A self-tailored dream

Daniel Hertz found a job as a tailor at the Israeli Opera and married one of opera’s up-and-coming stars.

Daniel Hertz_521 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Daniel Hertz_521
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Daniel Hertz, 29 From Copenhagen to Tel Aviv, 2010
Within a year and a half of making aliya from Denmark, Daniel Hertz found a satisfying job in his profession as a tailor at the Israeli Opera and married one of the opera’s upand- coming stars, mezzo-soprano Ayala Zimbler.
He first came to Israel on one of the programs run by Masa, the organization run by the Jewish Agency and world Jewish communities to enable students to study for at least a semester and up to a year in Israel, with a view to encouraging aliya. For several months he was able to volunteer in his profession at the Opera and after officially becoming an immigrant was quickly taken on in the wardrobe department. A conversation with him gives a fascinating glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes at the Tel Aviv home of Israel’s magnificent opera company.
Carrying on in the best Jewish tradition, he became a tailor – although it happened somewhat by accident.
“I was in technical school in Copenhagen studying to be an electrician, and in the last month I had to take a supplementary class. I had to choose from several options and I wandered into a sewing class full of girls and I thought it looked nice and I would try it.”
He discovered that he loved sewing, having grown up in a home where his mother was always doing some kind of needlework, and he decided to take a four-year course to become a tailor. After learning the basics, he graduated to more complex tailoring, all the time feeling he wanted to move to Israel.
“The Danish people are not anti-Semitic but I was confronted with my religion on a daily basis,” he says. “They didn't mean it in a bad way but I was forever having to answer questions. No matter where I studied or worked, eventually the conversation would come round to my Jewishness.”
While he feels that the Danish people are essentially cold, he has been overwhelmed by the warmth he has encountered here from Israelis who really appreciate that Western immigrants still come.
He was brought up on Bnei Akiva and Jewish tradition is important to him and something he wants to pass on to his children. And more than anything, he wanted to find a wife – Copenhagen is full of beautiful girls but not Jewish ones – all good reasons for moving to Israel. For a year before his arrival he had been working on a freelance basis in different theaters in Denmark and gaining a lot of experience in costume- making. Joining the Israel Opera was a continuation of the work he had been doing and he found it quite daunting at first. The wardrobe department is one of the biggest in the company, with 15 or 16 workers, “mostly Russian,” he adds with a smile. They were a little perplexed to find a young Dane becoming part of the team.
It turns out that the company makes its own original costumes for only one opera every other year; the rest are rented from companies abroad. Two years ago, original costumes were made for Hanoch Levin’s The Child’s Dream and this year they are creating the wardrobe for Brecht and Weill’s The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which the opera is putting on next year. Hertz will be in his element creating all the men’s suits necessary for the 1930s musical.
The rest of his time is spent altering the rented costumes that come from different companies in Europe.
“In costume we nearly always have to make them bigger,” he explains. “There’s no problem doing the alterations – in fact, it’s part of the agreement.”
He met his wife after he started work at the opera and they married two months ago. She has already played in several solo roles, the most recent as Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana, which was the latest production mounted by the opera together with its eternal partner Paglicacci. In previous productions she has sung Cherubino and Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro and the Cheshire Cat in the world premiere of Alice in Wonderland. Hertz confesses that he has learned a great deal about opera in the last year and a half.
Financially it is not easy to manage on their combined earnings. He is paid very close to minimum wage and she makes good money when she is appearing and rehearsing but does not receive a salary.
“Our financial situation is rather precarious,” he says.
However, Ayala has some good parts coming up and they are hopeful they will be able to make ends meet in the years ahead.
The future is uncertain. They are aware that many singers go abroad and that parts for mezzo-sopranos are limited and rarely make their owners into international names.
“She has to move on,” he says. “On the other hand, I didn't come to Israel in order to leave. We will have to see.”