I am an extrovert to the highest degree. But even the most outgoing people face the daunting task of meeting the locals when they travel.
I arrived this summer in Tel Aviv for the first time as an American and a native English speaker, taking my interpersonal skills to the next level.
The food, the art, the relentless use of scooters – life is different in Israel. Yet of every new experience here, the greatest has been meeting strangers and sharing stories with them.
This article highlights seven strangers I met by chance, a little insight into the amazing people of Tel Aviv.
Came across the beautiful and upscale Miss. D Gallery on a personal adventure around Tel Aviv. While I was admiring the gallery’s incredible range of pop art, artist Mush Lazar walked in with his new work.
A colorful tribute to David Bowie, “Ziggy Stardust” now hangs behind the gallery’s reception. The multimedia piece began as a sketch on Lazar’s iPad. He posted the drawing process on an Instagram account where his followers can view the process.
After the sketch, Lazar cut out the 3D parts of the design. He then used oil and pencil on the work to create colorful squiggles and smiley faces. He also added some of his favorite Bowie quotes and sayings. Lazar told me he wanted to incorporate elements into “Ziggy Stardust” that “went out of frame,” so there are twinkling flashes surrounding Bowie and extending beyond the frame.
Lazar shares his adoration for Bowie with his father, who owns a hardware store 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 (surname unknown)
I met Olga in her common garden, where my summer program helped with weeding and cleaning. Olga and her husband, Yehoshua, devote their time and energy to creating a beautiful garden for their community. Many young families have especially enjoyed the garden during the pandemic.
My friends Jordyn and Julia and I decided to garden alongside Olga, who exudes a natural and immediate kindness. Although I have no gardening experience, Olga was willing to teach us what to do.
The allotted service time came and went, but we stayed with Olga. She took us for a walk in her garden, showing us how to grow fruits and vegetables. We tasted bright red tomatoes, brought home cucumbers, and discovered grapes, lemon trees, and even passion fruit.
Olga listened to our questions and provided meaningful lessons on food. Did you know that some green beans are naturally purple but turn green when cooked?
During the hour-long bus ride home, each of us held different herbs that Olga had picked for us. Although we came out like sore thumbs – covered in mud and holding large bunches of fresh herbs – the three of us sat on the bus with smiles on our faces after meeting a wonderful new friend.
The Carmel Shuk in Tel Aviv is a bustling environment, but mixologist Sagiv Lugasy and his juice stand may take home the award as the most colorful and upbeat venue. The Lugasy building houses not only his juice kiosk but also his apartment!
Lugasy can be found basking in the sun with her eyes closed and a sweet smile on her face. I couldn’t help but chat with him as he danced around the ornate cocktail stand called Fruits & Co.
Its playful energy mirrors the upbeat vibe of its drinks stand. “Blushing Arak”, one of Lugasy’s unique creations, is described as “sweet and fruity” with arrack, lychee, almonds, sumac and berries.
He told me his favorite drink is his “Thailand”, a sour and spicy blend of gin, fresh ginger, lemongrass and elderflower. Check it out to see if you would drink it too!
“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 followers on Instagram and a website that sells her work across the globe.
Barzilay has collaborated with Vogue Portugal, Harper’s Bazaar, Cartier, Zara and Elle Norway. Expressionist, minimalist and anti-conformist, Barzilay also uses technology and virtual reality in many of his multimedia creations.
“Koketit” comes from the French word coquette, which means flirty. As a fashion illustrator and blogger for about a decade, Barzilay used Koketit as an avatar that portrayed a flirtatious, feminine character. Thereafter, 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 emotional state of the figure could mirror nature, and vice versa.
Barzilay’s house is a work of art in itself. From flowerpots to framed designs to sandals, almost everything is stamped with Koketit’s signature face designs.
I watched Barzilay put on his VR headset, turn on his TV, and draw, bringing a two-dimensional drawing into the three-dimensional realm. With the headset, Barzilay can virtually browse her art or draw around her.
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 designs on an app called Sketch Fab. she then sells them as 3D models or prints them as sculptures.
Barzilay allowed me to experiment drawing with virtual reality. His open-mindedness provided me with an incomparable life experience – existing in a three-dimensional art world.
“Reading the Torah will broaden your mind more than any trip you can have on drugs.”
This sentence occurred to me during my first conversation with Elana Langer, who approached me during a series of conferences near Gordon Beach.
Outgoing and outspoken, she introduced herself and the Torah Beach Meditation evenings, which she hosts. I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of Langer’s spiritual connection to Torah and its depth to her. A week later, we met for coffee.
Langer’s deep connection to energy, spirituality and Torah amazed me. Langer asked questions about my personal life to engage the conversation, and her candor established a reality that secured her role as a confidante.
Langer pointed out that my summer in Israel extends my Israeli grandmother’s departure from Tel Aviv at a similar age. Within minutes, she connected my summer in Israel to a family history refresher.
While the Torah is often associated with Orthodox Jews, for Langer it is an energy that all Jews can access. She views the Sabbath as an escape from reality, rather than just a Jewish holiday in traditional terms.
“If you work with the Torah in its structure and stick to it, Shabbat can open up new dimensions like any substance,” Langer told me.
“Shabbat shows you how people relate through a structure. It’s time travel. We are leaving the modern world and disconnecting from everything and when you light your candles you are connecting to an ancient form.
Langer changed my view of Shabbat. Not only did I learn more about spirituality and time, but I also gained a mentor and a friend.
Jessy Cohen is a firecracker. She is Media Director for ITravelJerusalem and my friend’s patron. We both met at Design Week in Jerusalem, but clicked on the 40-minute train ride to Tel Aviv.
Around 10 p.m., I didn’t know if I would have time to change into my work clothes and drop off the Design Week flyer at home before meeting friends. Jessy looked at me like there was a simple solution to this even simpler problem.
Jessy began tearing out the Hebrew and Arabic pages from the pamphlet. “You can’t read them anyway, so trust me!” ” she says. After downsizing the brochure, Jessy folded it tightly and slipped it into my purse.
Then she moved on to my clothes. Jessy took the dressier blouse I was wearing and gave my outfit a makeover.
“I do this all the time,” she says with a nonchalant smile. “You have to keep moving and be ready for anything.” She tied the ends of my shirt and sat back in her seat.
She inspired what my friends and I call the “Jessy Say Yes to Everything Attitude”. His openness and willingness to invite us to events continues to inspire how I undertake spontaneous adventures and experiences in Israel this summer.
Natalie Feldesman and Itzik Mor
Videographer Natalie Feldesman and photographer Itzik Mor watched their hallucinatory projection on a hill outside the Eretz Israel Museum, along with hundreds of spectators who came 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 liquefying and reborn,” they explained.
When I asked the title of the work, the two laughed. “Wow, we don’t have a title. We were busy thinking about the projection itself. It’s not something we’ll show over and over again; it was created for this amphitheater.
Using Mor’s background in archaeology, the two drew inspiration from the museum’s history.
“The first excavation of this museum found an altar for the sea god of the ancient cultures that lived on these grounds. We took it as a reference. I deal with archaeological finds a lot, so the idea was to create an alternative space for people to lay back and relax,” Mor said.
Feldesman added that they are a couple in real life and that this screening was their first collaborative piece.
The seven people I wrote about represent just a microcosm of the sea of unique and diverse individuals I encountered 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 can learn something new about yourself, a plant, a work of art, a showing in a museum, or wherever the world and its people may take you.