Meet the ‘Humans of Tel Aviv’ in Gallery (401) at the JCC

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Photojournalist Erez Kaganovitz, the self-described “human behind [the] ‘Humans of Tel Aviv’ ” exhibit at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center this month, is a storyteller at heart.

Speaking by phone from Tel Aviv, the Haifa native stressed that his goal in creating the exhibit is to highlight the inhabitants of the city of 400,000, which he has embraced since moving there in 2009.

“What I love most about this project is that I can reach people in a way that I’m not forcing my ideas upon others, but rather simply taking a photo, telling a story, and letting it speak for itself,” he said. “My goal is to give people around the world an inside look into the rich and remarkably diverse lives of Tel Avivians and showcase Israeli multiculturalism and [its] vibrant civil society.”

Although he shot more than 1,000 photos for his “Humans of Tel Aviv” exhibit, the display that people will see in Providence will have 36 images that Kaganovitz said are representative of the city.

The people in the exhibit come from diverse backgrounds. Two of the images show Dov Moran, the inventor of the flash drive, and Dr. Danny Gold, who invented the iron dome missile defense system used in Israel. There is also a photo of a person who was born in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, and another in Manipur, India. There are Haredim, very secular Jews, and everyone in between. Arabs and Druze. Holocaust survivors and the captor of Adolf Eichmann. The adult child of an Israeli Jew and a Danish Christian and the adult child of a Jew and a Muslim. 

“You sense the diversity of the city,” Kaganovitz said of the exhibit. “I want people to see that I’m actually bringing Tel Aviv and Israel to Rhode Island.”

Kaganovitz, 35, who has had other exhibits in the United States and Israel, said his impetus for the Tel Aviv exhibit was twofold: he was inspired by the “Humans of New York” project, and by his experiences traveling. While abroad, he said he’d be asked where he was from, and when he’d answer Israel, people would respond by saying such things as “That’s where there are a lot of explosions,” or “That’s where people are living in fear.”

“I was angry that people had such misconceptions” of Israel, he said.

Then, in 2012, Kaganovitz “stumbled upon ‘Humans of New York’ and thought it was an amazing project,” which led him to “documenting the lives of Tel Aviv residents that I meet on the street.”

“I take their picture, conduct a short interview, and post their life story on social media,” which he said allows it to reach 500,000 people, including tens of thousands from the Arab world.

The beauty of “Humans of Tel Aviv,” Kaganovitz said, is that it presents snippets of daily life in Israel in an unbiased format.

“I’m only showing the reality in Israel as it is; I’m not trying to sugarcoat, pink wash or whitewash the reality,” he said. “I’m letting other people connect the dots for themselves. By showing the complexity of Israeli society, people understand how unique this place really is, and that is the power of the ‘Humans of Tel Aviv’ project.”

What Kaganovitz calls the “social fabric” of Tel Aviv will be the subject of one of three workshops on Sunday, Feb. 25. He highly recommends “Humans and the Social Fabric of Tel Aviv,” which will be presented at 4 p.m. at the Dwares JCC, in Providence, in a session he calls “Tel Aviv 101.” That will be preceded by a 1 p.m. workshop, “Human Rights and the Public Sphere,” and by an 11 a.m. session, “Telling Your Story Through Photography,” which is geared to teenagers.

The final session, Kaganovitz said, will be especially informative.

“It’s mainly pictures and I’m actually telling the Israeli story” through the people of Tel Aviv, which he strongly feels is a “microcosm of Israel.”

“Every social group of Israelis you can find in Tel Aviv,” he said, adding that if you walked the length of the city from south to north, about a 90-minute jaunt, “every 10 minutes, you’d hear a different vibe. That’s what makes this place so interesting.”

Kaganovitz said he also enjoys Tel Aviv because its residents are straight shooters. “They cut to the chase. They will tell you what they think. What you see is what you get.”

He’s been a professional photographer for 10 years, but he always had an interest in photography. He started in video before his primary interest became still photography.

A formative moment that helped decide his career came in the seventh grade, when his class went to see “Cinema Paradiso,” a 1988 Italian film about a boy falling in love with the movies.

“Ever since I saw that movie, it grabbed me. I discovered my passion for photography,” Kaganovitz said.

He spent five years as a journalist, mostly as an editor for two Israeli TV stations, Channel 2 and I24news. He also spent two years as a parliamentary adviser for several members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

Kaganovitz studied journalism and received bachelor of arts degrees in international relations and political communications from Hebrew University, and a master’s degree in political communications, also from Hebrew University.

He’s been married for four years. He and his wife, Reut, have two children, Berry, 5, and Arya, almost 2.

The exhibit will be displayed in Gallery (401) at the Dwares JCC throughout the month as part of the Israel@70 celebration. There is no entrance fee.

For more information, contact Tslil Reichman at treichman@jewishallianceri.org or 401-421-4111, ext. 121. Visit jewishallianceri.org/israel-70 for a full list of Israel@70 events.

LARRY KESSLER is a freelance writer who can be reached at lkessler1@comcast.net.