Oz Korenberg is picky about his wines.
Food and Drink,Profiles

The 22-year-old who knows his wine

Oz Korenberg is picky about his wines.

Oz Korenberg is picky about his wines.

If Israeli winemakers want their bottles featured at Jerusalem’s deluxe Mamilla Hotel, they must please the palate of one man: Oz Korenberg, who at 22 is Israel’s youngest head sommelier.

Korenberg holds the key to the Mamilla’s wine cellar – containing up to 1,500 bottles, all Israeli vintages aside from champagne — and accepts only about one of every five wines he tastes.

“A lot of wineries want to get onto my wine menu because we offer them a lot of exposure. But you have to impress me,” Korenberg tells ISRAEL21c.

As the head wine steward at a hotel that attracts an international clientele, Korenberg is often the one to introduce Israeli wines to guests with sophisticated tastes. “You have to know your customer base, and I know my customers drink expensive wines,” he says.

Since starting as a sommelier at the Mamilla in 2011, Korenberg has served the likes of former US President Bill Clinton, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Prince of Monaco, Barbra Streisand and Sharon Stone.

“A lot of cool people stay at the Mamilla,” he says. “The last time Tony Blair was here, all the managers lined up and the only guy he recognized was me. He smiled and said, ‘What are we drinking tonight?’ I was so honored.”

Every Friday evening, Korenberg hosts wine tastings (free for hotel guests, NIS 90 for others). He talks about the history of winemaking in Israel, what makes wine kosher, how to drink and store wine, how long you can drink wine after it’s opened, wine-and-food pairings and related topics.

Oz Korenberg on the job.

Oz Korenberg on the job.

At dinnertime, he makes the rounds of the hotel’s lounges and restaurants, offering suggestions to guests eager to try local vintages.

“I ask a few simple questions about what you usually drink, what you feel like drinking now, what you’re eating now, and my instincts will guide me. Being a sommelier is about getting the vibe of the customer, making your guests really feel comfortable and making their culinary experience perfect.”

Something classy

One may wonder how a man of such a tender age, and no formal training, landed a job like this.

Born in 1992 and raised in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion, Korenberg decided at 15 to go live with an aunt and uncle in Florida so that he could attend an exclusive high school on scholarship. As it happens, his uncle has a 500-bottle wine cellar.

“My uncle said, ‘Sit down, Ozzie, and I’ll teach you how to drink something classy.’ He’s part of a private group that wines and dines together, and I got hooked on the combinations of food and wines the first time he took me along. We did this about once a month and I explored really expensive wines.”

Six months after arriving in Florida, the teen was diagnosed with a rare malignant brain tumor. He endured a 17-hour operation at Miami Children’s Hospital and 14 months of chemotherapy, all the while knowing his chances of survival were slim. Even now, in full remission, he is aware that the cancer could return at any time.

“What gave me hope was to go to school and stay as normal as possible and treat the cancer as a sort of really bad flu with really hardcore medication,” he says. “I had to be really strong and positive even though I was in a new school, learning a new language and making new friends. And throughout my disease I was drinking wine, because I thought I wouldn’t make it anyway.”

Coming back to Israel at 18, he found that his medical history precluded any kind of military service and he was casting about for his next step. At a soccer game, Korenberg got to talking with the manager of the Mamilla’s Mirror Bar and agreed to an interview with David Dreyfus, then the head sommelier. He started out as one of three sommeliers and got promoted in 2013 when Dreyfus departed for France.

Korenberg took a management course at the Golan Heights Winery and plans to go abroad next year to gain official certification.

Great stuff

One of Korenberg’s most memorable moments involved the priciest bottle in the Mamilla’s cellar.

“There was a nice group from Napa Valley staying here for a week, and they tried all the good stuff. Then the head of the group asked for something interesting, and we talked for about 25 minutes about the 2003 Yatir Forest Double Magnum. The hotel had this bottle for a few years, selling for NIS 8,000 — about $2,000.”

Korenberg assured the Californian he would not be charged if the wine was disappointing. The group popped the cork and shared it with the sommelier.

“They really enjoyed it, and it was quite a magical moment for me. It’s not about the money, but the way we talked about the wine and how it felt to win someone’s trust like that.”

Another Mamilla guest wanted to try 1989 and 1990 vintages of cabernet sauvignon, which made Korenberg nervous not only because of the combined cost of about NIS 5,000. “Israeli wines don’t age that well yet because the vines are young, so that was taking a chance,” he explains.

Sweating bullets, he eased out the corks very, very slowly with a special opener, for fear of the softened corks falling into the wine. “The 1990 was still alive and very mature, but the 1989 wasn’t alive and I didn’t want to charge him. The customer insisted on paying for it. Being honest is very important to me,” says Korenberg.

At home, he loves to experiment. “It’s fun to have so many stories, so many people, so many different wines in Israel. Promoting the Israeli wine industry is one of the most important things to me. There are about 400 wineries here now, which is a little crazy but it’s a good thing. We have great stuff.”



Laetitia Beck playing for Duke University. Photo courtesy of Tim Cowie

Israel’s only pro ladies golfer

Laetitia Beck playing for Duke University. Photo courtesy of Tim Cowie

Laetitia Beck playing for Duke University. Photo courtesy of Tim Cowie

“I’m a pretty boring person,” insists champion golfer Laetitia Beck, who made history at the Women’s British Open in July as the first Israeli to tee off as a professional in an LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) tournament. “If you ask me to play a sport, then I’ll get a smile on my face. I’m very athletic and very competitive.”

Turning 23 in February 2015, Beck has racked up a list of achievements that’s anything but boring.

She’s a five-time winner of the Israeli Open Golf Championship, the first time when she was only 12 years old. She won golfing gold medals in the 2009 and 2013 Maccabiah Games and was voted Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year in 2011 as a member of the Duke University (North Carolina) Blue Devils.

That year, she qualified for her first LPGA event, the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open – marking the first time an Israeli played in an LPGA tourney. In 2013, Golf World cited her as one of the top 50 golfers to watch.

ISRAEL21c spoke to Beck in Florida, two days after she passed the second of three qualifying stages toward earning her LPGA Tour Card – the coveted ticket to the world’s major pro golf tournaments. She faces one more qualifier in December. Only 50 out of 240 players advance to the second stage, so Beck is already a standout.

She hopes to represent Israel at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics, when golfing returns to the Olympic Games for the first time since 1904 and will be open to pros.

No excuses

Born in Belgium, the four Beck siblings were raised in Caesarea, the Mediterranean resort city that boasts Israel’s only 18-hole golf course. The elder Becks, both recreational golfers, introduced Laetitia and her twin sister, Olivia, to tennis at age eight and golf at age nine. Laetitia took to both with passion.

“I played every sport possible when I was younger — basketball, soccer, tennis – and I love them all, but now I don’t want to get injured, so I only play golf,” she says.

The sport caught young Laetitia’s fancy to the extent that by age 12 she dropped tennis.

“I like being by myself, and being able to practice alone made golf much easier for me than tennis. I can be in my own world and I could go to the course almost every day,” she explains. “Also, I don’t like to find excuses, and in golf you can’t blame anyone — it’s just you.”

Golf does not require the cardio fitness that tennis demands, “but we do need to be very strong in the entire body, and mentally it is one of the most demanding sports,” Beck tells ISRAEL21c.

“I have always been very focused and not easily distracted, even as a kid. And I love what I do.”

To take her training to the highest possible level, Beck left Israel at 14 to attend a sports academy in Florida, the IMG Pendleton School. “We practiced all morning and worked out every evening during my four years of high school,” she relates.

Laetitia Beck hitting a shot during the Annika Invitational in Florida, 2010. Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK

Laetitia Beck hitting a shot during the Annika Invitational in Florida, 2010. Photo by Tracy Wilcox/GOLFWEEK

Representing Israel

At Duke, it was classes in the mornings and golf from 2 to 6, with workouts on weekends. Since graduating last May, Beck spends most days on the course, in addition to traveling to competitions and looking for sponsors to help foot the $85,000-$100,000 annual cost of touring. She’s living with a host family in Aventura, Florida, but frequently goes to Canada to train with her coach, Andrew Phillips.

She was introduced to Phillips in 2012 when she accepted an invitation to return to Montreal a year after wowing fans at the Open, to play in the Jewish General Hospital’s 20th annual Golf Tournament and fundraiser. “Ever since then, I’ve been practicing with him,” she says.

Beck visits her family in Israel every few months. Though she misses them – and the ready access to kosher food – she is committed to remaining in North America for the time being.

“For golf, it’s better for me to be here because the tournaments are here,” Beck says. “I will eventually go back to Israel, where I think I can have an influence on golf. I have a few other passions, too. It all depends on how things go.”

Beck is well known for the blue-and-white flag of Israel displayed on her golf shoes, hat and club head covers.

“I try to represent the country as much as I can,” she says. “Seeing the flag means a lot because I think it will help the sport and the sport in the country. I don’t think we have enough representation.”

However, she adds, “For me it’s less about Israel and more about being Jewish, because there are not many Jewish pro ladies on tour. I wear a Star of David that I have not taken off since high school. That’s how I connect to people in the States and around the world. I love when someone comes up and starts talking to me.”

Rinat Abramovitch receiving her grant from Prof. Andreas Hoeft in May 2014 at the 10th annual Euroanesthesia Congress in Stockholm.

The woman who tackles medical mysteries

Rinat Abramovitch receiving her grant from Prof. Andreas Hoeft in May 2014 at the 10th annual Euroanesthesia Congress in Stockholm.

Rinat Abramovitch receiving her grant from Prof. Andreas Hoeft in May 2014 at the 10th annual Euroanesthesia Congress in Stockholm.

Each year, one out of every 70 Americans receives a blood transfusion. With the help of preservatives, the shelf life of red blood cells is more than a month. Yet there is an active debate whether fresher blood is a better choice for certain patients.

Israeli researcher Dr. Rinat Abramovitch contributed critical information to this debate last year with her groundbreaking study proving that stored donor blood actually harms the liver.

Recently, Abramovitch received two major grants to investigate whether bleeding and further blood resuscitation affects the liver’s natural capacity to regenerate, and how this happens. “If you understand the mechanism, you can improve it,” Abramovitch tells ISRAEL21c.

She won one of only two €60,000 three-year research grants awarded in 2014 by the European Society of Anaesthesiology, as well as an additional three-year grant from Israel’s Ministry of Health. These funds will be put to good use in her lab at the Goldyne Savad Institute of Gene Therapy at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Abramovitch, 48, prefers to gear her research toward practical solutions rather than abstract theories.

“It is worth doing research about medical mysteries; something that can help people,” she says. “That is what gives me motivation.”

Over the past 13 years, eight graduate students have worked in her lab with sophisticated imaging modalities to find answers to medical conundrums involving tumors and new therapies.

“It’s a matter of opening your ears to hear the problems physicians are talking about,” says Abramovitch, who also is a senior lecturer at the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Medicine.

Novel findings about the liver

In this case, the study resulted from discussions with her former Hadassah colleague, Dr. Idit Matot, now head of the Anesthesia, Pain and Intensive Care Division and the Surgery Division at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

Matot told her that in surgeries to remove a tumor from the liver, there is often massive bleeding, necessitating a blood transfusion. “The real question is whether this stored blood is good or bad for these patients.”

Abramovitch and her team devised a study where they removed half of the liver from lab rats. The control group was not given a blood transfusion. A second group received seven-day-old blood and the third group received fresh red blood cells. They monitored the groups to see how the different approaches affected the liver’s ability to regenerate, a process that takes only about a week in rodents and slightly longer in humans.

“When we started to compare the process of liver regeneration, our first insight was that bleeding delays the regeneration process and so it is important to administer blood. We then compared fresh versus stored blood, and showed that while fresh blood is helpful, blood stored for too long can be harmful.”

Over the following year, Abramovitch’s lab began investigating the genetic and cellular mechanism responsible for this phenomenon. The Israeli group is collaborating with scientists in Bonn, Germany.

The results thus far were so promising that the European grant was awarded to Abramovitch in Stockholm last May at the annual Euroanesthesia congress.

Mosaics for the soul

Due to the novel lines of research she pursues, Abramovitch often participates in international conferences and collaborations.

She tells ISRAEL21c that her first interest was chemistry, and she earned her bachelor’s degree from Tel Aviv University in that subject. Later, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) caught her fancy, and she earned her doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science on how to use this noninvasive technology to assess angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels in tumors.

She did two years of postdoctoral research at Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer before joining Hadassah. Her previous studies on aspects of liver regeneration appeared in the journals Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Genes & Development, Radiology and Hepatology.

Mosaics are a relaxing hobby for Abramovitch.

Mosaics are a relaxing hobby for Abramovitch.

Abramovitch lives in the central city of Modi’in, but grew up on Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in the south, Israel’s largest producer of honey. Her parents still live on the kibbutz.

She gets up at 5 in the morning to start her workday early and get home in time to spend the afternoon with her children. Her husband, a businessman, handles the morning routine with their 10-year-old son and their daughter, a senior in high school. They also have a son currently serving in the navy.

She also finds time for fitness and recently began taking classes in mosaic-making with her daughter. This is, she says, “a hobby for my soul.”

cap 1: ‘A moment of kindness’ with kids at Felicia’s daycare. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

Messenger of mercy in South Tel Aviv

cap 1: ‘A moment of kindness’ with kids at Felicia’s daycare. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

‘A moment of kindness’ with kids at Felicia’s daycare. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

Once upon a time, Gideon Ben-Ami brought Israeli musicians to Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. Today he brings fresh food to a shelter for drug-addicted streetwalkers in Tel Aviv.

The former impresario, restaurateur and alternative-energy executive also delivers sandwiches to homeless men, fruit to migrant children, medicine to a refugee clinic, toys and food to a battered-women’s shelter and diapers to destitute young parents and elderly Holocaust survivors.

“There are a million poor people here,” Ben-Ami tells ISRAEL21c as he drives his little white van through the shabby streets of South Tel Aviv. “We can’t reach them all. We are reaching people who are in the worst possible situation.”

The goodhearted 69-year-old grandfather casts a ray of light on a bleak landscape. He knows everybody’s stories and tries to fill their needs. Among the items stashed in the van today are expensive pressure stockings for an African man and woman burned in a grisly arson attack.

“The main thing is food, produce and money to help people recover from overwhelming tragedies, like the couple who was burned,” he says. “But there are smaller cases that are just as tragic, and existing charities don’t have the wherewithal to help them all.”

A messenger

For decades, Ben-Ami owned and managed a popular chain of eateries in Miami and Israel. It killed him to see how much food is tossed out by restaurants, bakeries and caterers. After he retired, he handed out sandwiches to homeless people in Tel Aviv.

When African refugees and migrants began flooding South Tel Aviv a couple of years ago, Ben-Ami volunteered to manage a humanitarian program, bringing rescued food to the makeshift tent city set up by the municipality in Levinsky Park.

A volunteer for the New Jersey-based Good People Fund observed Ben-Ami at Levinsky and recruited him to continue his charitable work with the fund’s support. He was delighted to devote himself full time to something he finds so rewarding.

“I’m basically a shaliach [messenger],” he explains. “The essence of what I do is taking things from one point and bringing them to another, knowing when to pick up and what to pick up because there is so much out there. It’s a small program with many facets.”

He coordinates his activities with other charities including Leket Israel, the national food bank. Ben-Ami delivers tons of Leket’s rescued food and gleaned produce to homeless shelters, battered-women’s shelters, prisoner halfway houses and African daycare centers.

He stores some of the produce in an alcove next to a publicly funded safe house where homeless and drug-addicted women working the streets can shower, grab a bite and sleep in a real bed. This project was formerly managed by his ex-wife, Manya, an addictions counselor and recovery coach.

A nearby commercial building houses Turning the Tables, where women in recovery learn marketable design and fashion skills. On our outing, Ben-Ami takes them some of the sandwiches he’s just picked up at the regional police headquarters near Jaffa.

At least once a week, Ben-Ami pulls his van to the station’s loading dock to receive hundreds of leftover sandwiches boxed up by Officer Eyal Raviv. Sometimes he brings Raviv food packages to take to a destitute family in another city.

“He’s one of a kind. I can only say good words about this man,” Raviv tells ISRAEL21c. Until he and Ben-Ami paired up, the leftover sandwiches were thrown away.

Nowhere to play

Today, some of these sandwiches will help fill bellies at Felicia’s daycare for African children. In this overcrowded and barebones facility, 17 preschoolers crowd around to shake Ben-Ami’s hand and shout “Shalom!” Clearly, the brief visit brightens their day. Ben-Ami calls it “a moment of kindness.”

Felicia doesn’t have a play yard. Once a week, volunteers travel down from Zichron Yaakov to take the youngsters to the park. They work with Ben-Ami to fill a variety of social-welfare gaps in South Tel Aviv through what he calls micro-charity.

A doctor in the group collected medicine samples from her colleagues for Ben-Ami to take to the migrant clinic in the Central Bus Station. Her daughter arranged with Ben-Ami to repair a decrepit daycare with a bunch of her friends. They collect cash to supplement the rent of an Eritrean migrant, Marhawi, whose wife hung herself and left him with two babies. When the older child was in the hospital recently, the group lined up visitors.

Ben-Ami stops at Levinksy Park to pick up a member of the group who has taken Marhawi and his children under her wing. “Every month I’ve been coming down to spend a couple of hours with Gideon helping where I can,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

Volunteers provide homemade soup for Ben-Ami to deliver each week. Photo courtesy of the Good People Fund

Volunteers provide homemade soup for Ben-Ami to deliver each week. Photo courtesy of the Good People Fund

The volunteers are sometimes heckled as they accompany African children to the park. Ben-Ami can’t understand this. “The Bible commands us about 36 times to care for the stranger. If we are to be a light unto the nations, we need to set an example.”

Caring for others is in Ben-Ami’s DNA. Back in Russia, his grandmother Pesia ran a soup kitchen out of her home for students at the esteemed Volozhin Yeshiva. When poor neighbors borrowed her oven to warm their simple bean stews, she’d slip a piece of meat into the pot.

Born in Israel, Ben-Ami lived in the United States from the age of 12 until the oldest of his own four children was 12. Throughout his long and varied career, he confides, he made and lost millions. Now he is content living a life immersed in charity work.

“I discovered life is so much more beautiful and enriching if you live with voluntary simplicity, and that’s what I want my children to see.”

It seems they’ve taken his example to heart. Several times a week, one of his sons helps with the deliveries. His daughter recently asked him to help her distribute foodstuffs she collected for Holocaust survivors.

Gideon Ben-Ami and his son Doron loading produce into the van.

Gideon Ben-Ami and his son Doron loading produce into the van.

Ben-Ami always thinks of new ways to help the downtrodden. He supplied industrial-size pots to eight Tel Aviv women to make soup every week for homeless shelters. He wants to rent a storefront and turn it into a takeout soup kitchen. He finds dishwashing and table-busing jobs for down-on-their luck locals, thanks to his restaurant connections.

“Gideon’s greatest delight comes from feeding hungry people,” says The Good People Fund Executive Director Naomi Eisenberger. “He also has an uncanny ability to discover the poorest and most overlooked people hidden in Tel Aviv’s bustling metropolis. For those fortunate enough to meet him, life can improve dramatically.”

These three men from Zarka are learning to be surfing instructors. Photo courtesy of Green Prophet
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

‘Peace surfer’ thanks ISRAEL21c

These three men from Zarka are learning to be surfing instructors. Photo courtesy of Green Prophet

These three men from Zarka are learning to be surfing instructors. Photo courtesy of Green Prophet

ISRAEL21c’s article on Nitzan Solan, a young Israeli engineer who surfs with Arab-Israelis in the coastal village of Zarka, has led to a new “surfing for peace” initiative.

Shortly after she read the piece published in July, Neta Hanien, co-owner of Juha’s Guest House in Zarka, contacted Solan.

“Neta told me about a lot of people looking for surfing lessons,” Solan tells ISRAEL21c. “She wants to establish a surfing school at the Guest House, and she realized that I am the girl to help her do it.”

The two women organized a training day for three new surfing instructors from Zarka, a disadvantaged village that is trying to boost its tourism offerings.They worked in conjunction with Arthur Raskovin, owner of Tel Aviv’s Doctor Surfsurfing school and cofounder of Surfers 4 Peace, an Israel-based organization that uses surfing-related activities as a hand of friendship to Gazan Arabs.

“We all connected and had a great day,” Solan says.

And that was despite the fact that the training day took place in August, during Israel’s 50-day military conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Now, Solan and Hanien are trying to build on that good start by soliciting donations of surfboards for Zarka youth interested in pursuing the sport.

“We’re trying to push it forward. We want to provide help for these [Arab-Israeli] kids to surf on their own, and it’s really exciting. And it all started from the article on ISRAEL21c,” says Solan, giving credit to the story’s author, Karin Kloosterman, for sparking the connections.

For more information, contact Solan at nitzan.livingreen@gmail.com.