Young Photographer Humanizes the People of Tel Aviv

Humans of TA - numberBy Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

The multiple generation Dayament-Sager family of Tel Aviv is Yosef Diament’s pride. Diament, the only member of his immediate family to survive the horrors of the Holocaust, moved to Israel and started fresh. Now, his story will not be forgotten.

Arik Dayament, Diament’s grandson, tattooed his grandfather’s Jewish identity number on his own wrist.

“I had to think about the decision very carefully,” Dayament told Humans of Tel Aviv. “At first my grandfather was reluctant about it, but in the end he asked me: ‘When your grandson will see the tattoo, you will tell him about me?’”

At that moment, Dayament decided to tattoo the number. Several members of the family decided to tattoo themselves, too.

“This was one of our most viral stories,” says Erez Kaganovitz, founder of Humans of Tel Aviv, whose website and Facebook page showcase the remarkably diverse and multicultural lives of the people of Tel Aviv. Humans of Tel Aviv also has a Twitter handle and an Instagram profile.

HUmans of TAKaganovitz, 35, founded Humans of Tel Aviv four years ago, inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, which today has more than 16.7 million likes on Facebook. Humans of Tel Aviv has nearly 45,000.

Humans of Tel Aviv was born out of Kaganovitz’s frustration with the international perception of Israel. He says he spent many years traveling around the world, from India to the U.S. to Europe and was constantly met “with a frown” when he told people he was from the Jewish State.

“I told myself, if they could just talk to the people of Israel, if somehow we could show them what our reality really is, maybe they would change their minds,” Kaganovitz recalls. When he saw Humans of New York “it was like a eureka moment. I told myself this is exactly what we need for Tel Aviv.”

Some 1,000 profiles later, Kaganovitz is reaching 500,000 people per month.

The stories, often simply a photo and a caption, are poignant and varied. In one image, Kaganovitz captures Glory, an African-American from Ghana, tossing playfully a little white Israeli boy in the air.

“They can’t comprehend why a black guy is holding a white baby,” Glory says in his interview, published on the site. “The true story is I’m the nanny. One thing we should all learn from babies is how to see the world with no colors at all.”

mantaray-beach - Humans of TAIn another piece, three Arab Israeli women sit on the Tel Aviv beach in burkas. In the distance is an Israeli woman wearing a bikini. The caption reads, “The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries or in the way she combs her hair.”

Kaganovitz recalls how that photo was published around the time that burkini swimsuits were causing controversy in France.

“Israel has been in a state of emergency for almost 69 years and never did anyone suggest something like banning the burkini, the burka or the hijab,” says Kaganovitz.

In another image, Kaganovitz captures the story of Azzam Azzam, an Israeli Druze who was convicted in Egypt of spying for Israel, and jailed for eight years. He maintained his innocence throughout the whole ordeal. On Humans of Tel Aviv, Azzam tells how an Egyptian prisoner with whom he had become friends during his stay in jail called to Azzam on the day he was to be put to death. The prisoner told Azzam, “I will never see my family again, but I know you will. … I wish I had been born Israeli.”

According to Kaganovitz, this prisoner understood the Jewish mitzvah of redeeming captives and was envious of Azzam who the Egyptian prisoner knew, even though Azzam was not Jewish, would ultimately be rescued by Israel. Azzam was released in a prisoner swap in 2004.

Kaganovitz says he does not consider his site to be hasbara (propaganda). Rather, with no external grant or government funding, he says, “I am doing it on my own because I think it is crucial and important. We need to put the message out there that in Israel there is a vibrant civil society.”

Photos courtesy Humans of Tel Aviv