Nowadays, Tomer Hacohen is known to the Israeli public for his glamorous modeling career and his high-profile relationship with Israeli pop diva Noa Kirel. But, says the 23-year-old heartthrob, his road to success was paved with many hardships.
"I was 20 when my father passed away," he tells Ynet. "He had brain cancer that came out of nowhere. He was in a hospital when I was auditioning for my first modeling agency.”
"He was a lawyer, so I sent him my contract for a review while he was in the hospital. At the time I didn't know of his diagnosis, so he sat down and reviewed the contract with me.
"He was doing well for half a year, then his condition worsened, exactly when I was in Amsterdam for a Calvin Klein photo shoot. He was in a wheelchair and had nodules on his head, but he was still coherent."
At that point, Hacohen decided to take a break from chasing his dreams and tend to his father. "I drove him to physical therapy three times a week, took him to treatments, and helped him shower. It was my job at that time. When his condition worsened further, the doctor asked him where he’d like to part with everyone, and he chose to be at home.
“We were with him for two days and people came to say goodbye. He was no longer speaking, just squeezing our hands. In the last hours, we sang for him, and then he passed.”
Are you still thinking about his death?
"It happened three years ago, and it feels like I've been living in a different world since then. Since his death, my world has become duller. Emotions come back strong on my birthday and the anniversary of his death. That's when I realize I can no longer consult with him on many things in my life or career.
"I often wonder what he’d think about my career."
Hacohen’s career is booming. Other than being known as “Noa Kirel’s boyfriend,” he is also a successful model and actor. His parents divorced when he was 15, and today he lives alone in Herzliya while balancing a demanding work schedule with academic studies.
"I remember that one of the things that shocked me most as a child was my parent’s divorce,” he explains. “It was the first time I realized I was vulnerable. The bubble of childhood had burst, and I didn't have anyone to talk to about it. I had one friend whose parents were also divorced, and it felt like we were mourning together.
"It affected me most during puberty, I’d fool around and get in trouble with my school teachers just to get attention. My grades were high, but my behavior needed to improve."
Did you have social issues?
“I was popular and unpopular at the same time, I could be very mature for my age but also very childish.”
Hacohen was later diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which led to him being exempt from serving in the Israeli military. His older brother, who also suffers from the same disease, volunteered for the national service, and Tomer wanted to follow in his footsteps.
"I decided to enroll into the national service program and worked for two years with at-risk youths in Haifa. For the first three months, no one there liked me. I focused on studying and helped them with their homework. Gradually we connected. It was a crazy year.”
During his national service, Hacohen would occasionally apply for modeling jobs to "make money and gain experience." But, he says, he quickly realized "you can’t make money in Israel as a part-time model."
"Then, my dad got sick and passed away. But then COVID happened, and my whole world changed."
During the pandemic, he was asked by popular Israeli fashion brand twentyfourseven to become their ambassador. A few months later, Tomer was cast for Kirel's music video. The two hit it off, leading to a widely publicized romance, making the model a household name in Israel overnight.
"Noa brings a lot of light and love to my life and I love her very much," he says. "Clearly, there are many challenges that arise from being in a public relationship, but the main challenge is to maintain our privacy. We keep our personal life away from the spotlight."
She was chosen to represent Israel in 2023 Eurovision Song Contest, has she asked you for advice?
"Eurovision is a huge thing for her, I will be there to accompany her, but the performance is up to her."
Do you ever ask her for advice?
"Of course. You can’t ignore Noa’s influence, but I also have ambitions for myself ... My first time on set was terrifying, but today I enjoy it. I go on set and feel like I'm home."
After his modeling career took off, Hacohen also began dabbling in acting. Now, he has a small part in a television show for children. "The plot revolves around a girl band made up of Jewish, Arab, and African girls," he says.
"I always loved the stage but also feared it. Every time I would speak in front of an audience, my mouth would dry up, and I would get nervous. Once, in an English class in seventh grade, I was so upset that I began crying. I was looking at myself and saying, 'you're terrible.’ That's why I never thought that acting would suit me.
"I started acting in order to enrich my life, but it became an integrated part of me."
Hacohen says that he is still “in the process” of finding fulfillment in life.
"I am slowly becoming whole, day by day. I don't want to change myself into something I am not, because it will last for a day or two, and then it’ll begin feeling fake. People may not love me as I am, but at least I love myself."
He adds that becoming a public figure overnight has its drawbacks.
“At first it was really hard for me. Paparazzi would follow me around and ask me for photos. On my father's recent birthday, which we celebrated after he passed away, our entire family got together. I was feeling depressed so I went outside in a pajama and headphones in my ears. All of a sudden, a bike came out of nowhere and the man on it started taking pictures, I asked him to leave and he did.
“It's hard, sometimes I think: 'why did I do this to myself?' But that's the price I have to pay for staying true to my values.”
Were there any negative comments that hurt you?
"Someone once commented on an interview I did, writing ‘what an uncharismatic loser.’ It hurt me because I felt like it was true. I don’t do well in interviews, but I know my weaknesses now, so it’s more difficult to hurt me. The fact that someone cares about every little word you say is crazy.”
Amid all the lunacy of being a high-profile celebrity, Hacohen recently started his Bachelor's degree studies in computer science and entrepreneurship at Reichman University in Herzliya.
“I was supposed to start a year ago, but decided to wait. I want another profession that I can have when I'm 30. I want to know that I've explored other fields before picking my direction in life."