Once upon a time in Tel Aviv: Quentin Tarantino’s new life in Israel

6 min

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It took a full day for the Israeli press to get word that Quentin Tarantino was hanging around the obstetrics ward of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital in early July. He and his wife, Daniella Pick, were expecting their second child, a girl to join their 2-year-old son, Leo — but as has become their style in Israel, the Tarantinos were hiding in plain sight.

So much so that the other expectant mothers on the floor had no idea they were keeping company with an Oscar winner. “I heard he was there from our midwife but never saw Tarantino,” said Carnie, an actress who delivered her daughter at the same time at Ichilov. 

The darkly humorous director of such movies as “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill” has been living a low-key life in the sunny Mediterranean metropolis for three years. Tel Aviv might seem an unexpected landing for Tarantino — but it may just be his happily ever after.

Tarantino and Pick initially intended to split their time between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, but made Israel their main base during the early days of the pandemic lockdown in 2019.
Best Image / BACKGRID

Tarantino, 59, and Pick, 38, met back in 2009 when he premiered his film “Inglorious Basterds” in Israel, dating on and off before marrying in an intimate reform Jewish ceremony at their Beverly Hills home nine years later.

Pick is practically royalty in Israel, where she’s been as famous as Tarantino since birth. Her father is Svika Pick, an iconic 1970s Israeli pop musician with long locks and an eccentric sense of style, and she’s a musician herself — in the early 2000s she and her sibling Sharona were in a band called The Pick Sisters.

Tarantino has become known around Tel Aviv as an avid bike-rider.
Tarantino has become known around Tel Aviv as an avid bike-rider.
Moti Lebton

When the couple’s son Leo — named for his maternal great-grandfather, not Dad’s frequent star DiCaprio — was born in February 2020, for Israelis it was a merging of two cultural icons. “A person exists whose father is Quentin Tarantino and grandfather is Svika Pick,” marveled viral tweets in Hebrew following Leo’s birth. (A follow-up tweet earlier this month noted that there are now two such little ones in Israel.)

Shortly after marrying, the couple bought a six-bedroom, 2,900-square-foot villa on Elkakhi Street in Ramat Aviv Gimmel, a quiet neighborhood in northern Tel Aviv and within spying distance of the Mediterranean. (The director still owns an apartment in New York City along with a Los Angeles home he bought in 1989 where he and Pick were married.)

Tarantino settled in after wrapping up production on 2019’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” planning to split time between Tel Aviv and LA. Then the pandemic hit — and he never left.

Since then, the Oscar-winning director has become a regular Tel Aviv dad — the type locals regularly encounter walking down the street or attending a toddler’s birthday party with his kid at a local playground (where he joyfully hummed to “Happy Birthday” in Hebrew). 

Within his first few years in Israel, Tarantino experienced an armed conflict between Israel and Hamas in May 2019. “My Israeli friends tell me, ‘After the rockets, now you can officially call yourself an Israeli,’” Tarantino shared with the country’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper in a 2021 interview.

The couple are often spied on "everyday" outings such as shopping in local malls.
The couple are often spied on “everyday” outings such as shopping in local malls.
Moti Lebton

His first neighbors knew he was there — the family’s moving boxes had “Tarantino” written all over them, according to Orit Bezalel, who lived two houses away — but the director was, at first, like a ghost.

“I never saw him or heard from him,” said Bezalel. Her son, an aspiring filmmaker, hoped to meet the longtime idol now living within spitting distance of his childhood home — but it never happened.

But then the pandemic happened, and something seemed to shift. In early 2020 the Tarantino family rented a 5,000-square-foot villa in Tel Aviv’s Shikun Tzameret neighborhood for a reputed 80,000 NIS (roughly $23,000) a month. It’s a fancy, if somewhat sleepy, address in north Tel Aviv, and close to Israel’s swankiest shopping address, Kikar HaMedina (State Square).

In a city where most people live in boxy apartment buildings, Shikun Tzameret is a rarity: A pocket of architecturally impressive private villas tucked between luxury residential skyscrapers, but with a small-town feel. Built in the early 1950s, it’s always been where old-money types and successful creatives flocked to live tasteful, but not necessarily flashy lives.

Tarantino is often seen jogging, walking or biking in Park Hayarkon, a sprawling urban park alongside the Hayarkon River. While most Tel Avivis tend to leave Tarantino alone he’s become catnip for local paparazzi, who have caught him filling up his water bottle at the park’s water fountains and buying toddler bikes at the mall.

“I love the country, and the people are really nice, very nice to me, and they seem excited that I’m here,” Tarantino said in a 2020 interview with Yediot Aharonot.

Last month, Tarantino received an honorary degree from the prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in recognition of both his impressive career and for making Israel his new home.
Last month, Tarantino received an honorary degree from the prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in recognition of both his impressive career and for making Israel his new home.
Hebrew University

He told Bill Maher in a 2021 interview that Tel Aviv is like a smaller version of LA with “magnificent restaurants, cool bars, cool clubs.” 

In June, Tarantino and Pick were seen at Nilus, a hip bar on seedy Allenby Street. He’s also a fan of the restaurant at the Hotel Montefiore, Tel Aviv’s first “boutique” hotel which is popular with the city’s stylish crowd (and the likes of Mick Jagger when he’s in town). Co-owner Mati Broudo can confirm “that this wasn’t Tarantino’s first time” at the hotel’s restaurant — he also visited during the same 2009 Israel trip where he met his wife.

And he is a regular at Café Zorik, a neighborhood coffee shop on family-friendly Yehudah HaMaccabi Street that’s walkable from the family’s villa. According to a waiter there, when the director is in town he’ll claim his usual perch at the bar two to four times a week.

English is often heard at Zorik, which probably suits the director’s limited Hebrew. He’s admitted to having a toddler’s grasp of the language during an interview with Jimmy Kimmel in 2021, knowing, for instance, the names of farm animals. His son calls him Abba, the Hebrew word for Dad.

The Hotel Montefiore, Tel Aviv's first boutique hotel where Tarantino has repeatedly dined.
The Hotel Montefiore, Tel Aviv’s first boutique hotel, where Tarantino has repeatedly dined.
Sivan Askayo

Most recently, Tarantino was also spotted at an Andrea Boccelli concert last month in Tel Aviv, sitting just a few seats away from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two were apparently introduced, but Tarantino isn’t playing politics — or favorites: He also recently met former Israeli Prime Minister Benny Gantz, the man who ousted Netanyahu from power in May 2020.)

Another place Israelis know to look for Tarantino is at the movies. There’s the Cinema City Glilot theater complex just north of Tel Aviv, where Tarantino has been spotted standing in the concession line waiting for popcorn — and scrutinizing his own work. One eagle-eyed film-goer  spotted Tarantino in the back row at a “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” screening (and, of course, promptly posted it on Twitter).

Tarantino has participated more formally with the local film scene, too. This past February, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque hosted a retrospective that featured all of his movies. He was scheduled to appear at two of the screenings, but made it to just one after catching Covid. (The event continued as planned and the Cinematheque asked viewers to send videos of themselves wishing the director well, which it then compiled a “Get Well, Quentin” montage for him.)

The director also received an honorary doctorate from Jerusalem’s prestigious Hebrew University this June to honor his career and new life in the Jewish nation. “Following his marriage to actress and musician Daniella Pick, Tarantino considers the state of Israel his home and publicly supports it worldwide,” noted the university announcement of the event.

Svika Pick (left), Tarantino's father-in-law, is one of Israel's most celebrated rock stars. He's pictured here with Dana International (center), who won the Eurovision song contest for Israel in 1998.
Svika Pick (left), Tarantino’s father-in-law, is one of Israel’s most celebrated rock stars. He’s pictured here with Dana International (center), who won the Eurovision song contest for Israel in 1998.
PA Images via Getty Images

Tarantino has famously said he’ll make 10 films before retiring at the top of his game. His latest, 2019’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” was No. 9. The director’s first, “Reservoir Dogs,” was — perhaps prophetically — about a heist of diamonds originally from Israel. So will Israel once again cameo in his 10th — and possibly final — feature?

Perhaps. “If you make a movie in Jerusalem, there’s nowhere you can point the camera where you’re not capturing something fantastic,” he told Maher. But any potential film would steer clear of politics. “I wouldn’t make a movie about the political climate [in Israel].”

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