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A new exhibit presents works by Jewish immigrants from Germany who shaped Israel’s advertising industry and consumer culture from the 1930s onwards.

By Rachel Neiman

The term “yekke” (or “Jecke,” if you want to be a yekke about it), according to, “refers to Jews originating from Germany. Sometimes used in a derogatory or cynical manner, it refers mainly to their attention to detail…The origins of this title are unclear, ranging from referring to their short jackets… to a conjugation of the Hebrew dayek – to be precise.”

Between 1931 and 1939, 100,000 new immigrants came to pre-state Israel, most of them German Jews fleeing the rise of Nazism. Unlike the previous four waves of aliyah, the members of this Fifth Aliyah were not for the Socialist lifestyle. They lived in proper private residences in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, spoke in German, published German-language newspapers, and held German cultural and social activities.

They also brought an entrepreneurial work ethic. German-Jewish immigrants founded Nahariya, home to some of the leading families in the Israeli business sphere: Strauss, Soglowek and Wertheimer.

Fittingly, it was visionary industrialist Stef Wertheimer who inaugurated a new exhibition, “And Now the Commercial Ads,” opened recently at the Jeckes Museum, part of the Tefen Open Museum in northern Israel. The exhibit presents works by German-Jewish immigrants who contributed to the development of the advertising industry in Israel and the shaping of Israeli consumer culture from the 1930s onwards.

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The graphic artists who arrived in Israel preserved the principles of a connection between content and form and the modernist approaches taught at the Bauhaus and other schools in Central Europe. Another important contribution of the Fifth Aliyah was in the field of typography and new designs for Hebrew letters that are still in use.

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The exhibition features posters by prominent graphic artists including brothers Gabriel and Maxim Shamir, Franz Kraus and Otte Wallish. These artists also worked extensively with the Zionist movement and, later on, with the government; Wallish was responsible for the calligraphy and design of the scroll for Israel’s Declaration of Independence and also designed Israel’s first postage stamps, the Shamir brothers designed the State of Israel coat of arms, and Kraus created the now-famous “Visit Palestine” poster of 1936.

However, the exhibition emphasizes their work in advertising consumer goods made by companies like Assis, ATA, Dubek, Elite, Osem, Prigat, Shemen, Strauss, Tnuva, Tempo and more.

Curator and Museum Director Ruti Ofekwrites, “The exhibition presents the joint work of advertisers and graphic artists. The advertisers were gifted with the ability to give verbal expression to advertising concepts… graphic artists knew how to give those ideas visual expression. The works display the color and brightness of Israel coupled with the magic of launching advertising activity in Israel, in the early stages of the country’s development, and the establishment of consumer habits.”

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Ofek also notes that, due to the new immigrants, the field of advertising became more professional in Israel in the 1930s. This goes hand-in-hand with the Jeckes Museum’s stated mission “to tell the story of German-speaking Jewry in central Europe up until World War II, and their influence on the western character of the State of Israel.”

“This aliyah — which could also be called ‘the advertisers’ aliyah’ — changed the face of advertising in [Mandatory] Palestine in the 1930s,” write researchers Yehiel Limor and Osnat Roth-Cohen in a paper entitled “The Fifth Aliyah and Its Impact on the Development of the Advertising Industry”.

In the early 1930s, there were 15 advertising agencies operating in Tel Aviv, and by the end of the 1930s their number had risen to 25. The Germans also established the Palestine Publication Association, the Association of Hebrew Painters of Applied Graphics in Eretz Israel, and the Committee for the Publication of Eretz Israel.

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According to Limor and Cohen, Israeli consumer culture had its roots in the Rhineland. “The immigrants from Germany also brought with them norms of culture, consumption and daily life, centered on the ‘self’ and hedonism — values contrary to the collectivist outlooks that prevailed in the Land of Israel in those years — and these norms also found their way to the contents of advertisements.”

They also introduced the strategy of segmentation according to target markets, with some ads appearing only in German and others in Hebrew and German versions.

After 1948, advertising“served not only as a sales tool, but also as a means of imparting language to new immigrants. Alongside the text were bold images, or clear, easily understandable metaphors,” write Limor and Cohen.

“And Now the Commercial Ads”was produced with assistance from the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin (AICEO) andwill run for a year. The exhibition is open to the public free-of-charge.

For more information, click here.

German-Israeli Advertising from the 1930s Onwards

Design Museum Holon (Ron Arad, architect)

A colorful riff on Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The Design Museum Holon is a small institution housed in what might be described as a colorful riff on Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Designed by artist-architect Ron Arad, the museum’s exterior resembles swirling lines of ribbon in shades gradating from orange to deep rusty purple. The museum opened its doors in 2010; since then the themes of its shows have been wide ranging, including: the nexus of technology and fashion, Japanese master couturier Yohji Yamamoto, designer/illustrator Bruno Munari, 3-D printing, Bedouin women’s folk art, bicycle design, and an examination of the role of shade in urban settings (of particular interest in a country as sunny as Israel). The Design Museum is transforming the city of Holon into a cultural destination.

Design Museum Holon >

Design Museum Holon

Cover of Grandmother Days: A Taste of Bedouin Life, produced in Lakia.

In the Bedouin town of Lakia, in the upper Negev, is an extraordinarily forward-thinking enterprise that was conceived, initiated, and is today run by Bedouin women. The Desert Embroidery project, under the auspices of Lakia’s Association for the Improvement of Women’s Status, brings together unique time-honored skills and a much-needed source of income for the Bedouin community. Their products—vividly colored embroidered clothing, bags, and other goods—are irresistibly beautiful.

These skills were not being learned by the younger girls. If we didn’t do something to preserve the skills, they would be lost.
— Hessin Elsana

The project began with fifteen women and has trained over 160 to date, expanding into neighboring Bedouin communities. The operations are simple but groundbreaking for this community: a core of women is responsible for design and development, obtaining embroidery materials, worker training, and marketing; and another group looks out for quality control of the finished goods. As of this writing, some sixty women in and around Lakia are working from their homes doing hand embroidery. They visit the center twice a week to collect materials, drop off finished items, learn new designs, and attend workshops and lectures. Each woman chooses how much she can work and is paid according to the amount she produces.

Hessin Elsana, one of the Desert Embroidery project’s founders, acknowledges it is difficult for outsiders to imagine the isolation that is possible in such a culture. In the Bedouin culture, she says, “the woman is the center of the household. She’s supposed to help with the education and raising of the children.” But among traditional Bedouins, embroidery is a respected and accepted activity for women, even in the most conservative of households. Furthermore, as Lakia grew, new infrastructures and amenities, such as running water, were changing the pace of the day: if women didn’t have to spend time fetching water from a distant well, how else might that time be productively spent? And now there were new costs such as mortgages to be paid. “The women wanted to do something to contribute that they felt comfortable with, an activity that was suitable for them, that they already knew something about, and that they could do something with,” explains Hessin. “Also, these skills were not being learned by the younger girls. If we didn’t do something to preserve the skills, they would be lost.”

Desert Embroidery > 


The Lakia Desert Embroidery Project, Run by Enterprising Bedouin Women

Helena Blaunstein of Frau Blau helps a fashionable client. Photo by and © Vision Studio

Like other vibrant cities, Tel Aviv is in a constant state of change, but as of this writing, perhaps the single coolest fashion district is Gan HaChashmal (the “Electric Garden,” so named because it was the first neighborhood in Israel to have its own power plant, back in the 1920s). In the early 2000s, intriguing independent design studios began to dot streets primarily devoted to hardware stores and dusty warehouses: Kisim, Idit Barak’s Delicatessen, Frau Blau, and more. Together they formed a consortium that came to be called Collective Gan Hahashmal: while retaining their independence, they support one another in marketing and business survival—a very Israeli model of cooperation.

Creative, interesting people live and work here.
— Maya Bash

Today some of the shops have changed location, and the Gan HaHashmal scene is still transforming, with new bars and restaurants and dance clubs taking up more of the once-languishing real estate. Designer Maya Bash was one of the neighborhood’s pioneers—and her shop on Barzilay Street is still going strong. “You now have a cool customized-bicycle place, coffee bars, great hamburgers, great music,” says Bash. “Creative, interesting people live and work here." 

Frau Blau Facebook >

Frau Blau Instagram >

Kisim >

Maya Bash >

Frau Brau Instagram

Tel Aviv’s Gan HaChashmal: From Warehouses to Fashion Houses

Designs by threeASFOUR on Instagram    

Designs by threeASFOUR on Instagram


One reason fashion is interesting in Israel is the vibrancy and variety of styles. The Israeli Fashion Week showcases work by well-established Israeli couturiers such as Karen Oberson and Dorin Frankfurt, and emerging names such as Liora Taragan and the sister duo Einav Zini and Nophar Machluf, Yoav Rish, Maoz Dahan, Natalie Dadon, and Nastya Lisansky. Although the 2012 Fashion Week was interrupted by rockets launched over Tel Aviv (an incursion known as Operation Pillar of Defense), the Israelis continued undaunted with the event in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Amir Hayek, director general of the National Manufacturers Association of Israel, says, “We see local designers as a means to breathe new life into the design industry in Israel,” he says.

We see local designers as a means to breathe new life into the design industry in Israel.
— Amir Hayek

Can fashion serve a social function? At the 2015 Fashion Week, Israeli designer Yaron Minkowsi draped models in keffiyehs (traditional Arab headdress) that were fashioned into evening gowns and daywear. He was just one of dozens of couturiers featured at the four-day event, including a selection of emerging designers and a show of work by students from Shenkar College of Engineering, Design, and Art.

From renowned names like Ronen Chen and Elie Tahari to, the avant-garde design collective threeASFOUR —if you are interested in clothes, whether classic elegance or offbeat experimentalism, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Israel.

threeASFOUR >

threeASFOUR Instagram >

Dorin Frankfurt >

Yaron Minkowski >

Elie Tahari >

Einav Zini and Nophar Machluf >

Karen Oberson >

Ronen Chen >

Shenkar College of Engineering, Design, and Art >

Designs by threeASFOUR on Instagram




Israeli Fashion Week: A Showcase for Elegance and Experimentation

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design Graduate Exhibition poster

There are countless institutions fostering design, innovation, and the entrepreneurial spirit in Israel. Vital–The Tel Aviv Center for Design Studies, in the city’s Florentine neighborhood, focuses on graphics, illustration, and product design. The NB Haifa School of Design and the Holon Institute of Technology both have robust design programs. The august Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem (Israel’s oldest arts school) offers, along with its courses in fine arts, photography, and film, degrees in architecture, industrial design, ceramics, and jewelry design as well as graduate-level programs in urban design.

Design plays a central role in defining local culture and contributes to the nation’s economic development

David Grossman (no relation to the author of the same name) heads the Israel Community of Designers (ICD), a consortium founded in 2004 and representing a spectrum of design professionals around the country. Grossman is primarily a graphic designer: his work often addresses the challenge of constructing a fresh and edgy look with an ancient alphabet. As the only country whose official language is Hebrew, Israel also offers an ideal laboratory for certain aspects of graphic design. The use of spoken and written Hebrew is more or less contained within the borders of the nation, so it is easy to measure audience response to branding and visual concepts

In Israel, as elsewhere, design plays a central role in defining local culture and contributes to the nation’s economic development. It is also an important part of what makes life delightful here.

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design >

Holon Institute of Technology >

Israel Community of Designers >

NB Haifa School of Design >

Vital–The Tel Aviv Center for Design Studies
12 Vital Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo

Bezalel College of Arts and Design Graduate Exhibition Posters

Israel: A Test Kitchen for Design

Shenkar College's Instagram feed

Israel is a land of pragmatic innovation. It comes at you from all sides, and a fundamental understanding of design plays an important role in that fact. Yuli Tamir, the president of Israel’s Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, understands this well.

Shenkar challenges young people to think and create, and that is what education is all about.
— Yuli Tamir

Tamir has a regal bearing and somewhat stern features that light up when she is interested, amused, or delighted. A former politician—among several governmental posts, she was Israel’s Minister of Education from 2006 to 2009 and served as a longtime member of the Knesset—she is an outspoken peace activist. Today, Tamir brings her knowledge of education to bear in a new way at Shenkar. As she said in a speech early on in her post as head of the school:

In many ways, Shenkar is what Israel should be about: a center of culture and creativity that relies on cutting-edge technological know-how in order to produce and reproduce a new way of life: whether in fashion, art, textile, chemistry, technology, or design, Shenkar challenges young people to think and create, and that is what education is all about.

Founded in 1970, Shenkar’s main campus is located in two buildings in Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv. Hallways buzz with the mechanical sounds of 3-D knitting machines and printing presses; in classrooms students give presentations to one another and bear up to critiques. Vitrines showcase recent experimental designs by student.  Everything at Shenkar is about new ideas, moving things forward. As Tamir says:

You think, “Okay, innovation in Israel, that’s the Weizmann Institute, the Technion”—and those places certainly do have a high level of innovation. But when you look at where unusual industry starts, it’s usually here rather than there. . . . We are hands-on. [Here at Shenkar], we are strengthening the entrepreneurial spirit among students, to give them a platform to develop and initiate their own ideas.

Shenkar College of Engineering, Design, and Art > 

Shenkar College Instagram >

Shenkar College: Training Tomorrow’s Creatives

Ayala Serfaty’s Entudia. Courtesy of Maison Gerard, Robert Levin 

The border between fine arts and applied arts is not always distinct. Designer/artist Ayala Serfaty’s work lives on that frontier. She has long been known for her organically inspired shapes in light known as Soma, works that have been exhibited at museums and galleries from Tel Aviv to New York to Milan. These delicate pieces, made of glass and silk, recall the strange wonders of undersea life—graceful jellyfish, proliferating corals—all lit from within, ethereal, seeming almost to breathe. Serfaty’s light works have become so popular that they are now produced in a steady stream, with her oversight, by a team of fabricators at her Tel Aviv workshop, and sold in high-end design stores around the world.

I really like the parameters of design.
— Ayala Serfaty

One body of work (and body is the operative word) called Rapa is driven by the same organic impetus but yields a very different outcome: massive pieces of furniture. Instead of gossamer strands of glass, with silk and light, the material here is thick, chunky felt: soft as moss, earthbound, comforting as an animal’s warm hide.

  Serfatystudied art at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem and started out as a fine artist, but moved into design: “I really like the parameters of design. A chair—okay, it can be anything, but it does have to be comfortable to sit on. With a sculpture, there is no such requirement.” After years of producing and selling the Soma work, what led her to shift gears so radically into the felt furniture? The curse of success:  Serfaty found herself directing a fabrication business, instead of making things with her hands. “To run something is different from creating art. I had to figure how to make the split.” And furthermore, she was very ready to try out a new sensibility: “With the Soma work, I can’t let anybody touch it. With the felt pieces—you can put your feet on them, you can do whatever you want. You can jump on them! They are so solid, nothing will happen to them in two hundred years.”

Ayala Serfaty >

Artist Ayala Serfaty’s Organic Forms