Barack Obama – the hipster…

israelis amit shimoni

Portraits by Amit Shimoni.

Amit Shimoni has done the impossible. This Israeli designer-illustrator is making people around the globe smile and laugh when they see politicians.

From Hillary Clinton to Theodor Herzl, Barack Obama to George Washington, David Ben-Gurion to Margaret Thatcher, Shimoni has turned these decision-makers into the hippest personalities today.

Shimoni, 28, is the artist behind HIPSTORY and SHEPSTORY, two illustrated series that depict world leaders (living and deceased) as hipsters and fashion-conscience icons. Shimoni most recently added three new American faces to his portrait series of the world’s greatest leaders as modern day hipsters, specially for the 4th of July:  George Washington, Ronald Reagan and President Barack Obama.

US President Barack Obama as a modern-day hipster. (Courtesy of Amit Shimoni)

US President Barack Obama as a modern-day hipster. (Courtesy of Amit Shimoni)

“Part of the purpose in drawing them like this was to make people look at these leaders and smile,” Shimoni tells ISRAEL21c from his Jaffa studio. “I want people to reflect on our leaders, our society and ourselves.”

His drawings grace the walls of local bars and homes, and appear on coasters, pillowcases, coffee mugs, smartphone skins and even car skins.


Margaret Thatcher, Amit Shimoni–style.

“From go, I decided to make my art available to the public; whoever wants a bit of the project can share in it,” he says. “I love when people upload pictures to social media of something they bought with one of my images. It’s very heartening to see it.”

Though he graduated from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem only in 2014, Shimoni’s audacious depictions have already been featured in the New York Times, The Daily Mail and other major newspapers. They’ve also been exhibited in galleries in New York, Berlin, San Francisco, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Herzl’s doppelganger on Facebook

The fun drawings of Vladimir Lenin in a black studded jacket, Nelson Mandela sporting a flattop hairstyle and a tropical-print bomber jacket, Margaret Thatcher in a leopard-print strapless bra peeping through a white tank top, and Mahatma Gandhi wearing a tie-dye shirt and Sixties-style shades all came about thanks to a guy who could have been Herzl’s doppelganger.

Shimoni tells ISRAEL21c that he had just uploaded a drawing of David Ben-Gurion to his Facebook page – to see what his friends thought of his idea to base his graduate project on the first Israeli prime minister in modern-day style — when someone who resembled the visionary behind modern Zionism appeared on his Facebook feed.

“I saw someone who looked just like Herzl; it was unbelievable,” he says. “And then I started thinking about a modern Herzl hipster. And from there I moved to Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir. The project eventually turned into 12 Israeli faces.”

Meant to be a final art-school project, this was actually the beginning of Shimoni’s career.


Amit Shimoni’s depiction of Hillary Clinton.

Everyone who saw the illustrations of Ben-Gurion in a pink button-down pineapple shirt, Herzl sporting an earring and a wave in his hair, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in a colorful bohemian shirt, and Shimon Peres in a yellow hoodie, wanted more.

So, Shimoni decided to dress up other world leaders in an “attempt to create new and altered portraits of iconic figures of the 20th century, by placing them in different time and culture.”

His BoredPanda page has more than 76,500 views.

“It’s very exciting. When I started work on the project, I hoped it would get some exposure and people would like it,” he says, noting that if the muse is with him, he can be found drawing directly onto the computer from 10am to 2am some days.

For International Women’s Day in March 2015, he released a new version of the series — called SHEPSTORY, a play on the words “she” and “hipstory” – featuring female leaders who impacted world history. US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Thatcher, Meir and Queen Elizabeth II got his hipster treatment.

bg amit shimoni

You can get a David Ben-Gurion throw pillow or other novelties.

When The New York Times featured his work, “and then a wave of other publications,” he knew he was onto something.

And he’s not worried about being boxed in or only identified with HIPSTORY.

“I believe it’s good for me. There’s always new art and it changes all the time. I’m sure I’ll do other projects in the future, not necessarily similar,” he says. “If they’re popular like HIPSTORY, all the better.”

Starting in Israel

Although starting in a small country with a limited audience can be difficult for new artists, Shimoni says Israel was exactly the place for him to launch.

“I think it was very right to start with the Israeli series. The interaction in Israel is very personal. People want to be friends here, so people told me what they think and I got important feedback,” he says about his early drawings. “It’s a great place to start as an artist because people in Israel like to compliment you.”

Shimoni grew up in Kfar Sirkin, a moshav in central Israel near Petah Tikva, completed his college studies in Jerusalem, and now lives in Jaffa with his girlfriend.

He says he draws inspiration from everything, “from a billboard to a woman who drops something, from Facebook to whatever.”

Asked which of his drawings he likes best, Shimoni takes a while before answering.


Amit Shimoni’s rendering of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“They are like my children; it’s hard to choose which I like best,” he says. “I like Ben-Gurion in the Israeli series. The pineapple shirt and yellow background gives off a happy vibe. It’s also because of who he was — an iconic personality. I’m glad I was able to add something to his character and that everyone is happy to see him and put his picture on their wall.”

When he’s not adding portraits to his HIPSTORY or SHEPSTORY series, you can find him working on an animal-rights project in California, organizing exhibitions and taking freelance assignments.

“I hope I’ll finish new projects in the coming years and get to an international audience,” says Shimoni. “I want a lot of things.”

For more information, click here.

George Washington by Amit Shimoni. (Courtesy)

George Washington by Amit Shimoni. (Courtesy)

Amit Shimoni gives Ronald Reagan a make-over. (Courtesy)

Amit Shimoni gives Ronald Reagan a make-over. (Courtesy)

Gal Luskyassisting a Sudanese orphan in Egypt.

The dangerous good deeds of Gal Lusky

Gal Lusky with a Sudanese orphan

Gal Lusky assisting a Sudanese orphan in Egypt.

Gal Lusky chose Frank Sinatra’s classic “Fly Me to the Moon” as her mobile phone’s ringtone.

“The moon is just about the only place I know that’s peaceful right now,” quips the founder and CEO of Israeli Flying Aid, a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides lifesaving aid in areas of natural disaster or conflict.

Lusky was one of seven female and seven male Israelis chosen to light torches at the 67th Independence Day ceremony on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl.

Her inclusion in this illustrious group is all the more remarkable considering that many of her missions are to nations normally off limits to Israelis, such as Pakistan, Sudan, Indonesia, Iraq and other places she is not at liberty to identify.

That the Ministry of Culture and Sport approved her nomination for the honor is a testament to Israel’s democratic principles, says Lusky. “The government knows how strongly I love my country.”

Lusky tells ISRAEL21c she established Israeli Flying Aid because no other Israeli NGO was dealing with disasters in hostile territories. “I believe Israel does amazing work where it’s invited to do so, but I wanted to compensate the other parts of the world.”

Gal Lusky and volunteers

Gal Lusky with Israeli Flying Aid volunteers.

She prefers to stay under the radar even when working with emergency responders in friendly countries such as the United States, Haiti and Nepal.

“I don’t want to compete in the media with formal Israeli missions; I want people to see Israeli soldiers helping people all over the world,” says Lusky.

Gal Lusky in Haiti, 2010

Gal Lusky in Haiti, 2010.

She allowed her organization’s name in the news last year when Israeli youth movement members in 14 cities collected winter clothing and bedding for Syrian civil war refugees.

“Children were freezing to death in Syria, and when children in Israeli youth movements heard that we wanted to collect items for them, they immediately started knocking on doors. Within two weeks they collected 70 tons of coats, blankets and sleeping bags. We delivered it all a week later.”

At the torch lighting, she thanked her family and the kibbutz movement for instilling the values and independence necessary to accomplish her often dangerous good deeds.

“To do humanitarian work in Israel was a must; that’s how I grew up. To do it abroad was a choice, and that’s the choice I took anytime I had enough money,” she says.

Inspiration from the children’s house

Lusky was born in 1968 on the northern Kibbutz Hokok. Like other kibbutz infants at the time, she was cared for in the children’s house from the age of two weeks. “I was the only girl with eight boys. Our mothers would come twice a night to breastfeed us,” she relates.

Children’s houses traumatized many kibbutz kids and parents, and have long since been abolished. Lusky, however, thrived in this environment.

“I had a fantastic childhood and gained a lot of my skills, trust and independence because of the kibbutz structure,” she says. Actualizing the movement’s communist ethos, she once gave her mother’s washer to a needy single immigrant mother in a nearby town – without permission, figuring Mom could use the kibbutz laundry facilities.

Whenever it was Gal’s turn to sleep at home on a Friday night, she passed along the privilege to one of the “brothers” with whom she learned karate, running and shooting. She saw her biological younger brother much less frequently.

But it was he who indirectly ignited her fervor to aid foreigners.

Lusky had left the kibbutz at 20, paying her way through university by working in a private investigator’s office and as a flight attendant for the domestic airline Arkia. Three years later, in August 1992, her brother was wounded in action in Lebanon. Lusky quit school and spent a year at his bedside.

“That year in the hospital made me understand how blessed I was to be born in Israel with its amazing medical infrastructure, and I wanted to bring this to others in the world,” she says.

In 1994 she went to Rwanda and joined a Iocal NGO working to reunite families torn apart by the civil war. Over the next decade she occasionally helped other populations affected by conflict and disaster.

In December 2004, Lusky led an aid mission to post-tsunami Sri Lanka on behalf of the kibbutz movement. On her own, she then went to the country’s Tamil area and was appalled to find that the regime was preventing food and medicine from reaching victims, and even more appalled to learn that this governmental “kind of genocide” was neither unusual nor considered criminal by the United Nations.

The next month she moved back to the kibbutz so that her mother could help care for her son, now 17, as she established Israeli Flying Aid. “I wanted to do lifesaving aid and I needed to be very fast in deploying the missions,” she explains.

Choosing justice over law

Lusky sneaks into countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel and/or don’t welcome humanitarian aid, such as Myanmar — or as she prefers to call it, Burma. After the 2008 cyclone, she and four Israeli Flying Aid volunteers fed 80,000 starving Burmese citizens over two weeks.

Al-Jazeera journalists accompanying her were arrested. Israeli Flying Aid arranged their release, resulting in a flattering article from a media outlet ordinarily critical of Israel. “It was my present to my country for its 60th birthday,” Lusky says with a laugh.

How does she manage the impossible?

“When there’s a will there’s a way,” she says laconically. “”We fly very light because we’re never welcome in these countries. We find our way in and do our own assessment of needs. It’s always the opposition group that is blocked from receiving aid. That means we are supplying the opposition, but it’s not political; it’s just serving the most vulnerable populations. We’re not anarchists. When law clashes with justice and there’s life in danger, we make our choice for justice.”

Most recently, she brought four 3D printers to an undisclosed conflict zone and taught doctors how to print prosthetic limbs.

Lusky does reveal that El Al Israeli Airlines, which owns Arkia, allows her to fly cargo for free to disaster sites in friendly countries such as Nepal, where Israeli Flying Aid’s unreported mission was dedicated to the memory of volunteer Ohad Shemesh, a paratroop reservist killed in Operation Protective Edge last summer.

Israeli Flying Aid volunteer Ohad Shemesh in Haiti, 2010.

“My volunteers embrace my agenda and choose to risk their lives instead of living the rest of their life with no compassion,” says Lusky. “Our slogan is, ‘Nobody asks permission to kill; we don’t ask permission to save lives.’ This is a moral value that should be viral.”

She dreams of creating Al Qaida-like global dormant cells of daring do-gooders.

“We would give them basic training to deliver lifesaving aid and teach them how to find their way into any country. They’d just have to land in that country with funding and volunteers and meet us there. We would give them a dossier of all the rest — translators, maps, networking, suppliers. All they have to have is motivation.”

And money. Fundraising is difficult, given that donors and the missions they fund remain secret. “We need to find donors who don’t care about getting any credit,” says Lusky. “Any time money comes in we deploy a mission.”

Israeli Flying Aid has zero overhead. Lusky and some 1,200 volunteer specialists in medical aid, mass-feeding and logistics, search-and-rescue, emotional trauma relief and training don’t expect compensation. Lusky ekes out a living from giving lectures about international aid and the volunteering spirit of Israel.

For more information, contact Gal Lusky at gal@ifaid.com.

Sean Hurwitz accompanying Smash Mouth singer Steve Harwell. Photo by Glenn Tang/Black Pixel Studios

Rockin’ out with Sean Hurwitz of Smash Mouth

Sean Hurwitz with Smash Mouth singer Steve Harwell. Photo by Glenn Tang/Black Pixel Studios

Sean Hurwitz accompanying Smash Mouth singer Steve Harwell. Photo by Glenn Tang/Black Pixel Studios

Israeli-born songwriter-producer-guitarist Sean Hurwitz, now touring with Smash Mouth, did not attend Rimon, Berklee or other prestigious music schools that helped catapult many Israeli musicians to success.

Long before becoming a guitarist, he was a kikarist – Hebrew slang for a rebellious teenager who hangs out after dark in Kikar Zion (Zion Square) in Jerusalem.

“I was a full-on kikarist, pierced and mohawked,” relates the 35-year-old musician during a Skype conversation with ISRAEL21c from his Los Angeles home.

The son of American émigrés, Sean (whose real name is Shachar) differed from the typical kikarist in that he didn’t get high. “I’ve never taken drugs; never even smoked a cigarette. No one pressured me to do those things.”

Instead, Hurwitz found his outlet in the basement music studio of Bayit Cham (Warm Home), an organization where a Jerusalem kikarist could find shelter, food and counseling.

“Bayit Cham was where I went to practice with a band I was in, and where I met fellow musicians I’m still friends with to this day. Avi Tal, a counselor in the studio, gave me the hardcore focus that was a huge piece of my musical upbringing and a huge chunk of who I am.”

Sean Hurwitz rocks it out with Smash Mouth

“I rock it as much as I can,” says Hurwitz. Photo by Glenn Tang/Black Pixel Studios

Hurwitz recently took time from his busy touring schedule to play a fundraiser with some of his old buddies for Sobar, a non-profit Jerusalem venture to open an alcohol-free music club and center for at-risk kids.

After “graduating” from Zion Square rather than high school, he studied sound engineering in Tel Aviv and got a job with Shuli Oded, owner of The Musical Connection sound-and-lighting outfit.

“I went in knowing nothing and ended up very high-ranked in the Israeli sound corps. I didn’t do the army; Shuli was my army, teaching me to do things I didn’t think my body and mind were capable of. He taught a 19-year-old how to do a credible job as head of staff, and that was a huge asset to me professionally.”

Hurwitz worked backstage with some of Israel’s hottest talents — Knesiyat Hasekhel, Hadag Nahash, Monica Sex, Berry Sakharoff. Through Sha’anan Streett of Hadag, Hurwitz got involved on the sound end of Festival BaShekel, a summer concert series bringing top performers to underprivileged Israeli towns.

He worked with Hadag Nahash for a few years, even coming along for their US tours. In 2003 – spooked by a terrorist attack at the Tel Aviv music bar Mike’s Place — he relocated to Los Angeles.

Sean Hurwitz on stage with Smash Mouth

Hurwitz, left, onstage. Photo by Glenn Tang/Black Pixel Studios

“My parents [Dr. Judy Lieman-Hurwitz and Ira Hurwitz] are from America, so I feel very American,” he says. “My parents are a huge influence on me. They uprooted their whole lives to move to Israel and raise a family, going after their hearts and dreams.”

At the same time, he is a product of his surroundings. “Israel is very dog-eat-dog, and that breeds people that are gonna go for it — that’s why so many Israelis are successful,” opines Hurwitz. “Being raised in that environment helped me get above my competition. I have to think I got some of that ‘I can go do this’ attitude.”

In LA, Hurwitz worked at a Guitar Center store until establishing himself as a session guitarist for seven different bands. In 2011, Smash Mouth hired him to accompany them on a tour in Iraq and Kuwait.

“I had five days to learn an hour and a half of music for Smash Mouth and then take off,” Hurwitz relates. Worse, he did not have the right guitar for the job.

So he called his old friend, bassist Avishay Shabat. On vacation from Israel years before, Shabat had visited Hurwitz at Guitar Center. “He makes and fixes guitars, and there are a gajillion guitarists here, so I recommended he come work in LA,” says Hurwitz.

Shabat took the advice and founded Shabat Guitars, now a successful business. He quickly made Hurwitz a custom guitar for the Smash Mouth gig, and now Hurwitz uses only Shabat instruments.

Smash Mouth, he says, is a great fit for someone who grew up on Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. “With Smash Mouth I take advantage of my place on stage and I rock it as much as I can. The music is great, the guys are awesome and I get to travel the world.”

He is the only Israeli – indeed the only Jew – in the band best known for “I’m a Believer” and “All Star” from the movie Shrek. “I would love to come to Israel and rock out with Smash Mouth,” says Hurwitz, who will miss his brother’s wedding in Israel this June because of a six-week Smash Mouth tour.

The gregarious guitarist, now also the owner of an LA real-estate company with his fiancée, loves connecting with people on social media. “It’s easy to reach me and I talk to everyone — gearheads, musicians, fans of Smash Mouth.”

For more information, click here.

Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

Our photo booth is a hit in California


Jerusalem in San Francisco.

The ISRAEL21c Photo Station set up at “Israel in Our Hearts” — a family celebration sponsored by the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund on May 3 – enticed 431 fair-goers to pose for fun, personalized portraits against life-size Israel backdrops from our photo archives.

As a corporate sponsor of this first-time event in honor of Israel’s 67th Independence Day, ISRAEL21c provided breathtaking images of the Jaffa Gate illuminated at the Jerusalem Light Festival; a view of the Old City of Jerusalem; Hilton Beach in Tel Aviv; and the new Carasso Science Museum in Beersheva.

“The background shots provided by ISRAEL21c were gorgeous!” wrote JCFEF Director of Events Rachel Kaber to ISRAEL21c President Amy Friedkin.

Photo booth fun at the Israel fair.

The event held at the San Francisco Zoo drew some 1,500 Bay Area celebrants for lots of Israel-centered activities, ranging from an “archeological dig” to a puppet show, animal mask-making to dancing in a Gaga Pit. Of course there was Israeli music, falafel and other Mediterranean cuisine on offer.

“The Federation was thrilled to include ISRAEL21c as the Photo Station sponsor at the first-ever Israel in Our Hearts,” Kaber said. “ISRAEL21c provided incredible images used as the background of the photos (taken on green screen) pulled from their brilliant ‘Photo of the Week’ section.”


Press gives her talk in Omaha.
Behind the scenes at ISRAEL21c

ISRAEL21c brings Israeli med-tech news to US

ISRAEL21c's Viva Sarah Press at her talk in Rochester.

ISRAEL21c’s Viva Sarah Press at her talk in Rochester, New York.

ISRAEL21c readers know that we report regularly on Israeli medical innovations, yet many others are not aware of how profoundly Israel is revolutionizing global healthcare today.

That’s why the Jewish Federations of Rochester and Omaha invited an ISRAEL21c reporter to give talks in their communities.

Armed with a 45-minute presentation featuring samples of Israeli innovation in all fields of healthcare, as well as two videos on med-tech, Viva Sarah Press set off for the United States to share the latest blue-and-white technologies changing the way we live and deal with diseases.

From the moment she touched down, everyone who heard about the subject of the talk wanted to be invited or wanted her to come to their communities as well. People are eager to know how the latest technologies from Israel can improve their lives.

From new brain-tech that will better treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases to novel stem-cell treatments for ALS; from mobile health solutions to advanced surgical procedures; interest in Israel’s contributions to the med-tech arena is widespread.

At the May 4 talk in Rochester and May 5 presentation in Omaha, Press introduced medical and non-medical professionals to technologies such as novel vaccines and cool smartphone-based diagnostic tools.

Mona Kolko of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester praised it as “a presentation that dazzled our audience.”

Almost everyone in the two audiences knew about Israel as a “startup nation” but had no idea just how prolific this country is, considering its population of just over eight million people.

Press’s talk at Temple Beth El in Rochester was part of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester’s “Israel 2015, The Series,” presenting speakers from Israel on various pressing topics. It kicked off in November 2014 with the author Ari Shavit and also included Times of Israel editor David Horovitz.

The audience in Omaha was fascinated to hear about a new blood test for breast cancer.

The audience in Omaha was fascinated to hear about a new blood test for breast cancer.

In Nebraska, Press spoke to a smaller group of 25- to 45-year-olds.

Omaha’s University of Nebraska Medical Center is one of 14 hospitals in North America to host IBM’s supercomputer Watson, which is being used to make decisions about cancer care. It’s not surprising, then, that health-related technologies are at the forefront of day-to-day discussions in Omaha.

The audience at both talks seemed most keenly interested in the Octava Pink breast-cancer blood test and SoftWheel Technology’s revolutionary wheelchair wheels.

Press gives her talk in Omaha.

Press gives her talk in Omaha.

It is always exciting to share Israel’s amazing ingenuity with new audiences. And because Israeli engineers and scientists never rest on their laurels, we’re sure the next speaking tour will include even more jaw-dropping and out-of-the-box innovations that are making life better for everyone, everywhere.