Toy story

Multifaceted Haran Yaffe, severely wounded in the Second Lebanon War, shows children how to play the old-fashioned way.

Disheartened by the toys and games currently available for kids, Haran Yaffe has gone back in time (photo credit: Courtesy)
Disheartened by the toys and games currently available for kids, Haran Yaffe has gone back in time
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Technology is taking over, and perhaps the most astonishing is when we see a six-year-old running around with an iPhone model newer than our own. Gone are the days of kids playing outside for hours on end, of using Lego pieces to build skyscrapers.
Gone are the days where a cardboard box was transformed into a spaceship that fended off aliens in our mission to save the galaxy. That technology- independent child is something Haran Yaffe is trying to help us recreate.
“I was sitting with my daughter to play and I would immediately get bored. It drove me crazy. It made me feel like such a bad dad,” Yaffe says. Disheartened by the plastic toys and electronic games now available for kids, he turned to his father, who used to own a toy company in Israel.
When Yaffe senior came to visit his son who ran a start-up in Silicon Valley, he brought the wooden blocks Haran Yaffe played with as a child.
“I suddenly found myself sitting there playing with the same blocks I played with as a kid and everything was amazing. I spent hours building helicopters, castles and towers,” Yaffe recalled.
This was the first time he was able to sit down and really share moments of play with his daughter.
“Suddenly we had this amazing connection, because I was present. And from then, everything changed.”
Thus started the idea to reopen Yaffe’s father’s toy company.
“My wife and I realized we’d rather have wooden toys, something more beneficial for our daughter, than something hi-tech,” he says.
In November, the Yaffes returned to Israel. Now living in Amirim in Galilee, Yaffe will reopen his father’s toy story, now called Ollie’s Wooden Blocks, in the same vicinity of the original factory.
Flashback 10 years to the second Lebanon War in 2006. Yaffe was 24, living in Tel Aviv, working at a start-up, recording his first album and performing in concerts.
“Life was really awesome. And then the Lebanon war started,” he Yaffe recalls.
When a rocket hit his parent’s neighbor’s house he decided to volunteer and rejoined his unit in the army. In Lebanon, Yaffe’s convoy was hit by a group of missiles, and he and his officer were stuck inside a vehicle. Yaffe was described as “road kill” when admitted to hospital, even his own parents were unable to identify him. Considered to be one of the most severely wounded soldiers admitted into the ICU, Yaffe recalls the doctors “fighting like lions” to save his life. He spent 10 days in a coma and a year and a half in hospital.
About his rehabilitation, he says he refused “to accept the fact that a piece of metal was what was going to stop me from achieving my dreams.”
Through this and music, Yaffe was able to find motivation in his recovery process.
“I went into surgery with my iPod.”
He had his piano and guitar brought to the hospital and was always daydreaming about being on stage and going to concerts.
“I think through this constant daydreaming and hoping it would finally happen,” Yaffe explains. “After that I decided I wanted to go and explore the world and experience everything. I wanted to do what able people didn’t do. I wanted to do more. I didn’t want to let the disability to stop me everywhere.”
He started traveling, going to New York, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Germany and anywhere else his music could take him. “I think it’s a very sad thing that a lot of people settle for breathing. They go about their lives not noticing anything. They just breathe, and breathing was never enough for me,” says Yaffe.
Determined to truly live rather than just survive, he found himself back on the music scene and touring the world.
He traveled the US, Canada, and Europe performing and speaking in public. It was when he was living in the Dominican Republic that he got the idea to start an app that would allow musicians to connect with their fans.
In 2013, Yaffe moved to California and co-founded Fascino, which helps musicians monitor who is listening to their music and through which streaming service.
His app won the ‘Best App of the Year’ at the Mobile Premier Awards in 2015.
A survivor, a musician, an entrepreneur, a writer, an inspiration and now a toymaker.
“Now I’m going back home to my childhood,” he says.
As a musician, Yaffe brings that interest in connection and creativity to his toy company.
Hoping to bring back the simple, imaginative and hands-on approach back to playtime, he initiated a Kickstarter project (crowdsourcing fundraiser) early this February. He hopes to avoid investors and large manufacturers, keeping the family business in Israel and going directly to the market.
“This way every block has a little bit of the soul of the creator in it,” Yaffe says. “I fear for modern kids… they’re entertained by a toy rather than being entertained with a toy."
“I think the lack of natural play is going to come back and bite us.”
He wishes “we could lift our eyes up from the screen and realize that there are people around us and we can actually talk and play with them and run outside and laugh.”
Yaffe hopes to bring imagination and connection back into the dynamic of play so he no longer has to tell tales of how differently he played as a kid.
More so, Yaffe hopes to help parents engage with their kids in play not only for the parent-child relationship but for adults to be reminded of their inner child.
“I think it’s so important that adults feel like kids for a moment so they reconnect with their inner child. That child had hopes, dreams, and aspirations. When we get older we tend to give up on that. I hope to never give up on that.”
The Kickstarter project can be found at