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(photo credit: Courtesy)
For many foreigners, the thought of Israel conjures up images of constant turmoil. But Canadian university students involved with Israeli advocacy on campus are aiming to change that impression with a fashion show designed to highlight Israel's achievements on the runway.
"Fashion for Passion" was conceived last June when Canadian students and university staff began to brainstorm innovative ways to promote Israel on university campuses. A pro-Israel fashion show emerged as an ideal way to improve Israel's image.
"[We wondered how] we were going to reach the greater campus community without talking about politics," relates Ryla Braemar, director of resource services for National Campus Jewish Life, a Toronto-based organization that coordinates with local Hillel campuses. "Who doesn't like fashion?"
Last year's show, "Passion for Fashion: A Unique Fashion Show Featuring Israeli Designers," was a huge success. With four shows across the country, in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, the event attracted audiences ranging from 300-800 people, including boutique owners and a variety of media outlets.
"Fashion for Passion is such a rewarding project because it allows Canadians to connect to something tangible in Israel and simultaneously it conveys an image of Israel that is beyond the conflict," explains Reut Amit, president of the Israel Advocacy Club at the University of British Columbia. "We are trying to convey a beautiful side of Israel, an Israel that is not defined by the conflict," she said to The Jerusalem Post.
Fashion for Passion kicked off in Vancouver at Sonar nightclub on Tuesday, March 14. The show, which will continue on to London, Ontario, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Montreal, Quebec, features up and coming Israeli fashion designers such as Reut Milo, Ronit Sherf, and Zahava Sobel.
With a growing fashion industry in Israel, the event offers both new and established Israeli talent an opportunity to reach the Canadian market.
"I went from store to store, designer to designer asking if they were interested in the project. We were lucky to get a good range of people," says Sarah Wilner, Fashion for Passion's Israel-based recruiter. "We were interested in looking for up and coming designers and giving them a chance to show off their stuff in Canada."
"Fashion is growing a lot in the past couple of years, especially in Tel Aviv. I think it is important the world starts to notice it," notes Mirit Weinstock, who is sending ten outfits from her label, Reine, to present in the shows. "I want to reach the Canadian market as well."
Contributing designer Ilana Bronstein, who spent one year at fashion school in New York, understands the importance of participating in the project. "I know that when I lived in New York, people didn't know what Israel was all about - all they knew is what they saw on CNN and it looked really bad."
Braemar is not surprised with Fashion for Passion's success. Not only is it a unique event that showcases Israeli talent in a completely non-political way, but also it provides an opportunity to engage otherwise uninvolved students in the dynamic project and contribute their own talents to the program.
"It's a way to do Israel advocacy, empower [the students], and allow them to express their artistic abilities," Braemar said. "Whether they are performing, or depending on their expertise, doing art, makeup, hair or publicity."
The students have really embraced the project and made it their own - involving friends and acquaintances from across campus.
"One of the things we are really proud of was that it wasn't just Jewish students who got involved, but everyone. [There was a] bridging between different campus groups," Braemar added.
Marina Voron, a UBC student who has been living in Israel for the past year, is one of those students. Voron, a makeup artist, got involved in last year's pro-Israel fashion show, as head makeup artist and hair stylist.
"I felt it was important to take part in Fashion for Passion because it is an event that highlights modern Israeli culture without a hint of political or religious affiliation. It demonstrates that Israel is a culture rich, fashion forward country should not be defined strictly by its political conflict," Voron said.
"Now that I am in Israel myself, I am really excited to hear that the event will go on, reach more people and give a brand new perspective on Israeli culture with respect to its art and fashion, and give a more sociological rather than political perspective on life in Israel."