Wine therapy: Opening the heart with Israeli wine

Gilad Schalit and his girlfriend, Adi Sigler, speak about finding each other, living an ordinary life in the spotlight, and how they are able to poke fun at his captivity.

Gilad Schalit and girlfriend Adi.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Gilad Schalit and girlfriend Adi.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
My mother always said that quality wine and a good psychologist do the same job. Both of them relax and listen to you – and both of them are expensive.
Fortunately, good wine still costs less than a one-hour session with a leading psychologist.
Apart from my family, Israeli wine is my greatest love. Many years of experience in the wine field have taught me to recognize all types of drinkers: Simple wine tasters, experienced drinkers and those who take things too far. They all have one thing in common: they open their hearts, barriers disappear and the secrets come pouring out. This is the wine effect in a nutshell – quality wine is the oldest and most proven way to uncover secrets.
To illustrate this, I decided to invite you all to read my new column, Wine Therapy, a workshop in which together, we will practice extracting secrets from people we all know. They are heroes, having undergone a funny or tragic experience in their lives, who have become famous because of their life experiences.
We only know the superficial image that has been built up around them, and desperately want to know more about them.
To be successful in wine therapy I’ll have to give them the finest Israeli wine combined with the best gourmet food Israel has to offer.
The better these two ingredients mix together, the higher-quality the secrets will be.
For the first meeting, I will focus on a particularly sensitive issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A friend once told me that the central problem in the Middle Eastern conflict is that one side has developed a wine-drinking culture, while for the other, drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited.
Can this tragedy be properly understood? An atmosphere for lightness and humor is absent, so why not provide an opportunity to make a toast and get to know the other side without any agendas? Instead, on one side we have Mr. “Allahu Akbar,” and on the other, Sir “Shema Yisrael.”
I took up this challenge and looked to find someone who knows the other side firsthand. I found Gilad Schalit, the man who has spent the longest amount of time with the Palestinians, during his five years in captivity – apart from US Secretary of State John Kerry, of course. The truth is this was a great excuse to meet Gilad and his partner, Adi Sigler, and get to know them better; this time, without the mediation of Egyptian intelligence.
Schalit is 27 years old and Adi 20. She was just a 12-year-old girl, busy dreaming about her upcoming bat mitzva, when Schalit was kidnapped, far from the isolated room that was under the command of Hamas chief of staff Ahmed Jabari, who was prematurely knocked off by a Zionist missile. Ouch.
During his captivity, half the world considered Schalit to be “everyone’s child,” but even now, very few people really know him. He tries to steer clear of the spotlight and is rarely interviewed.
Objective: Get to know the new life of Schalit and his partner, Adi Sigler.
Means: Wine, Yatir Forest 2008, and an exquisite meat meal in the gourmet Meatos restaurant in Tel Aviv.
How did you meet each other? Sigler: I was celebrating a friend’s birthday at a bar near the beach, and Gilad was there with his friends. I saw Gilad from a distance. A lot of people went to meet him, to take a photo with him and give him a hug. I was so impressed with how nice and kind he was to everyone. I was thrilled to meet him, memories of his release were still fresh in my mind. But I hesitated because I did not want to approach him without any reason.
Later on in the evening, my friend, the birthday girl, asked me to help her take a photo with him, and I had no choice. I approached him and asked if he would take a picture with my friend.
I was probably the first person Gilad had ever told, “No, no pictures!” I respected that and said it was fine, but felt I had done something wrong, so I invited him for a drink. He told me that he loves a good vodka and cranberry.
I was so excited by what had happened that I forgot the vodka and only got him cranberry juice – he didn’t even notice at the beginning! One thing led to another, and here we are today.
Schalit: Afterwards, I made contact with her through Facebook, but it took a while until we met again because I flew to Canada for three weeks.
Sigler: Tell them how when we spoke on the phone, you would disappear on me in the middle of our conversations.
I didn’t know what happened to him, maybe they kidnapped him! [laughter] You never know with Gilad. At one point we moved forward and connected [by text messaging], and he sent me a bunch of pictures from his travels abroad.
What makes you laugh? Sigler: Golstar [Israeli comedy series]. In one episode they staged a scene where they call Gilad. It is a very funny series. Schalit: I like funny TV programs.
Sigler: Sure! You always fall asleep in the middle. This is our regular routine, it’s impossible to watch a whole show with him! Schalit: The really funny things we keep to ourselves – we don’t need to tell everything! Sigler: Sometimes in uncomfortable situations, Gilad surprises me and makes faces and sounds that crack me up.
Schalit: Like I said, not everything needs to be told! Sigler: It makes us laugh that people still approach Gilad in the street. Not long ago, my mother decided she wanted to make cholent in a special pot. We traveled to the Hatikva neighborhood in Tel Aviv, which is the only place you can find such a pot. Friday morning, within seconds of us arriving, the whole neighborhood flocked to us, as if Gilad was running for president of the United States. In the beginning, my mother was frightened and then suddenly, she just could not stop laughing. Hordes of people lined up to meet Gilad and take pictures with him, even though he was not very pleased.
Schalit: It’s funny and strange, because we live our ordinary lives and feel disconnected from these things. But on the other hand, it never ceases to excite me, all this sympathy from people I don’t even know. I feel like we have all shared an experience together, and it is very powerful.
Sigler: For Gilad this is a daily occurrence, so we try to avoid spending time in public. In retrospect, I understand why Gilad does not like to be photographed.
Schalit: Israel is a warm country, to its credit and detriment, and sometimes people have no boundaries, even if they have good intentions. It happens to be that it hurt our private life. There are several types of characters, those who approach me inappropriately and at the completely wrong time, and those who come to meet me for a short and pleasant visit.
When was the last time you cried? Sigler: When [singer] Arik Einstein died [in November 2013]. It really touched us.
Schalit: Although he wrote me a very emotional song, we never got to meet.
I feel something very special towards him, and when he died, it took me back to my release from captivity. It touched my heart.
Sigler: The connection is much deeper.
In their essence, Arik Einstein and Gilad remind me of each other. Both don’t like media attention, both are shy and averse to extravagance, and both avoid the media. They respected each other’s space and did not even initiate a meeting.
It could have been that someone else, a different character, would have taken advantage of this opportunity for personal benefit – but Gilad is different.
Schalit: I may appear to be introverted, but I am very open with people who are close to me.
Sigler: And regardless, Einstein was also the No. 1 fan of my team, Hapoel Tel Aviv – but Gilad can’t understand it.
Schalit: Yes, because I’m a fan of Maccabi Tel Aviv [the sworn enemy of Hapoel Tel Aviv]. But despite this, we get along perfectly well! Sigler: When I told him that 10 years ago they won the championship, he said that for him ‘it does not count,’ because he wasn’t here for five years! What is the most significant event in your adult life? Schalit: When I first joined Adi’s family for dinner.
Sigler: Are you serious?! Your kidnapping and release was probably a little more important, with all due respect.
Schalit: I wanted to compliment you [laughs]. Before that we were not a serious couple, and that was the first sign of us becoming one. I think it is very significant in my life.
Sigler: By the way, the age difference played in our favor. It was easy to connect to Gilad the human being, rather than “The Gilad Schalit,” as I was only 12 years old when he was kidnapped.
Schalit: Because of this it was easy for us to connect to each other as normal people, like two ordinary young people who meet and want to start a life together.
When have you overcome all odds? Sigler: When our relationship first went public, it was very difficult for me to accept all the publicity all at once.
Schalit: I found it a little less difficult, because I’ve accepted the fact that I create interest. Adi, however, suddenly started receiving calls from a lot of people who had not been in contact for years, and endless calls from reporters.
At one point, she just put the phone down.
Sigler: It was very stressful, and I thought that maybe this relationship was not so good for me. It is very hard to maintain a relationship when the entire country feels that they are a part of it.
There were also a lot of nasty things said and people began to write that I was piggybacking on Gilad’s fame. I wasn’t prepared to handle such insults. Suddenly, an intimate and pure relationship became very public.
Schalit: Some people thought that our relationship was a sham and not based on true love. They are sorely mistaken.
It is a love that very few merit, and one I hope everyone can have.
Complete the sentence: “I most miss... ” Schalit: Most of the significant people in my life are still alive. I’m more nostalgic for the past and friends I have lost along the way. I am very happy with where I am right now.
Sigler: I miss my brother Ophir. He has been living abroad for a long time. He was my father figure, the man at home, because my father has not lived with us for many years. I feel that when a person loses one sense, other senses make up for it, and my relationship with my mother and Ophir are very strong.
Complete the sentence: “No one would have guessed that... ” Schalit: At home we do not watch the news.
Sigler: It is difficult to hear all the time about the release of terrorists in the context of the “Schalit deal,” reports about “Gilad Schalit’s new friends.” It’s impossible to disconnect from that.
Schalit: But the sports news I don’t miss. Besides, in recent months the public interest has started to calm down. [At that moment, one of the guests comes up to shake Gilad’s hand.] Sigler: But you know it’s not really a secret.
Schalit: Secrets should not be written in the paper.
Sigler: I cannot sleep without Gilad hugging me.
Gilad: But now it’s not a secret...
What is the funniest joke you have ever heard? Schalit: A man walks into the church confessional booth and starts speaking, ‘Forgive me, father, for I have sinned...’ Suddenly, he stops and says, ‘Father, it has changed a lot here since the last time I came, there are pictures of girls and beer.’ The priest immediately yelled at him: ‘Idiot, get out! You’re on my side!’ What is your favorite Israeli wine? Sigler: We love Gamla Syrah from the Golan Winery.
What’s your secret to a good relationship? Schalit: Being our own gatekeepers.
We do not depend on any external elements.
Even if the outside is a mess or there is an unpleasant story published, we don’t let it enter our home.
Sigler: Not go to sleep when we’re annoyed.
Always talk about everything and try to solve everything.
Who would you like to share a bottle of wine with? Sigler: Natalie Portman. I loved her performance in Black Swan.
Schalit: I would love to ask her about how she survived all these years in the industry, the hardest place in the world to advance and develop.
What do you do for your soul? Schalit: I met with Holocaust survivors several times as part of the Amcha organization and we also volunteer with Shalva, which is a wonderful place for children with special needs.
We became part of the Shalva family.
Beyond the regular volunteering, Adi helps them produce events that raise money for helping the children. We want to ensure the future well-being of these children.
Sigler: Event planning is my expertise.
I have helped them with some fund-raising events in Mexico, New York and London. We do it with love.
But no matter how much we do for these kids, you have no idea how much we have a tremendous sense of satisfaction.
These children have unconditional acceptance, and it’s the sweetest thing in the world. For these kids it is not ‘Gilad Schalit,’ but Gilad their friend.