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Born June 4, 1985 in Hod HaSharon, Israel, Bar Refaeli was the daughter of a model, Tzipi Levine, and followed in her footsteps while still an infant. So popular did Refaeli become in her home country that she attracted international attention, which helped her become the first Israeli supermodel to conquer the United States. Inundated with offers, she drew considerable attention for her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition layouts, including landing the cover of the 2009 installment. In a controversial but profile-boosting campaign, one of Refaeli's steamy shots from the pictorial was painted on the side of a Southwest plane. Although enormously proud of her heritage, Refaeli sometimes found it difficult to juggle the cultural expectations placed on her with the sexier side of her modeling jobs. One such stumbling block that she faced was the fact that she had managed to dodge enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces, which was mandatory for both women and men.
To smooth things over with government officials, Refaeli agreed to help promote Israel's military, but her decision stuck in the craw of many of her detractors. Similarly, Refaeli faced considerable homeland pressure to only date Jewish men, and her romantic life was constantly scrutinized in ways her peers' were not. An occasional actress as well, Refaeli landed a role on the Israeli television series "Pick Up" (2005), but made more frequent appearances on talk and variety shows, preferring to keep a lower profile. That was made considerably more difficult when the model - who had previously dated actor David Charvet - began a relationship with arguably the world's biggest movie star at the time, Leonardo DiCaprio, who was rebound from a breakup with another international supermodel, Gisele. The new couple were spotted in Israel as well as in the United States, and their relative silence on their relationship only helped fan the flames of interest from media and gossip outlets.
A low-key but popular talk show guest, Refaeli was chosen to host the rebooted "House of Style" (MTV, 1989-2000, 2012) for its lone episode. Impressively, she managed to retain her mystique even after she and DiCaprio split in 2009, with the two playing it so close to the vest that it was rumored that they had reconciled the next year, only to part ways again in 2011. Regardless of the status of their relationship, Refaeli remained enormously popular as a glamorous global figure. She took a rare starring role in the psychological thriller "Session" (2011) but chose to focus more on her modeling work and, perhaps inspired by the famously green DiCaprio, on charitable causes, including environmental and animal welfare organizations. That same year, Refaeli also launched "Under.me," her own line of comfortable, fashionable undergarments.
By Jonathan Riggs