The Bunny Comes to Israel

Playboy Cover

by Arsen Ostrovsky

That’s right! The Jewish state is getting its own kosher bunnies, with the launch of Playboy Israel this week. SDM contributor Arsen Ostrovsky sat down with Israel’s own Hugh Heffner, Playboy Israel CEO Dan Pomerantz for an exclusive interview!

Ever wondered if there was a Hebrew word for ‘Playboy Bunny’? Well there is – ‘Shfanfana’. Hugh Heffner just loves this and now thanks to Dan Pomerantz, Israel’s very own Hugh Heffner, the Jewish state will be getting not just some (kosher!) Bunnies, but a Hebrew-language Israeli version of the revered magazine too.

Pomerantz, who exudes charisma and confidence, as you would expect from a Heffneresque entrepreneur, is a 37-year old new immigrant from Chicago, who only moved to Israel in December 2011. In fact, he still goes to regular ulpan classes, and jokes that perhaps one day they’ll be reading Playboy in ulpan … to help with the Hebrew of course!

First time he saw Playboy, Pomerantz was, like pretty much every other boy, in his pubescent teens. “It was like an adventure going through a maze,” he says. For Pomerantz, who is the CEO and Publisher of Playboy Israel, there was always “something magical” about the Playboy “name and brand”, both as a kid and now as an adult.

A corporate attorney before moving to Israel, it was during late 2010 that Pomerantz first really started to know Playboy “the business”. At the time, Playboy’s headquarters were in Chicago, close to his law office, and Pomerantz befriended Playboy’s lawyers through the Chicago legal community.

It was also around the same time, during one of his frequent trips to Israel, that Pomerantz noticed even though the Playboy ‘brand’ was known and popular there, there was no Playboy Israel magazine.

When he returned to Chicago, he asked the Playboy people why that was the case, and was referred to Playboy’s international group. At first, there was “idle curiosity”, but then discussions became more detailed and in turn those discussions became meetings, which led to research and plans, until finally the Playboy people asked him “a life-changing question” – why don’t you take these ideas and bring Playboy to Israel?

Playboy Israel founder and CEO Dan Pomerantz with one of his bunnies  (Photo: Steven Winston Photography)

And so he did.

Though the excitement of launching Playboy in Israel was just one of the reasons for Pomerantz’s decision to make aliyah, it was not the primary one. That came as a result of his own personal Zionist journey.

When he was younger, the State of Israel played a role only “as an idea”. It was “a home to cousins I’d never met, ancient artifacts, and that impossible language from my bar mitzvah.”

Israel only became a “reality” as a “real place with real people” when he started visiting more frequently a few years ago. Whether it was being invited for Shabbat dinner, the familiarity of hearing a Hebrew word from childhood or seeing a prominent site, Pomerantz says “it’s just a million little things that add to feeling totally at home here.”

Ultimately, he “started finding excuses to come back” more and more, until around mid 2011, a friend in Israel asked: “you make all these visits? Don’t you feel homesick for Chicago?” But when he thought about it, the only time he felt homesick was when he was away from Israel. Three months later, Pomerantz was on an Aliyah flight ‘home’.

Once in Israel, Pomerantz went to work on establishing Playboy Israel, including meeting with investors, trips back and forth to Playboy headquarters in Chicago (yes, including the Playboy mansion too, “a little retro” he says, but “still very cool”) and a lot of hours putting together a team and company from scratch. In other words, living the very ‘Start-Up’ dream that has become synonymous with the State of Israel.

Fast forward a little over a year to March 2013 and Pomerantz has just launched Playboy Israel at a press conference standing next to their very first centerfold, replete with the trademark ears and Playboy bunny tail.

The magazine, which will be in Hebrew (and yes, that means also the very first Playboy magazine to be from right-to-left), will have a balance of local and international material.

Contrary to some perceptions though, the magazine will not be about “sex” or “just another lad’s mag.” Pomerantz says it will be a mixture of “seriousness and depth combined with fun and beauty”, stressing it will be “sexy but not about sex.”

So, what is “sexy” to him? Beauty. Depth. Knowledge. Confidence. And all this says Pomerantz will be reflected in the magazine, that will include everything from commentary on current affairs, political issues and international relationships, to finance, fashion, romance, gadgets and Playboy Bunnies of course.

The target audience however will not be only men. It will be “Israeli men and anyone curious about the Israeli man”, and yes, that includes Israeli women too.

Asked to define a ‘typical Israeli man’, Pomerantz notes there are many different kinds, but that Israeli men are increasingly becoming more internationally aware and curious, confident and outgoing, with “aspirations about living a good life and finding romance”, values he says fit perfectly with the Playboy brand.

And Israeli women? What are they like? They’re “gorgeous” he says, but also confident, know what they want and make decisions with strength. They’re also “a little harif” adds Pomerantz, with a cheeky smile that even the Heff would be proud off.

One of the first questions that immediately comes to mind is how far will Playboy Israel push the boundaries and are they concerned about possible backlash from the religious community? Noting “we live in a world characterised by freedom of expression and choice”, Pomerantz says the magazine will nonetheless “respect every community around us” and “will not push it in a way or a place it’s not welcome.”

Pomerantz also brushes off concerns about generally declining sales numbers of print magazines, as readers increasingly turn to the internet. “We see this as a content business, not magazine business” he says, adding that print will be just one of a number of platforms the magazine will use to connect with readers, in addition to a website, Facebook and other forms of social media.

Playboy Israel’s first issue has certainly lived up to the initial hype. The cover features the stunning Israeli celebrity fashion model Natalie Dadon, while Israeli dancer Marin Teremets is their maiden Playmate centerfold.

The magazine also features an in-depth personal interview with Avi Dichter, Israel’s Minister of Internal Security and former head of the Shin Bet, as well as a piece on the day that Steve Jobs met Andy Warhol and showed him the world’s first Macintosh computer (oh, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono were at the dinner too).

Pomerantz is also acutely mindful of the fact that through the magazine, he will have the opportunity to showcase Israel to the rest of the world. “It’s a responsibility we are aware off and take very seriously,” he says.

So, what kind of Israel will Playboy convey?

First and foremost, that Israel is a normal place, part of a modern world, a place where you can and do have something like Playboy. But also, Israel is a beautiful place with beautiful people, a place that is thoughtful with a lot of different ideas and topics and arguments and serious discussion, a place with freedom of speech, expression and ideas.

Pomerantz is “very excited to have this new forum of sharing this concept of Israel to the world” and sees a “perfect cultural connection between the beauty and complexity of Playboy and the beauty and complexity of Israel as a country.”

Just as Dan Pomerantz has decided to make Israel his home, so too has Playboy now made aliyah!

SDM Contributor, Arsen Ostrovsky, with Playboy cover girl Nataly Dadon at Playboy Israel launch Party

SDM Contributor, Arsen Ostrovsky, with Playboy cover girl Nataly Dadon at Playboy Israel launch Party (Photo: Steven Winston Photography)