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July / august 2006:

Hot Orthodox Supermodel: Havi Mond

Havi Mond, a fast-rising Star of David in London’s modeling firmament, says that while getting kosher cuisine catered to her photo shoots and occasionally missing lucrative weekend gigs at first posed limitations, her clients don’t seem to mind at all, perhaps even spinning it as some sort of atavistic “ethnic chic”.

Mond says that when she was starting out, her agency would groan over her adamant decision to stick to her religious principles not to work on the Sabbath or holidays, wincing, “‘Oooh, this gig is a really good job for your career,’ but now they just know: ‘Havi can’t work Fridays, Saturdays — those dates are no good,’ telling clients, ‘If you want her, you have to change them.’ They understand now,” she says.

“It all adds to the intrigue” surrounding Mond, notes French Connection’s Creative Director Alisa Marks.

It’s like an updated version of some 1940s cinematic shmattes-to-riches tale, where the shy, small-town girl gets her lucky break in the big city. In 2001, the then 16-year-old Mond was out strolling with her aunt during a visit to London, when “a booker from the Select Modeling agency saw me in the street, started speaking with us and said she would like me to come to the modeling agency to start working with them.”

The 22-year-old Mond is now a veteran long-distance commuter between London’s shiny, glam fashion scene and her parents’ stone home, nestled in the cobbled and arched byways of the mystical town of Safed’s Old City, overlooking the northern Galilee. That cultural and lifestyle-snapping continuum also means figuring in a two-hour trek by car or taxi along the Upper Galilee’s two-lane switchbacks to make it to Ben-Gurion International Airport and her flights. But Mond has become quite the trooper, winging back home about four times a year, and is a regular on both airport and fashion show runways since she was discovered by Select.

Atlanta Jewish Life recently spoke with Havi — a Latinized version of Chava — at her flat in north London’s fashionable Mill Hill neighborhood about her career, her personal life and how they intermingle, like oil and water — interspersed, but finally settling apart.

Mond, coming from a fairly cloistered background, at first demurred at the idea of modeling, trying to fend off Select’s booker, Sarah Leon, saying, “I’m still in school ... my parents are religious; I don’t think they’ll like the idea. Actually, I was very shy,” Mond admits.

But Leon wasn’t so easily dissuaded, no doubt having dealt with similar standoffs with young ingénues-in-waiting in the past, even if stipulations didn’t include allowances for Sabbath observance and kosher cuisine. Mond recalls: “She told me, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll speak with your parents, and we’ll wait until you finish school.’

“They used to phone up twice a year, and then every few months, to see if everything was okay,” and no doubt also to check if the budding beauty hadn’t been snapped up by a competing agency in the interim.

And her parents’ reaction? Mond ruefully laughs, recalling their fostering, nurturing, but focused reply: “First of all, you have to finish school, and then do national service,” they told her, “and when the times comes, we’ll talk about it.”

Mom Pamela and dad Peter both, as fate would have it, were British immigrants to Israel. Peter arrived in 1974, after, “feeling a calling to be here,” and studied at Haifa University after a stint on a kibbutz. Pamela made the Zionistic leap in 1971, first attending the collegiate WUJUS work/study program, hosted down in the tawny Judean hills of Arad, overlooking the Dead Sea. Both had lived in Brighton, both attended the same synagogue — but had never met prior to making aliyah.

Havi completed high school and, like many women from religious backgrounds, went on to do national service, in lieu of serving two years in the Israel Defense Forces. She was posted to Haifa, where she first worked in kindergartens, and then with older Ethiopian students “helping them with their studies in school.”

After completing her national service duties, Mond sat down with her parents, reminding them that London was still calling. “‘If that’s what you want to do, we will be behind you,’” they acceded, and gave her their blessing for such an admittedly unlikely enterprise for a daughter of a “Modern Orthodox, kippah srugah (knitted yarmulke),” family, as Peter puts it, when pressed to define their generally observant lifestyle.

Pamela sees Havi as also being something of a role model, “a sort of ambassador,” in her words, to Jewish communities and “young Jewish girls abroad, who haven’t yet found themselves, or their religious moorings.” Pamela hopes Havi can serve as a good example, showing that an observant Jew can make it in the big wild world without compromising their principles. Peter adds, “They may not be boundaries everyone agrees upon, but they are boundaries.”

Pamela punctuates the point. “When Havi was interviewed on Israeli television, she made this bridge between the more secular and the religious. She showed people that it could be done,” her mom recalls. Looking out for her own well-being, “Everywhere she goes, we try to find her [spiritual and religious] support; like Chabad Houses, and so on,” Peter adds.

Well, so much for fantasy scenes of slinky babes on the beach, but what impression might her not-too-modest career choice have on the closely knit religious community she grew up in, and one that her parents and siblings continue to reside in? After all, Peter was a founding member of one of the town’s synagogues. “Like most of the people in the shul, most of my parents’ friends are British or American,” Havi says, explaining that they’ve likely had more than passing exposure to the less strictured world abroad. “Most of them were very nice.”

The Select Modeling Agency flew Havi and Pamela to London, where they met with the agency’s honchos, and mom laid down the law: nothing too revealing. There would be no lingerie, no swimsuits, no wild after-hours partying, and don’t even think about disturbing her for a shoot on Shabbat and Jewish festivals. Going by Havi’s natural poise and drop-dead gorgeous looks, the agency said, “No problem,” readily agreeing to the strictures a traditional Jewish lifestyle would impose, a unique phenomenon in the highly competitive, highly paid industry.

“I miss a lot of jobs because I don’t work on Saturday,” Havi admits. “I miss out on Fashion Week. I have missed very important jobs because they were shooting on Friday and Saturday.”

Keeping kosher on the set is less stressful, though, especially when the client can order takeout from a local Chabad chapter. “But if they can’t, I just have salads,” which, for a model whose measurements are scrutinized to the millimeter, may actually be a blessing in disguise. Mond continues, laughing: “But besides that, it’s not something too hard for me. It’s the way I believe, it’s the way I feel. It’s fine for me like this.” Besides, considering the sometimes exotic victuals and lodging excesses some other models in her league reportedly revel in, Mond’s requests are probably one of the simpler to fulfill.

But no matter how striking her looks, how sharp her poses, modeling is a game for young women. There’s always a new crop to be spotted and doted over just as she was. So where does Havi Mond see herself a few years down the road?

Not too surprisingly, she says, “I want to take acting courses,” and, in what also seems a planned career direction to move up in the modeling world’s administrative ranks, she also wants to learn marketing and publicity. In any event, Mond says she sees herself returning to Israel a few years further down the road and maybe opening a boutique: “I go back to Israel quite often,” she adds, “The most I have been abroad is three months. I would never have a family or raise children anyplace but Israel.”

In the meantime, Select is readying Mond for a bite out of the Big Apple this fall, although she finds the thought of the requisite Atlantic passage to take on Manhattan and the “big leagues” more than a little daunting: “I don’t know a lot of people there,” she frets, and admits to being more than a “bit scared.” (Note to Havi: Call us when you get here. We’ll be more than happy to show you around.)

Meanwhile, though, Mond has no problem getting a Shabbat invite out to stave off the pangs of longing for her Israeli home and mom’s cuisine, and says she spends Sabbaths and holidays in London’s predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, where she “meets loads of Israeli and Jewish friends.”

“Actually, that’s my fun,” she beams. “On Shabbat, I cook a big meal, and invite loads of guests to come. I’m used to that from my house,” she says, savoring the memory of hearth and home on Safed’s sweetly mystical Sabbath evenings, with her parents, brother and two sisters gathered around the Shabbat table. “We have an open house,” she reminisces, “we never used to have a Shabbat without guests — my dad used to go to shul and bring guests.”

When asked, Mond denies that the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories intrudes into her world. She adds a caveat, recognizing the reality of menacing anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in some of London’s neighborhoods. “Maybe — maybe if I have to go to an ‘Arab street’ called Edgware Road — sometimes we have clients we have to see there. I don’t feel comfortable going. I’d just go in and run away as quick as I can.”

“It’s funny. People ask me, ‘Do you always say you’re from Israel?’ I say, of course. I never felt any hostility from anyone. I feel proud and comfortable saying I come from Israel, and would never say anything else.”

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