Simon Family JCC, CRC, and community partners’ Israel Today, educating people about misconceptions

November 2, 2017

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Erez Kaganovitz, Israeli artist, storyteller, and founder of the hit photoblog, Humans of Tel Aviv, landed in Tidewater ready to dispel misconceptions and ideas about his homeland by sharing stories of everyday people living in Tel Aviv. Through these stories of heartache and hope, diversity and acceptance, struggle and joy, Kaganovitz’s goal was to help change the common narrative of a country often singularly portrayed as embattled.

Kaganovitz’s days in Tidewater were filled with visits to schools such as Hebrew Academy of Tidewater, Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA), Gifted Visual Arts Program at Virginia Beach Middle School, and the Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Salem High School, and with organizations such as BBYO, and United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Young Adult Division’s Tidewater Couple’s Project, among others. Each of these visits brought a new conversation to the forefront with Kaganovitz’s conversational lecture adapting to the questions and insights posed by his audience. At GSA and BBYO, students were spurned by a few of Kaganovitz’s photos to a discussion on what constitutes inappropriate versus appropriate dress in public and religious places.

Students demonstrated interests in the photograph as well as in the story. Third, fourth, and fifth grade HAT students toured the Leon Family Gallery at the Simon Family JCC with Kaganovitz and discussed the photos in his exhibit. Some were excited to see people from Israel, citing their last and upcoming visits.

Students and professors at Norfolk State University, an Israel Today partner, were interested in these same questions. During Kaganovitz’s lecture, snaps could be heard coming from the front of the room when audience members agreed with discussions based on tolerance and letting people live their own lives and the very real purpose of a free democracy such as the one shared by the U.S. and Israel.

Another notable moment during Kaganovitz’s lecture came when Professor Sam Hughes asked Kaganovitz about his self-professed feminism. Kaganovitz shared the story of the women he has met in Tel Aviv and how he never thought of the practical things he takes for granted such as feeling safe when he leaves his apartment at night. The audience erupted in applause and began discussing the similarities and differences in social life between the U.S. and Israel. Before Kaganovitz left NSU, students gathered around to ask him more about Israeli art and fashion.

Kaganovitz’s main theme throughout his visit was one of understanding Israel through connection and humanity. From the United States to India to Israel, humans have the same wants and hopes; that the power of the Israeli people can be found in the diversity of a city like Tel Aviv. Sitting in a circle surrounded by young children during his Israel Today event at the Simon Family JCC, Kaganovitz encouraged the kids to look at pictures from Humans of Tel Aviv. This slight difference allowed children to see not only that there isn’t a difference in humans, but the society in Israel is far broader than they may have imagined.

“This is a vibrant civil society where every part makes up a thread in the social fabric. It is important to remember that what you think about a person, that first judgment, may change 180 degrees when you actually speak to them. In Israel, as in the U.S., we are a free democracy and that means all of these varying cultures and ideas can exist within this one place, secured by this democracy,” Kaganovitz said to attendees of his photography workshop at MacArthur Center.

Perhaps if people were all willing to listen and open their eyes, differences wouldn’t be seen, but instead, a brighter future would exist based on shared similarities and ideas.

- Erin Dougherty

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