Exhibit Turns the Lens on Life in Tel Aviv

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Photos from “Humans of Tel Aviv” | Photos provided

Haya said she would rather look like Purim than Tisha B’Av, and with the pink highlights in her big blonde hair, she pulls it off.

Javier is grateful social media allows him to connect to his family 10,000 miles away.

David has lived in a historically Yemenite neighborhood in Tel Aviv for 75 years, and though the neighborhood has grown and gentrified over the course of decades, he never wants to leave.


Haya, Javier and David are just some of the hundreds of Tel Aviv residents that Erez Kaganovitz has photographed for a series called “Humans of Tel Aviv.” Inspired by “Humans of New York,” Kaganovitz’s series seeks to share the complexity and diversity of life in Israel’s second-largest city.

Thirty-two of these photos will make an appearance in Sister Cities Park from Aug. 21 to Sept. 3. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has partnered with Citizens Diplomacy International (CDI) to put on the exhibit. The exhibition celebrates Israel’s 70th anniversary and, with the CDI partnership, it also acknowledges the sister-city relationship between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv.

Later this fall, “Humans of Tel Aviv” will return to Philadelphia, where it will run from Oct. 4 to Dec. 31 at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH).

“Contrary to what many people may think, Tel Aviv is not a bubble,” Kaganovitz told Haaretz. “It has everything — Chasidim, gays, rich, poor, refugees, homeless and hipsters.”

Kaganovitz did not respond to requests for an interview.

His photos capture a range of people and life experiences. There are immigrants from Singapore, Mozambique, Denmark and more; Jews and Muslims; religious and secular; gay and straight; people with disabilities; millennial hipsters; and eccentric elderly. A caption accompanying each photo tells just some of the subjects’ life stories.

During his travels abroad, Kaganovitz was often frustrated by how, when people in other countries heard he was from Israel, they first thought of conflict and war.

He launched “Humans of Tel Aviv” on Facebook in April 2012, partly as a remedy. The Facebook page notes that the first step to multiculturalism is understanding the culture and values of others.

To get the photos, Kaganovitz strolls through Tel Aviv, stopping strangers so he can snap their portrait and ask them personal questions.

Since 2012, Kaganovitz has posted more than 1,100 photos, and the Facebook page has grown to more than 45,000 followers.

“You really have to take it in in its totality,” said Hillel Zaremba, assistant director of community engagement at the Jewish Federation, who organized the exhibit. “One story just reflects one facet. It reflects one person’s story. The totality of the stories, putting them together, shows you an amazing city where, as some of our publicity goes, people rub shoulders. Orthodox rub shoulders with Ethiopians, with all sorts of different lifestyles.”

Zaremba first saw photos from “Humans of Tel Aviv” several years ago, when he did social media for the Israeli consulate that used to exist in Philadelphia.

He did not have an opportunity to do much with the series at the consulate, but at the Jewish Federation he was tasked with helping plan a community-wide celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday.

In event planning discussions, community members and the other event planners mentioned that the celebration should give viewers a feel for what Israel is like in its full complexity.

That idea reminded Zaremba of “Humans of Tel Aviv.”

“The art speaks for itself,” he said. “[Kaganovitz] is frankly inspired by the same notion that inspired me to try to bring his work here, which was helping people see beyond the headlines and helping people see other people for who they are.”

The goal of the exhibit, Zaremba said, is to give the community a chance to get an idea of what it’s like to just be a person in Israel.

“It sounds very trite, but Israelis are as much fun and complex and exasperating as any other people on this planet and, unfortunately, the conflict is what grabs the headlines,” he continued. “This is a way to move past the conflict and to really see a society for what it is, a really dynamic, vibrant place where young and old live together.”

Zaremba tried to choose “Humans of Tel Aviv” photos that exemplified the breadth of life in the city. He didn’t want to sugarcoat Tel Aviv: One photo, for example, shows a man scrounging in a trash can. And, of course, he picked out photos that were striking.

“You will see a range of feelings and opinions about Israel, about their heritage, about life in general,” Zaremba said. “It can’t all be funneled into a political prism because most of these things have nothing to do with politics. They have to do with life and a vision of living.” 

szighelboim@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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