‘Every day, we visit a park,” says Irina Peres, smiling, “and we tell each other how beautiful everything is here in Israel – nature, all the green parks, and flowers everywhere.
“It is a completely different landscape from Moscow. There, it is gray with snow for half of the year.”
Peres is one of 36 artists whose postcards of Israel will be displayed at “Yoffi shel Israel” (the beauty of Israel) – an exhibit showcasing the works of 36 Soviet-born Israeli artists at the Jerusalem House of Quality (Skizza Gallery) in Jerusalem
The exhibition, which will be open to the public from October 20 through November 15, is supported by Russian-Israeli businessman Roman Abramovich and is a joint venture of Yoffi and The Jerusalem Post.
In 2015, shortly after he made aliyah, Russian-born entrepreneur Arkady Mayofis founded Yoffi, which produces and markets Israeli gastronomic souvenirs. Yoffi sells these items in Israel and also promotes them as exquisite gifts from the Holy Land.
Yoffi expanded its product line and began to produce colorfully painted postcards of Israel. The company commissioned 36 artists who had made aliyah from the former Soviet Union to create postcards that combine ancient and modern scenes of the Land of Israel, including drawings of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Now, Yoffi is sharing the artwork with the public through an exhibition, which reflects the artists’ perspectives on Israel and includes depictions of local personalities, historical monuments and breathtaking landscapes, alongside the wonders of hi-tech progress.
Peres, who has been drawing since age three – “I remember every picture that I have ever drawn” – was born in 1970 in Moscow. She graduated from the Art and Graphic Department at Moscow State Pedagogical University in 1995. Later, she studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. She worked as an art director at Leo Burnett, G2 Grey, and Immedia and made aliyah in 2017.
Today, she lives in Rishon Lezion with her 13-year-old son, Valentin Stefashin, and works as a teacher, artist and art director.
Peres recalls that shortly after she made aliyah, she searched for small, beautiful items to send to her relatives living outside Israel. She decided to create her own gifts and began to design postcards depicting the beauty of the Holy Land.
“When Arkady asked me to join his postcard project,” she says, “I was very happy because that is exactly what I had started to do two years before.”
In her postcards, Peres depicts the beauty and color of Israel. “For me, the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem – the ancient stones combined with the green trees and flowers – are so beautiful. I try to show the beauty to people outside Israel because not everyone can come here. With postcards, it is possible to see how beautiful it is here.”
Irina’s son Valentin is also quite talented, and his images are also featured in the exhibition. A student at the Shimon Peres High Tech and Arts High School in Tel Aviv, Valentin’s interests include chemistry and physics and drawing and painting with student groups.
Before making aliyah, Valentin, who is autistic, studied at the World of Intellect Jewish School in Moscow. Irina decided that as a child with special needs, he would be better served by the Israeli educational system. Valentin’s first year in Israel was very difficult, but eventually he was able to adapt, and today is a successful student and a fluent Hebrew-speaker.
Irina works with graphic designers and gives lessons to both children and adults. She is delighted with her Israel postcard work and says, “Our pictures give other people our feelings of happiness and beauty.”
ST. PETERSBURG-BORN Ekaterina Khazina is another one of the Soviet-born artists whose work will be shown at the “Yoffi shel Israel” exhibit.
Khazina, who studied art in St. Petersburg, and who is a member of the International Association of Art Critics, made aliyah in 2014.
She lives in Ra’anana, and, together with fellow artist Elena Denisenko, is the founder and head of the White Whale Art Studio, an art studio for children, adults and children with special needs.
“When I see their smiles,” says Khazina, “when they understand what they can do, that they can make something nice and beautiful, it helps their emotions, and it is very nice.” Khazina and Denisenko work with a wide variety of techniques, including acrylics, watercolor and clay modeling. They do more than teach drawing – they interact with the Russian-born students, many of whom come from the immigrant absorption center in Ra’anana, making them feel at home.
As in the case of her fellow artist Irina Peres, Khazina’s pictures show the broad palette of nature’s colors that she finds in Israel.
Smiling, she says, “I was born in St. Petersburg. I love it, but it is very gray.”
Khazina, who enjoys living in Israel, says that she wants to show outsiders a different, more positive view of her adopted homeland through her drawings. “Many people don’t know what to think about Israel. I want to show them that life in Israel is not only what they see on the news, but it is also a simple and happy life where we can feel free, with strong colors. We have friendly people around us, and we have a lot of children who can feel free. It is about a happy life.”
Her postcards, which include a boy standing near a boat in Jaffa, and another with a boy riding a bicycle through the picturesque alleys of Safed, communicate her message of joy.
“I hope that people will feel happiness when they look at my pictures,” says Khazina. “It is life, it is color – and it is happiness.”
ANNA BERINSKII was born in St. Petersburg and made aliyah in 2015 with her husband. Today, she lives in Tel Aviv, where she works as a graphic designer for mobile applications.
Berinskii graduated from the Monumental Painting Department of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. While a student, she selected the topic of the Exodus for her final graduation project.
“I have long been interested in Israel and Jewish history,” says Berinskii, “which is why I chose such a subject for my painting. That year, I worked on sketches for a painting and went to Israel for a month to collect more material, experience Israel, and make my painting more authentic. This trip made me realize that I wanted to live in Israel.”
Berinskii created a massive canvas illustrating the Exodus. One of the sketches that she made in her creative process, titled “Dry Riverbed,” is one of the postcards that will be shown at the exhibition.
As Berinskii says, “the term ‘Exodus’ refers to the biblical story, but the work on it became symbolic for me, because at the same time I made my exodus from Russia to Israel.
“The fact that this picture will be on postcards that people will receive as souvenirs is, in a sense, closing a circle for me.”
Berinskii says that she and her husband decided to make aliya when she was working on her large canvas depicting the Exodus. “During that time, ‘my head’ was in Israel, and I was thinking about history.”
Berinskii loves her life in Israel and says that since the birth of their Sabra daughter almost four years ago, she feels like a true Israeli. “I understand that my homeland is Israel.”
What of the postcards? “It is a great project,” she says. “People from other countries can see and collect a kaleidoscope of different works to try to see Israel through the eyes of different artists. It is an amazing idea.”
“Yoffi shel Israel” will be open to the public at the Jerusalem House of Quality (Skizza Gallery), 12 Hebron Road, in Jerusalem from October 20 through November 15.
This article was written in cooperation with Yoffi.