Piven with two of his works. Can you guess which leaders they are?
Arts and Culture,Entertainment,Visual Arts

‘My name is Hanoch and I play with my food’

Piven with two of his works. Can you guess which leaders they are?

Piven with two of his works. Can you guess which leaders they are?

“My name is Hanoch and I play.”

That’s how Israeli artist Hanoch Piven begins a TEDx Talk  explaining how playing with objects – especially food – led to his signature collage caricatures gracing the covers of TIME, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Village Voice, The London Times, Die WeltWoche, Haaretz and other major publications over the past two and a half decades.

“What did I learn from 20 years of playing with bananas? I learned that all artists play, because playfulness is a fertile ground for creativity,” says the amiable illustrator, who divides his time between Jaffa and Barcelona.

Piven also creates children’s books and TV shows, interactive exhibitions, mobile apps and advertising campaigns. His latest book, Let’s Make Faces, was published by Atheneum in 2013.

“Serendipity” may as well be Piven’s middle name. When TIME commissioned a portrait of the TV cartoon character Homer Simpson in 2002, his early efforts landed in the trash can. Looking more closely at that can, he realized it resembled Homer’s mouth. This was the result:

 Piven’s portrait of Homer Simpson for Rolling Stone.

Piven’s portrait of Homer Simpson for Rolling Stone.

Piven says it’s important to allow yourself to fail. “Once you are there, the failures lead to success. Happy accidents are the greatest gift … but you need to train yourself to see them.”

Half illustrator, half standup comedian

Since 2003, Piven has been traveling to classrooms and boardrooms across the world, explaining his approach to creativity and communication. He’s led workshops for children in oncology wards, drug addicts in halfway houses and army veterans suffering from PTSD. Google for Education is one of his sponsors.

In cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Education, he is in the midst of a speaking tour reaching 1,000 Jewish, Muslim and Christian preschool teachers from north to south.

Piven is creative director of an online community of educators in Spain, and has lectured in art institutes in cities as diverse as Beijing, Pasadena, Toronto, Rome and Savannah. His workshops in inner-city schools such as Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin and Arts High in Newark, New Jersey, are enthusiastically received.

“I’m half illustrator, half standup comedian,” Piven jokes.

Born in Uruguay, where he drew childhood pictures of cows, steaks and horseback gauchos, he moved to Israel at age 11 and grew up in Ramat Gan. Though he was always sketching caricatures — first of teachers and later of army commanders — his artistic inclinations weren’t taken seriously.

“Nobody noticed I had talent worth developing,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “I gradually stopped drawing because I was not encouraged to become an artist, mainly because I was a good student. When I finally wanted to do something about it, and listen to my own voice, the technical aspects of my talent were not good enough.”

First published portrait: Dan Quayle

Indeed, Piven was rejected from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem at age 23, after his military service. Dogged by “a deep craving for meaning in my life,” he then applied successfully to New York’s School of Visual Arts.

“I have this inner courage-slash-irresponsible nature. At 24, to go to New York and study in a private school without money to pay for it was irresponsible, but I guess I felt like yihye b’seder [it will be fine], and it was.”

The other students were better at drawing, so Piven forged a new path. “Being blessed by hardship made me look outside, and I started doing collages.”

Piven’s 2006 illustration of Albert Einstein for Time Magazine.

Piven’s 2006 illustration of Albert Einstein for Time Magazine.

Only days after graduating in 1992, Piven presented his collage portraits at Newsweek, and was asked to design a cover portrait of presidential candidate Ross Perot.

That piece never got published, but soon afterward his illustration of Vice President Dan Quayle appeared in Entertainment Weekly, and the assignments began rolling in.

“Within the first year after graduation I was published in all the major publications,” Piven says. “In New York, there is an open door to new talent. Once they see something groundbreaking and different, they immediately finding a way of using it. New York was essential to my professional growth.”

Pushed out of the box

And yet, he continues, “If I would I have stayed in New York, I still would have been doing kind of the same thing. The American market is so niche-oriented, and there is so little cross-disciplinary activity, as opposed to what happens in Israel,” Piven says.

“When I came back to Israel, people started saying, ‘You do A, but it looks like something that could be Z. Can you do Z?’ I constantly get help diversifying and finding other applications for my work. That has been the greatness of coming back here and why I still love to work here.”

Piven is married to a New Yorker and has an English- and Spanish-speaking household. His son, now 20, is in college in the United States. His daughter, now 15, attends an international school in Barcelona.

Perhaps the Piven family’s situation helped inspire his 2012 crowd-sourced mural, “Family Matters,” installed at Beth Hatfutsot-Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. It’s made up of about 3,000 collage self-portraits done by visiting families in the style of Piven’s famous works.

Click here for more information.


If you can forecast where lightning will strike companies can deliver products to keep people safe. Image via www.Shutterstock.com
Green Science,Profiles

How do you know where lightning will strike? (audio)

If you can forecast where lightning will strike companies can deliver products to keep people safe. Image via www.Shutterstock.com

If you can forecast where lightning will strike companies can deliver products to keep people safe. Image via www.Shutterstock.com

As global warming speeds up, the world is suffering an increasing number of extreme weather events, from severe storms to floods, hurricanes and earthquakes.

Prof Colin Price,  head of Tel Aviv University’s department of geophysical, atmospheric and planetary science, has made it his lifetime’s work to warn people of future natural disaster and keep them safe.

Among many other activities, Price tracks lightning activity from around the globe in order to devise an early-warning system for flash floods.

Price came to TLV1 Radio  to talk to ISRAEL21c reporter Viva Sarah Press about his groundbreaking weather-related research and to provide listeners with the lowdown on climate change.

To listen to other ISRAEL21c shows on TLV1 click here.

ISRAEL21c in collaboration with TLV1

ISRAEL21c in collaboration with TLV1

Photo by Flash 90
Israel in Pictures,Picture of the Week

Photo of the Week – Storytime for southern kids

This photo is from FLASH90.

Photo by FLASH90

Israel’s First Lady, Nechama Rivlin, read stories to dozens of Gaza-area children who were transported to Jerusalem for a day of respite from rocket attacks, at the President’s Residence last week.

If you’ve got a photograph you’d like to feature on ISRAEL21c, please send it in high resolution to info@israel21c.org. Every week we will choose the best one to feature on our pages.

Bringing together 11-year-olds from opposite poles.

Dancing with the ‘enemy’

Bringing together 11-year-olds from opposite poles.

Bringing together 11-year-olds from opposite poles. Photo by Nurit Mozes

Whether it’s the cha-cha, tango, or a simple twirl around the school gym, Arab and Jewish fifth-graders in Israel are connecting through dance.

The idea began when Miri Shahaf-Levi, a former dancer, saw the movie Mad Hot Ballroom about dance instructor and former ballroom dancing world champion Pierre Dulaine, 70, and his work with inner-city kids in New York.

Nine years ago, Shahaf-Levi traipsed to New York City with the mission of bringing Dulaine, now retired, to Israel. She knocked on his studio door and was met with an exclamatory “Alain, wa’asalam!” an Arabic expression equivalent to “shalom” that’s often heard in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

It turns out that Dulaine was born in Jaffa in British Mandatory Palestine, before Israel became a state, to a Catholic Palestinian mother and a Protestant father from Ireland. When he was four, they moved to Jordan, and later to England.

Dulaine speaks Arabic, French and English, but knows only a few words in Hebrew.

He does know of the incongruities of living in Israel firsthand and told Shahaf Levi he’d go there under one condition: “If you will find me Jewish and Arab children who can dance together.”

Shahaf-Levi, who worked for the government’s Culture Ministry and also as an adviser for the Israel Prize committee, let the idea percolate over the next several years. About four years ago, she arranged Dulaine’s visit to Israel. “I called him and told him that I’ve opened the window. Now it’s your turn to come over and open the door,” Shahaf-Levi tells ISRAEL21c.

Making peace, two by two.

Miri Shahaf-Levi dancing with artistic director Dima. Photo by Nurit Mozes

Facing each other

Thus, Dulaine was able to fulfill his lifelong dream of returning to the city of his birth and teaching Jewish and Palestinian Israeli children to dance together. Diane Nabatoff, who had produced the feature movie Take the Lead in which Antonio Banderas portrayed Dulaine, came along. She hired director Hilla Medalia and arranged for a documentary film crew to follow Dulaine. Dancing in Jaffa is now screening across the United States. Its Israel premiere happened in May when Dulaine came a second time.

The movie, which has won several international awards, shows kids once deeply suspicious of one another transforming into good friends and dance partners in hardscrabble Jaffa, where Jews, Muslims and Christians rarely interact beyond the grocery store.

The film documents Dulaine teaching rhumba, merengue and the tango to 11-year-olds, with a finale where Jews and Arab kids dance together in a competition. He uses techniques from his international program called Dancing Classrooms.

Dancing in Jaffa came about when I mentioned the idea of fulfilling my lifelong dream of returning to Jaffa, where I was born, to teach my Dancing Classrooms program to Jewish and Palestinian Israeli children. To bring them together face-to-face to dance with each other,” says Dulaine.

Shahaf-Levi found five schools in Jaffa that were willing to work with Dulaine: the Arab schools Al Achouweh/Achva and Ajjayal; two Jewish schools, The Open Democratic School and Hashmonaeem; and one mixed school of Jews, Muslims and Christians called Weizmann.

In certain instances, a letter had to be signed by the Muslim kids’ parents that it would be okay, on religious grounds, for them to dance ballroom with the opposite sex. The letter was written in English by Dulaine and translated into Arabic and Hebrew.

“We have two sheiks who signed on their sons. Everybody was dancing.”

Dulaine admits he almost gave up part way through when the kids weren’t cooperating. But he trusts in the power of dance. “I believe just in believing and really see that when you touch someone with respect, something really does change.”

He has stayed in touch with some of the participants. “I saw four of the children — Noor, Alaa and Lois in Paris, and in New York (Lois’s brother David came as well) a few months ago for the premieres there. They were now grown up but all very, very friendly with each other,” he reports.

Miri Shahaf-Levi dancing with artistic director Dima.

Making peace two by two. Photo by Nurit Mozes

The dance continues

Shahaf-Levi now is the executive director of Dancing Classrooms in Israel, actively building bridges by directing a countrywide program that has trained more than 2,000 kids in the art of ballroom dance in the past four years.

Three-month sessions twice a week take place in cities including Haifa, Tel Aviv, Holon, Carmiel and Herzliya. A new sponsor from the United States will make it easy to expand and develop the program, she notes.

There are four dance instructors who help run the sessions, which have been an overwhelming hit among kids deemed “special needs.” In some cases, lives have been transformed, says Shahaf Levi.

“It’s about confidence building,” she sums up. “And looking each other in the eye.”

For more about Dancing Classrooms in Israel, click here

Soldiers enjoying their free sandwiches.

‘Operation Doron’ serves up love on a plate

Soldiers enjoying their free sandwiches.

Soldiers enjoying their free sandwiches.

Facebook can bring down governments. It can be a place of highly uncivil debate. But it can also catalyze a war-weary public to support its soldiers in extraordinary ways.

In 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense, Doron Elbaz put out a call on the social-media site to help feed hungry soldiers massing on the border with Gaza. Volunteers came down to Elbaz’s farm, a few hundred meters outside Moshav Maslul, to prepare meals in a pita. Ten jeeps traveled back and forth to deliver the food for the eight days of the operation.

So when Operation Protective Edge began this year, Elbaz took to Facebook again. The result overwhelmed him.

Those 10 jeeps from 2012 seem positively quaint today. Elbaz and his team of 250 volunteers are now preparing an astounding 35,000 meals a day. On any given day, 50,000 people associated with the war effort – including soldiers, police and medics – visit his makeshift camp for meals, toiletries or new underwear and socks. Volunteers offer massages, haircuts and shaves. And everything is free.

It all started with lemonade. Elbaz grows lemons, so it was natural that when the operation started and he saw soldiers once again passing by his farm, his children would suggest setting up a roadside lemonade stand. “It was really all because of my kids,” Elbaz tells ISRAEL21c.

But once Elbaz posted to Facebook about his stand, people began asking, “Where can we drop off some donations?” Before he knew it, the 2014 version of “Operation Doron,” as Israel TV dubbed his previous efforts, turned into a major gathering point.

Elbaz’s ice-cream corner.

Elbaz’s ice-cream corner.

“It’s become a full city,” Elbaz says, complete with food tents, an ice-cream corner and even a synagogue. Of the 35,000 meals prepared daily, 20,000 go to soldiers in the field and the remaining 15,000 are served on site. The meals consist of meat in pita bread with a few vegetables. “We don’t even do hummus or tehina,” Elbaz says. “Nothing wet.”

Elbaz doesn’t get near the front – his farm is a good 15 kilometers away. The army sends its trucks to him. He developed a system for sealing the sandwiches in a bag to keep out the dust. They can be sent in bulk but easily separated when they get to their hungry recipients.

Elbaz estimates his small business is costing some NIS 500,000 ($145,000) a day, but no money changes hands. The meat is donated (a meat processor in Haifa has provided more than NIS 1 million worth of meat alone, Elbaz says); the vegetables are local and the army kicks in the pita.

What would the soldiers do without Elbaz? It’s not like the army isn’t feeding them, but they appreciate fresh food when faced with yet another box of battle rations.

While Elbaz’s operation doesn’t have official rabbinic supervision, a rabbi from Moshav Maslul comes twice a day to make sure everything is kosher.

Elbaz, 43, moved to his farm two years ago after leaving Beersheva with his wife and children. The move was the result of ongoing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that has made it hard for him to work in construction as he had before.

In 2002, Elbaz was on reserve duty when he was called to the West Bank settlement of Karmei Tsur. Terrorists had infiltrated, as the IDF soldiers protecting the settlement hadn’t completed their basic training yet. Two Israelis – a man and his pregnant wife – were murdered before Elbaz and his unit arrived, killing one and wounding the second terrorist. In the jeep next to him, Elbaz’s friend First Sgt. Major Shalom Mordechai was killed as well.

Elbaz was injured during the attack, both physically and emotionally. “It’s a trauma that you take with you all your life,” he says. But he has done his best to turn tragedy into something positive. “You know, you can sink into depression, or you can take the energy that comes from this and do lovely things.”

Elbaz has two sons and three daughters ranging in age from 17 years to 18 months. He has also “adopted” two Givati infantry soldiers who were fighting in Gaza.

With a ceasefire now in place, what’s next for “Operation Doron?” Elbaz points out that the troops haven’t gone home. He and his barbeque team “will be here until the last soldier comes through.”

Still, Elbaz is looking forward to the day when he’ll be “out of business.” Not that it was a business in any formal sense of the term.

“Citizens of this beautiful country don’t work by the book,” he says. “We work with our hearts. It’s possible to do everything for free, as long as you have love.”