Two famous Israeli Instagrammers and two VIP South African Instagrammers have swapped places for a week, exploring each other’s countries for the first time.
The move is the initiative of the Israeli Embassy and the South African Friends of Israel, who have embarked on a joint project with the aim of exploring South Africa and Israel’s diversities and similarities.
Both groups have taken to using the social media platform to document the experience through photographs and hashtags.
The project, hashtagged #YallaYebo, has been an exciting endeavor for both the Israeli and South African teams.
For the South Africans – Student Academy Awards nominee and director Miklas Manneke and famous photographer Alexi Portokallis, who has more than 88,000 followers on Instagram – a visit to Israel was something both wanted to do for years.
“SAFI and the Israeli Embassy contacted me three weeks ago, [and said we] want you to go document Israel through your eyes,” Portokallis told The Jerusalem Post
“We’re here to take photos and show South Africa what an incredible and diverse place Israel is, because Israel has certain perceptions and we want to come and break those perceptions. Kind of what we do for Johannesburg – it’s seen as dangerous and hell on Earth and it’s really not. We’re here to document and show the world the people of Israel,” he said.
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Portokallis grew up in a Jewish area in Johannesburg and was always fascinated with Jews and Jewish culture. “I’m also Cypriot, so you’re my neighbors,” he said with a chuckle.
“There’s so much here and it’s a lot like Cyprus – I wanted to come and experience my ‘cousins house' here in Israel – it’s amazing,” Portokallis added.
Manneke also said he always wanted to come to Israel, because he loves exploring new cultures and new people.
“I’ve managed travel around the world with my film and nothing has stood out as much as Israel... you’ll go to Istanbul and you’ll see a very Muslim community or go to Greece and see a Greek-Orthodox community. But you come to Israel and you have everything – it’s like a melting point for all these places,” he said.
“You’re at a place like the Wailing Wall and you’ll see so many people there from so many different religions and then you have the Dome of the Rock, which is important to Muslims, right next door. There are so many pre-conceived ideas about Israel – so many people will ask me ‘Aren’t you scared it’s going to be dangerous?’ But you don’t get a sense of that at all,” Manneke added.
For both, one of the biggest highlights of the trip so far has been the warmth and openness of Israelis.
“There’s a spirit of Ubuntu [the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity] here. It’s been a really beautiful and accepting place,” both said.
“The people have been amazing. On the way to Shabbat dinner, some guy stopped us and asked ‘Are you lost?’ And we told him we knew where we were going and he asked us if we wanted to come to his house for Shabbat dinner,” Portokallis recalled.
“That moment showed just how amazing the Israeli people are, to welcome everyone and anyone into their homes,” he added.
The diversity and uniqueness of the four quarters Jerusalem’s Old City also stood out for the photographers.
“The way you’ve always imagined biblical places – like when we went to see where Jesus was nailed to the cross – is absolutely broken in your mind now that you’ve been there, which is really interesting as well,” Manneke added.
Speaking with the Post from South Africa, well-known Israeli photographers and Instagrammers Sasha Rosenson and Ella Uzan said visiting South Africa was a dream come true.
“As a cityscapes and urban photographer, I was amazed by the views in Johannesburg’s Maboneng and Braamfontein areas,” Rosenson said.
“However, as a person, it was the most exciting feeling ever to meet and play with children from Soweto and Inanda – being able to interact with new cultures and people so far from me have been highlights. It is an experience of a lifetime,” he said.
Uzan added that she had never been to Africa before and felt it was “her mission to document and show the world the amazing people of South Africa.”
In a joint statement, South African Friends of Israel and the Israeli Embassy said, “The objective of this campaign is to show how Israel and South Africa are similar in diversity, landscapes and culture through a #PhotoDialogue.
“The Instagrammers will be exploring and immersing themselves in each other’s countries, while artistically capturing all the similarities along the way,” it added.
The teams will return to their respective countries later this week.
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