Shark diver, turtle rescuer, fire juggler, world traveler – Tel Aviv native Kathy Cohen has a zest for the unusual and the adventurous.
And that’s what makes her the perfect face of 21see, ISRAEL21c’s new video series on fun, food and fashion in Israel. So far she’s presented episodes on tattoos, fashion, craft beer and American football, and there’s more to come.
“ISRAEL21c just came into my life and it’s amazing that I get to share this beautiful place. I’ve traveled all over the world and lived in many places, but nowhere else ever felt like home to me,” says Cohen, whose family left Tel Aviv for Australia before her 13th birthday.
She was only 19 when she began a seven-year stint with Club Med in Asia. Working as a snorkeling and diving instructor, choreographer and stage manager, she got to start exploring the world.
“At 25, I decided to go home and get a job with a suit. I studied business and event management,” she says.
But that proved too staid for this free spirit, and soon enough Cohen was happily employed as a shark diver for Underwater World on Australia’s Sunshine Coast, while also working in a travelers’ hostel meeting people from all over.
Next stop was South America, where she quickly learned Spanish, finished her degree and toured Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil before working in marketing for a startup in Buenos Aires for two years.
“The economy was bad, though, so it was hard to survive and I went back to Australia. But it didn’t feel like it was my place; I didn’t connect.”
Cohen flew to Israel to attend her uncle’s wedding, and toured the country for two weeks with some friends from third grade. Experiencing contemporary Israeli life was all it took to decide on a move to Tel Aviv in April 2015.
“I found a job in marketing at a startup and I found an apartment with a friend. It all fell into place,” says Cohen.
From the beginning, Cohen has been volunteering at the Israel Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Michmoret, north of Tel Aviv.
“I absolutely love it. Every Saturday I help feed and measure the turtles, give them medicine, clean their tanks, and release them into the sea when they get better.”
One of her fellow volunteers was involved in Midburn, Israel’s edition of the Burning Man festival. Cohen was interested in participating in the six-day desert celebration of self-expression, creative freedom and teamwork. Many participants volunteer for months to coordinate the event, and Cohen enthusiastically joined them.
“It was such a great opportunity to meet new people and learn new things,” she says.
Midburn is famed for its spectacular fire performances and installations. A department of some 400 Midburn volunteers makes sure all fire art is done safely and legally. Cohen initially agreed to handle marketing and communications for the group and this year she heads a whole contingent.
“It’s a huge responsibility and it’s kind of cool and empowering,” she says. Despite never having worked with fire previously, Cohen put her adventurous spirit to the test and has learned how to juggle fire fans.
So how did she get tapped to present 21see’s video series?
Like so much else in Israel, it was a matter of family.
Last year, her father visited Israel for the first time in 17 years, for his uncle’s 80th birthday. At the party, Cohen met filmmaker-producer Haim Silberstein, her dad’s first cousin. Silberstein was working with ISRAEL21c board member Jonathan Baruch on creating 21see, and he felt instinctively that his newfound cousin had the right mixture of Israeliness, worldliness and joie de vivre to do the job.
Silberstein didn’t know it then, but Cohen actually had a tad of experience. “When I was little, my dad was a host on the shopping channel in Israel and he used to bring me on the set sometimes, so I remembered how to look at the camera.”
She readily agreed to shoot a pilot for 21see. “I was just myself, having fun. I saw it as a cool opportunity to share this place with people overseas and do it from the point of view of someone who hasn’t lived here for a long time because I’m discovering all the niches and underground bits that make it so unique,” Cohen says.
Follow Kathy Cohen for more fun in Israel through the lens of 21see.