The enigmatic Yochanan Rywerant

By Robbie Ofir 2022

Watching this master at work was inspirational; his delicacy, his precision, his understanding of applied neurological functional processes was of utmost value for me.

I first heard of Yochanan back in 1984 while I was in Canada participating in the third North America Feldenkrais Training program. Yochanan was assigned as primary teacher for the third and fourth year of this program.

Listening to some of our teachers who graduated from San- Francisco (1975-77) program who described him, I pictured a stern, even stiff - not easily approachable, somewhat rigid, middle aged, laconic man.

I’m grateful and fortunate to have had the opportunity at a later time to have come to know this sensitive, shy, brilliant practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method.

Yochanan was really old school. He loved music and in fact was a gifted violinist in his younger years back in Romania. Whatever his war experiences were during World War II, I never heard him speak of them. But I do suspect he never again picked up the violin to play seriously.

After being released from the Cyprus internment camp where he and countless other Jewish refugees were interred by the British authorities, Yochanan settled in the newly established state of Israel and took up teaching high school kids in physics.

Yochanan studied with Moshe Feldenkrais and in time became his assistant and employee at Moshe’s Feldenkrais’ Alexander Yanai’s studio, and when Moshe started training programs abroad, Yochanan was always at his side as his trusted companion and assistant teacher.

I came to know Yochanan’s softer side while working at his side as he treated the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson - the worldwide leader of the Lubavitcher Hasidim and during and after attending his month-long advanced course in Stockholm in 1995. I was thrilled when he invited me to attend that course and even more so when during that wonderful month he invited me to join him on a couple of sightseeing jaunts including a tour of the famous restored ship the VASA that sank in 1628 on her maiden voyage, and then later, also enjoying with him a memorable experience sailing the Scandinavian Peninsula where at one point he excitedly pointed out to me a lovely villa belonging to the famous tennis player Bjorn Borg…

It was there in Stockholm when I first saw Yochanan smile. Until that time, he’d allow a hint of a smile, a slight wrinkling squint of his eyes, a tiny upturning of the corner his lips. Whereas previously he was (most of the times) quite serious even forbidding or grim - especially in the period following the loss of his beloved composer wife Yardena, z’l., he now became more relaxed, softer.

There, at the end of the month-long course during a festive dinner with the Swedish students Yochanan smiled, a full beautiful smile. Later I quipped that this was the first time I had seen his teeth…

YR and RO taught Rebbe Schneerson

Search the catalog of English books;
author Rywerant

Earlier, in 1992 Yochanan worked with the Rebbe with small positive immediate results, but he unfortunately had to leave for Sweden where he was under contract to teach. He was replaced by a couple of physical therapists. The Rebbe did not take to them, and the Lubavich leadership recruited me to take Yochanan’s place.

After several weeks Yochanan arrived to NYC, and he and his wife Yardena invited me for a chat at the Hilton Hotel where they were staying. At that time, though he had been the primary teacher of the Feldenkrais training program in Toronto, he didn’t really know nor remember me.

I entered their room, Yochanan and Yardena greeted me politely, albeit somewhat coldly, or I should say formally - (I think I mentioned that Yochanan was “Old School”...) showing me to a seat.

I took it in stride, sat down and then without any preliminary chit- chat, Yardena asked me what I thought of Yochanan’s book: “Teaching by Handling”? 

I had by then read anything I could lay my hands on related to the Feldenkrais Method, - and his book, to my way of thinking, (given my solid background as a physical therapist), was the clearest and best source book about the method I had read until then - and I stated that directly to them.

Well, that broke the ice & from a sphynx-like, facial expression of; let’s see who the hell this upstart Robbie is, their expressions softened and became friendly. It was then I understood how hurt they both had been by the critical and dismissive attitude they had been exposed to from a segment of the San Fransisco Feldenkrais students - some of whom by that time had become trainers in their own right.

Yochanan then asked me If I had any objection to him seeing and possibly resuming his work with Rebbe Schneerson for a short period. I told him I was delighted, and would be honored to accompany and, observe him working, and learn from him. 

Yochanan worked with Rebbe Schneerson, with me at his side, avidly observing him for a couple of weeks after which he had to return to Israel.

Watching this master at work was inspirational; his delicacy, his precision, his understanding of applied neurological functional processes was of utmost value for me.

Yochanan returned to Israel and some time later upon returning to NYC from San Fransisco where he had been teaching, as he and Yardena were exiting Laguardia airport, Yardena experienced a fatal Pulmonary embolism. Within less than half an hour later, she was no longer.

Yochanan managed somehow to call me on the phone for assistance. I rushed to the airport accompanied by my closest friend Yair z’l. Yochanan was in shock, confused, barely able to stand. We comforted him, drove him to his hotel and immediately made all necessary arrangements for him to fly on the morrow back to Israel.

Time heals and thankfully so, as Yochanan eventually met lovely, loving, Bertha, a member of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.

Bertha brought music back into his life & helped him overcome his loss and start living and teaching again and where there in Stockholm I received the most wonderful functional integration lesson I had experienced through my many years - first as a student then as a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method.

And there it was when I watched overjoyed seeing the enigmatic, master Feldenkrais teacher smile, even laugh, as I had not seen him do since I first saw him the day I first met him in Toronto in 1986.

November 2022
BitSharon, Israel
Robbie Ofir

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