Toronto is diverse and Toronto’s Israeli community is no exception.
A local photo exhibit showcased the diversity of Israeli families living in Toronto – and they’re far from alike.
“Israel is a country of immigration just like Toronto and Canada,” said Lee Mes, Israel-Canadian Outreach and Engagement at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, as well as one of the curators for Israeli Faces of Toronto. “What it’s really showing is that when you say Israelis in Toronto, it’s not a single thing and there are many different options.”
Israeli Faces of Toronto is a photo exhibition that focuses on the homes of Israeli families living in Toronto, showcasing the unique lives each of them have while being bound by one common denominator – Israel. The exhibit was put together by Mes, Liraz Rolnitsky, manager of Israeli connections at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, and Liora Kogan, the photographer.
As curators of the project, Rolnitsky and Mes wanted to feature as many different families as possible. They also interviewed the families and produced a written portion underneath each photograph to explain their stories, while Kogan took care of the artistic elements of the exhibit, including the staging and photographing of the families.
“We picked the families based on variety,” said Rolnitsky. “Coming from different countries, different time spent in Canada.”
“We also wanted families in different stages of their lives,” added Mes. “Some were young families, some just arrived, some have been here for a while, and some have kids.”
Rolnitsky and Mes documented each family’s story to give context to the photographs, including how the family members met and their connection to Israel and Toronto.
“I think with the text what we tried to show is that yes they are from Israel but what is the story?” Mes said. “We wanted to show the full human being.”
Some of the families include the Daniels family, where both Miriam and Joshua were born in Mumbai, met in Israel and then moved to Toronto; the Alon Avitzour family, who came to Toronto just one year ago for Tayir’s postdoctoral fellowship program in neurology; and the Iliyaev family, who immigrated to Israel from Uzbekistan and then moved to Toronto to raise their children.
“It seems to me what was amazing about the exhibit is there is an intimacy to these pictures because they’re happening at home with the families,” said Ron Levi, professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs at University of Toronto and Chair of the Emerging Communities committee. “And yet, there’s a global Jewish experience that’s happening at once and I think that’s what makes it really striking.” Levi’s family was also photographed as part of the exhibition.
In addition to the families photographed, everyone who worked behind the scenes of the project also has a connection. For Levi, his parents originally immigrated to Israel from Egypt, later moving to Montreal. Mes immigrated to Toronto 15 years ago and Kogan and her husband both went to Israel from the former Soviet Union before arriving in Toronto, while Rolnitsky arrived to Toronto six years with her family, with the intention of only staying for two years.
“I relate to this exhibit,” said Kogan. “My family also immigrated from Israel and we came here and just like everyone else.”
The exhibition was inspired by a project done by an Israeli photographer and an Israeli journalist who travelled together around Israel photographing and interviewing the diverse families in the country called Family Affair. The collection became so successful it was shared internationally.
Just as Family Affair was successful for their audience, Israeli Faces of Toronto has also made an impact both in the Toronto Jewish community and in Israel.
“This exhibit was three things,” said Levi. “It was a microscope into the Toronto Jewish community, it was a telescope into the communities far and wide with the connection to Israel, and it’s a mirror of the Jewish community at large.”
Rolnitsky said many of the families sent these photos to relatives back home in Israel. “It gives them something to be proud of,” she said.
As part of their professional roles, Mes, Levi and Rolnitsky are continuing to find ways such as this exhibit to engage the larger Jewish and Israeli community. Rolnitsky says when she first started in her position, there was no Israeli community downtown. Since then, she has been able to reach about 80 per cent of the Israelis who live in downtown Toronto. “There is still 20 per cent though, so we’re not done yet.”
The exhibit at the Miles Nadal JCC ends this Friday.