JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – Members of The Jewish Agency's Board of Governors recently had a chance to marvel at Erez Kaganovitz's unique street photography, which was featured in an exhibition from his Humans of Tel Aviv series.
When he'd travel abroad, however, Erez had begun to expect a certain look of disdain when he'd tell people he was Israeli. He became annoyed that he was being judged by people who be says knew so little about his home country.
"I'm certainly not trying to "whitewash" Israel; this is reality as I see in it Tel Aviv," says Erez, "but I want to show that Israel is not only a war zone; we are a vibrant civil society."
Inspired by Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York blog, Erez has been shooting and posting online portraits of Tel Aviv's denizens for over a year, some days walking upwards of eight hours to capture just the right shot.
Haifa-born Erez is a producer and researcher at Israel's Channel 2 television. Having studied International Relations and Communication at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and holding an MA in Political Communication, he notes that never thought he would end up using his degree in such a roundabout way.
Erez believes Tel Aviv's magic is its attitude of "live and let live." He says that a tolerant society like that of Tel Aviv can only exist and thrive thanks to the respect that the inhabitants have for one another.
Although Erez's photographs are remarkable as stand-alone portraits in and of themselves, like the ever-present New York backdrop of Woody Allen's films, the main character of his project is Tel Aviv itself.
The human subjects and their tales tell the story of Israel's center of commerce and culture. Like Amnon and Gabi of the old Neve Tzedek neighborhood, who have been friends since 1948. Like Israeli celebrities, such as pop singer Muki and fashion designer Yuval Caspin. Then there is Thomas, a refugee from Eritrea who, despite his engineering degree, sweeps the streets for a living. There are the descendants of Holocaust survivor Yosef Dayement, who each tattooed his concentration camp number on their forearm as a tribute and a living memorial.
Naturally the Humans of Tel Aviv include its olim – like Australia-born Ronit who fulfilled her dream of studying with the best flamenco dancers in the world. From Spain, she came to Israel – where she says she feels a strong sense of belonging, strengthened by “ConnecTLV.”
The Jewish Agency's Connect Israel project is an innovative social networking venture that connects Jewish young adults to each other and to life in Israel's vibrant urban centers.
"I love Tel Aviv," says Ronit. "I cannot think of anywhere else in the world I would rather live."
Then there is one-armed Oded, caught looking straight into the camera lens while wearing his pair of tefillin.
"I stopped believing in God after I had my accident, but sometimes I still put on tefillin," he says, adding on an ironic note, "I know it's a paradox, but from my experience, life is full of them."
As is Tel Aviv, highlighted in Erez's one-of-a-kind images.