A dive into Israel’s community of mermaids

A dive into Israel’s community of mermaids

Last year, Shir Katzenell made a drastic life change, leaving a prestigious job in the Israeli army to pursue a childhood dream: becoming a mermaid.

Ever since getting hooked on Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” as a kid, Katzenell confided, she has longed to turn into one. While her friends moved on, Katzenell’s enchantment with mermaids endured. She fantasized about swimming underwater alongside fish in a 10-pound tail and sequined bikini. Then she actually gave it a try.

As it turns out, she’s not the only one.

Together with a friend and fellow mermaid-fan, Michelle Koretsky, she started an unlikely social scene: a group of aspiring mermaids in Israel, which has grown on Facebook to nearly 1,000 members. It’s the Israeli pocket of a worldwide community that she claims is gaining prominence.

“It was a crazy revelation,” said Katzenell. “I realized I was part of something big.”

In this Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 photo, Shir Katzenell and her son Erez , a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as they wear mermaid tail at their home in Or Akiva, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Now, as a 34-year-old “full-time mermaid,” she sells brightly-colored tails, some with dizzying $800 price tags, and teaches people the skill of swimming in them.

The tail-clad group convenes regularly to romp in public pools across the country and participate in demonstrations to raise awareness about ocean preservation.

“Some come because they’re just interested or feel a special connection to the water. Others because they really dream of becoming mermaids,” Katzenell said. “They’ve often been embarrassed, told they were weird or crazy. But here they can find people who understand them.”

On a recent night at a Tel Aviv pool, dozens of mermaid enthusiasts slipped on their shimmering skin. Huddled on deck, they chatted about the latest developments in mermaid culture, including “The Little Mermaid” remake release date, silicone tail costs and relevant book recommendations. They glided through the water and splashed around, their glittery tails slapping against the surface.

(AP Video/Oded Balilty)

One of the clan’s few mer-men, Yuval Avrami, marveled at how his fabric fin flitted in the water, describing it as a "dream come true." He said he learned about the trend through transgender friends and became fascinated by “the transition from one species to another, the ability to inhabit a new, magical identity.”

Another member, an aerobics instructor named Udi Frige, said he had been swimming in the sea with his legs pressed together for decades, imitating mermaid choreography from the hit movie “Splash.”

Frige, 39, compared confessing his mermaid obsession to coming out in the LGBT community. “It’s my thing, it’s unique, it’s who I am,” he said. “It requires lots of difficult explanation, especially if people don’t know me.”

For others, it’s just a source of innocent joy.

“When I’m flying through the water with my tail, I forget all my worries,” said Koretsky, the community co-leader. “For that second, I’m a child again. I’m free.”

In this Monday, March. 4, 2019 photo, Inbar Ben Yakar, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Kiryat Yam, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Wednesday, March. 6, 2019 photo, Limor Kahlon, right, and her daughter Yam, members of the Israeli Mermaid Community, pose for a portrait as they wear a mermaid tail at their home in Netanya, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 photo, Gal Amnony, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as he wears a mermaid tail at his home in Ramat Gan, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019 photo, Ommer Globerman, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Ashkelon, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Wednesday, March. 6, 2019 photo, Michelle Koretsky, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Ra'anana, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 photo, Yuval Avrami, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as he wears a mermaid tail at his home in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Friday, Feb. 22, 2019 photo, Hadas Kellner, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Yahud, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Friday, Feb . 22, 2019 photo, Udi Frige, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as he wears a mermaid tail at his home in Yahud, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019 photo, May Lighty Cohen, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Herzliya, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Tuesday, March. 26, 2019 photo, Vered Klein, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Ramat Gan, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Friday, March. 8, 2019 photo, Mor Barazani, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Modiin, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 photo, Adi Kazav, left, and Lied Adi Hagbi, members of the Israeli Mermaid Community, pose for a portrait as they wear a mermaid tail at their home in Netanya, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Monday, Feb. 18, 2019 photo, Tal Nissany, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Kfar Yona, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Monday, March. 4, 2019 photo, Ligal Shternhell, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Kibbutz Ein Carmel, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

In this Monday, Feb. 18, 2019 photo, Chen Amsalem, a member of the Israeli Mermaid Community, poses for a portrait as she wears a mermaid tail at her home in Bat Yam, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Visual artist and Digital Storyteller at The Associated Press