I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for, but I went for it,” she recalls. A few months later Dana and Avital told Verdiger they were leaving, and Tiltan came into being. “I set up a company a year and a half ago, and we now have schools in Jerusalem, Beersheba and Holon. I am in charge of all the headache stuff, you know the administration, finances and so on.
Dana teaches in Jerusalem, Avital in Holon and one of my daughter’s students teaches in Beersheba.”
Dana is obviously a chip off the old block, and when she became serious about the art form she went to Ireland to study. Today she is one of only a handful of Israelis with Irish qualification to teach Irish dance anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, mom keeps up with her céili tuition. “I dance twice a week, but I’m not going to perform on a stage. I’m 58. I think that’s a bit old to perform,” she notes, adding that she has also been to the Emerald Isle to learn from the masters. “I go to Ireland every year to absorb the Irish culture and to take courses. It is great fun.”
Meanwhile, Dana and Avital put together the Tiltan dancing troupe, and the group performed at last year’s Jacob’s Ladder Festival. The Kdera Irit Lohetet show, says Ravid, is designed for the long course. “We are planning on running with this for quite a while. It includes all sorts of formal traditional Irish dance, as well as céili and, of course, we have all sorts of Irish music.
The show sort of follows the evolution of Irish dance over time.”
Fifteen-hour workdays, and the Irish dance school and performances apart, Ravid devotes part of her weekend to her passion for mountain biking. She got back in the bicycle “saddle” five years ago, after a 36-year hiatus following a traumatic accident. “I smashed my jaw and my teeth when I flew off a bike when I was 16,” recalls Ravid. “But I’d see the cars with the bikes on the roof, or at the back, and I began to miss it. Now I have a regular riding group and we go to Ben-Shemen Forest every Shabbat.”
Ravid also takes off a whole month each year, when she goes off to some part of the world she hasn’t previously visited, and takes on some new challenge. About a month ago she took a vacation in Kenya and, after enjoying a leisurely visit to a safari park, she popped over the border into Tanzania and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro – all 5,895 meters of it.
Another time, she volunteered to care for pandas in China.
“You know, at my clinic, I see how a person’s world can be turned completely on its head in a moment, when I have to tell someone she is facing a serious health issue,” Ravid muses. “I don’t say you should ignore your commitments and responsibilities, but life really is for living. You’ve got to go for it.” ■
The Kdera Irit Lohetet show will be performed at the Inbal Ethnic Arts Center in Jaffa on May 11 at 9 p.m. For tickets and more information: *3221