For the first few decades after Israel's founding, the Independence Day poster contest was one of the country's most prestigious graphic design events. With the winning design posted all over Israel, the contest provided the best opportunity for graphic art to be widely seen, especially before the age of television. Victory in the national contest was the highest honor a graphic designer could achieve and was the best way to quickly become a graphic design star. By the 1980s, however, the contest lost its luster. For the past three years, the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan - one of the top art schools in Israel - has revived the tradition. The 58th set of Independence Day posters will be on view starting today at Jaffa's Amiad Center. The poster renaissance began two years ago when the head of Shenkar's graphic design department, David Grossman, invited 56 leading graphic artists to create a poster in honor of the 56th Independence Day. Unlike in the early years of the contest, the 21st century submissions don't provide exclusively rosy Zionist pictures. This year, the designers created posters dealing with the contemporary reality, particularly some of the more dramatic current events. The exhibition is an unflinching, honest celebration of the State of Israel as it is. For example, several designers grapple with issues such as the tenure of Ariel Sharon and the withdrawal from Gaza - albeit with a sense of humor. Elad Seem Chaiov's poster shows a half-eaten cake lying beside the number "58" in a disposable aluminum pan. The leftover cake clearly resembles the shape of the State of Israel, with the Gaza Strip and West Bank already gobbled up. It feels as if the party is ending and the guests are heading for the door. Amos Elenbogen's submission fits more neatly within the traditional canon of Zionist imagery. His poster shows a strong man in a blue T-shirt proudly bearing an Israeli flag over his shoulder. While this Zionist offspring gazes up toward the future without fear, he does not display the na ve idealism typical of early Zionist posters. Rather, he appears sober, aware, pensive. Yet at the same time, the figure seems eager to take the next step, whatever that might be. Overall, the Shenkar exhibition shows how today's graphic designers approach Israel's Independence Day - with tongue-in-cheek sincerity, appreciation for their country's cultural heritage, and the artistic skills to make a strong visual statement about Israel today. April 28 through May 5, 12 Amiad St. (near Shuk Hapishpishim); open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Yom Hazikaron (May 2); (03) 611-0075.