'Faces of Israel' campaign aims tohighlight nation's different colors

Banners designed to show Manhattanites our variegated, multi-ethnic, immigrant society.

Pictures of 83 white, black and yellow Israelis will blow in the Manhattan wind in May, trying to knock the army helmet off an often one-dimensional perception of the Israeli, and instead present the country's people as a Benetton-style rainbow. David Saranga, the consul for media and public affairs at the consulate in New York, said the campaign of huge banners featuring Israeli faces fluttering from light posts on Fifth Avenue was aimed at showing Americans that Israelis were just like them - a variegated, multi-ethnic, immigrant society. The campaign is part of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations in the city. On view along 50 city blocks (from 46th to 96th street) will be close-up photos of Israeli faces that passersby can gaze upon, identify with, and, perhaps, say, "Hey, that looks like me." There will be black Israelis, like Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball star Derrick Sharp; Asian Israelis, such as Dao Rochvarger-Wong, who came to Israel as a Vietnamese refugee in the late 1970s; and blonde Israelis, like former beauty queen Mirit Greenberg. There will be even be a banner featuring hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari. "The idea," Sarang said, "is to show the fusion of Israeli society, that it is a multi-cultural society that has different faces, and that what unites us is that we are all Israelis. We want the local population to look at those pictures and say, 'They look like my neighbors.'" One face that won't be flying in the wind, however, is a haredi one - not, of course, because New Yorkers don't have haredi neighbors, but because of, the organizers said, of technical difficulties. The consul-general in New York, Assi Shariv, said the purpose of the campaign was to present "Israelis as they are, without the filter of the media or stereotypes." Shariv said millions of New Yorkers walking down Fifth Avenue in May would be exposed to the multi-dimensional nature of Israeli society, which he compared to New York in that it brings together immigrants from all over the world. Some of the faces are well known in Israel, while others are - simply - pretty faces. The campaign is accompanied by a Web site (www.60israelis.com) where the stories of some of the faces will be posted, and where Israelis of all stripes are invited to send in their photos and life stories. The banners will line the same avenue down which the Salute to Israel Parade will march on June 1. The campaign is jointly sponsored by the consulate and the Salute to Israel Parade, which is organized by a non-profit organization called the Israel Tribute Committee. Saranga said the overall cost of the campaign to Israel was minimal.