I am an extrovert to the highest degree. But even the most outgoing people face the daunting task of meeting locals when they travel.

I arrived this summer in Tel Aviv for the first time as an American and a native English speaker, bringing my people-person skills to the next level.

The food, the art, the incessant use of scooters – life is different in Israel. Yet out of each new experience here, the greatest has been meeting strangers and sharing stories with them.

This article highlights seven strangers I met by chance, a small insight into the incredible people of Tel Aviv.

Mush Lazar

Artist Mush Lazar at Miss D Gallery in Tel Aviv. Photo by Samantha Baron

I stumbled upon the beautiful and high-end Miss. D Gallery on a personal adventure around Tel Aviv. As I admired the gallery’s incredible array of pop art, artist Mush Lazar walked in with his newest piece.

A colorful tribute to David Bowie, “Ziggy Stardust” now hangs behind the front desk of the gallery. The mixed-media piece began as a sketch on Lazar’s iPad. He posted the drawing process on Instagram account where his followers can view the process.

After the sketch, Lazar cut out the 3D parts of the drawing. He then used oil and pencil on top of the work to make the colorful scribbles and smiley faces. He also added some of his favorite Bowie quotes and lyrics. Lazar told me that he wanted to incorporate elements in “Ziggy Stardust” that would “pop outside of the frame,” so there are sparkly lightning bolts surrounding Bowie and extending beyond the frame.

Detail from “Ziggy Stardust” by Mush Lazar. Photo by Samantha Baron

Lazar shares his Bowie adoration with his father, a hardware store owner in northern Israel. Lazar didn’t go into the family business because he has Crohn’s disease, and doctors recommended a less stressful environment, which led him to art.

Olga (last name unknown)

Jordyn Tobasky, far left, Olga, Julia Aroesty and Samantha Baron in the urban garden. Photo by Samantha Baron

I met Olga at her communal garden, where my summer program helped with weeding and cleanup. Olga and her husband, Yehoshua, dedicate their time and energy to creating a beautiful garden for their community. Many young families especially appreciated the garden during the pandemic.

My friends Jordyn and Julia and I decided to garden alongside Olga, who radiates a natural and immediate kindness. Although I have no gardening experience, Olga was willing to teach us what needed to be done.

The allotted service time came and went, but we stayed with Olga. She took us on a walk through her garden, showing us growing fruits and vegetables. We tasted bright red tomatoes, took home cucumbers, and learned about grapes, lemon trees, and even passionfruit.

Olga listened to our questions and provided meaningful lessons about food. Did you know that some green beans are naturally purple but turn green once they are cooked?

On the hour-long bus ride home, each of us held different herbs that Olga had plucked for us. Although we stuck out like sore thumbs – covered in mud and holding large bouquets of fresh herbs – the three of us sat on the bus with smiles on our faces after meeting a wonderful new friend.

Sagiv Lugasy

The tools of Sagiv Lugasy’s trade at Fruits & Co. Photo by Samantha Baron

The Carmel Shuk in Tel Aviv is a lively environment, but cocktail mixologist Sagiv Lugasy and his juice stand may take the prize as the most colorful and upbeat spot. The building Lugasy works out of houses not only his juice stand but also his apartment!

Lugasy can be found basking in the sun with his eyes closed and a soft smile across his face. I couldn’t help but chat with him as he danced around the flowery cocktail stand called Fruits & Co.

His playful energy mirrors the upbeat vibe of his drink stand. The “Blushing Arak,” one of Lugasy’s unique creations, is described as “sweet and fruity” with arak, lychee, almonds, sumac, and berries.

He told me his favorite drink is his “Thailand,” a sour and spicy mixture of gin, fresh ginger, lemongrass, and elderflower. Check it out to see if you would drink it too!

Shira Barzilay/Koketit

“The world is my canvas” is the mantra of Shira Barzilay, also known as Koketit. Based in Tel Aviv, the 39-year-old artist has nearly half a million Instagram followers and a website that sells her work across the globe.

Barzilay has collaborated with Vogue Portugal, Harper’s Bazaar, Cartier, Zara, and Elle Norway. Expressionistic, minimalistic, and nonconformist, Barzilay also uses technology and virtual reality in many of her mixed-media creations.

“Koketit” originates from the French word coquette, meaning flirty. As a fashion illustrator and blogger for about a decade, Barzilay used Koketit as an avatar that represented a feminine and flirtatious character. Afterward, she continued to use Koketit to represent her and her art.

Next month marks the launch of Koketit’s NFT collection, “Elements.” Most of the pieces feature a female figure interacting with the four elements – water, earth, fire, air — to illustrate how the figure’s emotional state could mirror nature, and vice versa.

Shira Barzilay, aka Kokekit, creating 3D art in her home. Photo by Samantha Baron

Barzilay’s home is a work of art on its own. From flowerpots to framed drawings to sandals, almost everything is stamped with Koketit’s iconic drawings of faces.

I watched Barzilay put on her VR headset, turn on her television and draw, bringing a two-dimensional drawing into the three-dimensional realm. With the headset on, Barzilay can virtually walk through her art or draw around herself.

In no time, she created three-dimensional structures with multiple faces and colorful doodles as impressive as the ones she sells for thousands of dollars. She edits the creations on an app called Sketch Fab. she then sells them as 3D models or prints them as sculptures.

Barzilay allowed me to experience drawing with virtual reality. Her openness provided me with an incomparable life experience – existing in a world of three-dimensional art.

Elana Langer

Elana Langer on the Tel Aviv shore. Photo by Hanna Agar Karlstad

“Reading the Torah will expand your mind more than any trip you can have on drugs.”

This line stuck out to me during my first conversation with Elana Langer, who approached me at a speaker series near Gordon Beach.

Outgoing and outspoken, she introduced herself and the Torah Beach Meditation nights, which she hosts. I wanted to gain a deeper insight into Langer’s spiritual connection to the Torah and its profoundness for her. A week later, we met for coffee.

Langer’s deep connection to energy, spirituality, and the Torah astounded me. Langer asked about my personal life to initiate the conversation and her candor established a realness that secured her role as a confidant.

Langer pointed out that my summer in Israel continues my Israeli grandma’s departure from Tel Aviv at a similar age. In a matter of minutes, she connected my summer in Israel to a recycling of family history.

While the Torah is often associated with Orthodox Jews, for Langer it’s an energy that all Jewish people can access. She considers the Sabbath as an escape from reality, instead of only a Jewish holiday in traditional terms.

“If you work with the Torah in its structure and you keep with it, Shabbat can open up new dimensions like any substance,” Langer told me.

“Shabbat shows you how people relate through a structure. It’s a trip in time. We leave the modern world and unplug from everything and when you light your candles you plug into an ancient form.”

Langer altered my perspective on Shabbat. Not only did I learn more about spirituality and time, but I gained a mentor and friend.

Jessy Cohen

Jessy Cohen is a firecracker. She serves as media director for ITravelJerusalem and as my friend’s boss. The two of us met at Design Week in Jerusalem but clicked on the 40-minute train ride back to Tel Aviv.

Around 10pm, I was unsure if I would have time to change out of my work clothes and drop off the pamphlet from Design Week at home before meeting friends. Jessy looked at me as if there was a simple solution to this even simpler problem.

Jessy began tearing out the Hebrew and Arabic pages of the pamphlet. “You can’t read these anyway, so trust me!” she said. After decreasing the pamphlet’s size, Jessy folded it up tightly and tucked it inside my purse.

Then, she moved on to my clothes. Jessy took in the dressier blouse I was wearing and metamorphosed my outfit.

“I do this all the time,” she said with a nonchalant smile. “You have to keep moving and be ready for everything.” She tied the ends of my shirt into a knot and sat back in her seat.

She inspired what my friends and I call the “Jessy Say Yes to Everything Attitude.” Her openness and willingness to invite us to events continues to inspire how I take on adventure and spontaneous experiences in Israel this summer.

 

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Natalie Feldesman and Itzik Mor

Natalie Feldesman and Itzik Mor’s projection at Tel Aviv’s White Night. Photo by Samantha Baron

Videographer Natalie Feldesman and photographer Itzik Mor watched their hallucinatory projection on a hill outside of Eretz Israel Museum, along with hundreds of viewers who came out to see this piece made for Tel Aviv’s recent White Night.

“We wanted to create a hallucination of different caves and moons and create a performance. It tells a story but it’s also always liquifying itself and being reborn,” they explained.

When I asked about the work’s title, the two laughed. “Wow, we don’t have a title. We were busy thinking about the projection itself. This isn’t something we will show again and again; it was created for this amphitheater.”

Using Mor’s background in archeology, the two looked at the museum’s history for inspiration.

“The first dig of this museum found an altar for the sea god of ancient cultures that lived in these terrains. We took it as a reference. I deal a lot with archeological findings so the whole idea was to create an alternative space for people to lay down and chill,” said Mor.

Feldesman added that they are a couple in real life, and this projection was their first collaborative piece.

Natalie and Itzik’s project displayed at Tel Aviv’s White Night, June 2022. Photo by Samantha Baron

The seven people I have written about represent only a microcosm of the sea of unique and diverse individuals I met in Tel Aviv. I hope they inspire everyone who reads this to venture out and meet new people.

From what I’ve learned, the worst that can happen is someone doesn’t care to engage with you. But more often than not, you may learn something new about yourself, a plant, a piece of art, a projection at a museum, or wherever the world and its inhabitants may take you.