The new model

Haim Tor left the religious world to pursue an unlikely career path.

Haim Tor. ‘The religious world is not right for me.’ (photo credit: GUY HECHT)
Haim Tor. ‘The religious world is not right for me.’
(photo credit: GUY HECHT)
At first glance, it is easy to understand why Haim Tor and the world of modeling seem like a good fit. Tor is the quintessential rising star in the world of men’s fashion. His boyish good looks, which he owes to piercing green eyes, high cheekbones, perfectly symmetrical facial features, and coiffed-back hair, evoke memories of a young Johnny Depp. Complementing this attractive exterior are a mature calm, a cool charisma, and a wealth of emotional and philosophical self-awareness that is rare for a 23-year-old in any profession, let alone the seemingly superficial world of modeling.
The news media in Israel are beginning to catch on to this young man whose face has graced billboards of well-known fashion brands like Tamnoon and Bagir, mainly because of the unlikely path he took to get here.
“I came from a religious background,” he explains. “I grew up in a religious household, I attended hesder yeshiva, I wore a crocheted kippa, everything.”
Tor’s radical shift in lifestyle – from that of a devoutly religious youth from Kiryat Motzkin to total immersion in the cultural and art scene of Tel Aviv – is more an odyssey of self-discovery rather than any sort of rebellion against tradition and custom.
“I don’t believe in backgrounds,” he says, looking at home and relaxed sipping a bottle of water at a cafe high atop the Azrieli mall. “It doesn’t matter where you put a person, the most important thing is the way he or she relates to the background in which they have been placed.”
He recalls that “ever since I was very young, I realized that I couldn’t be in any one particular framework and live according to set codes without understanding what it is I was doing, or where I was in relation to this framework and these codes.”
As time went on, “this curiosity became much more acute,” he says.
“The more I learned about the background in which I was supposed to be living – and this happened much more intensely in the hesder yeshiva – the more I understood that it wasn’t healthy for me,” he recounts. “The religious world is not right for me...
in terms of how I’m built personality- wise, my beliefs, how I want to realize my potential.”
After the internal urge to reinvent himself pushed him to shed his religious identity, not all of those closest to him were quick to offer support.
“The reactions were sharply divided,” he says. “They were either very positive, or there were those who thought I’d lost my mind. I think that if you have the courage to believe that what you are doing is right, you won’t have a problem if someone is doing the opposite, because you’re sure of where you’re at. So I’m not afraid when people come and criticize me, since I know that I didn’t do this for superficial or shallow reasons but because of things that are much deeper and more connected with a person’s soul.”
As a young boy, Tor witnessed the disintegration of his parents’ marriage.
He also nearly lost his mother, who underwent life-saving brain surgery. Those seminal events only sharpened his heightened sense of intuition and his natural feeling for his fellow man.
“It wasn’t the secular world that lured me; I was the one who lured the secular world to me,” he says. “It was a gradual process that began when I was in yeshiva five years ago. I realized that by doing something that wasn’t good for me, I was playing a zero-sum game against myself.”
Aside from modeling, he is studying to become an actor, and he is enrolled in writing classes at the vaunted Gibor Tarbut School founded by Yuval Abramovich and Amnon Jacont.
These avenues of expression became open to him after he realized some things about himself.
“When I was religious, I was very guarded emotionally. There were many things I wanted to do but felt that I couldn’t do, because I needed to be okay in other people’s eyes. I need to be fine. Whenever I would talk to a friend of mine, I had to think about what to say so that he would understand what it is I’m trying to convey so that, God forbid, he won’t be offended by what I’m saying,” he says.
“I would often pick up trash on the street left by other people,” he continues.
“Whenever I would walk past an older woman on the street, I would slow down so she wouldn’t think ill of me, that I walk faster than her and that I’m more vital than she is.”
Still, he says, “I understood that this was a very patronizing attitude to have. Why should she think that about me? And why should anyone believe that I’m a better person for doing that? Today, I live my life for myself. Everyone needs to do what is right for them, and that is when respect for other people comes about organically.”
The seemingly excessive consideration for other people’s perceptions of him seems to be a far cry from the modern-day Tor, whose Facebook profile is filled with provocative modeling shots that show him with hardly any clothing. To hear him explain it, however, his new vocations are vital tools that are helping him make the transition from a life of devout piety to one of individualistic expression.
“I had to learn a whole new world.
I only came to learn of the [secular] world by reading a lot. That’s when I began to fantasize about how I wanted to [make the shift], but it wasn’t until I actually did it that I understood what I was getting into. That’s why I’m taking acting classes and voice classes, so that I could get to know myself better and express what it is I want to express,” he says.
“I’ve realized that I’m a very sexual person,” he continues. “Ever since I was young, I would also do performances for my friends, impersonating them and doing characters as a way to entertain them. It was always something that interested me, but I never saw myself doing it professionally because I didn’t think it could happen [within the context of a religious lifestyle].
So while [these choices] may appear extreme at first glance, there’s a great deal of logic to it.”