Born and raised in London, UK, Yael Aisenthal made Aliyah at the age of 18 to study photography and graphic design. Yael has recently developed the idea of providing graffiti tours in the TLV neighborhood of Florentin. The tours combine all of her passions in one career path: photography, art, travel, design. I spoke to Yael to find out how she found her way to graffiti tours.
Why did you make Aliyah?
I made Aliyah 22 years ago, at the age of 18, from London UK. I was raised in a Zionist home, was active in Bnei Akiva, and would spend the Jewish holidays in Israel. I always felt more comfortable in Israel than England, which never felt like home to me. At the age of 18, it felt like a natural decision to make Aliyah.
Where did you study in Israel?
I studied graphic design in Michlelet Emunah, an art school for religious girls. I knew from early on that I wanted to carve for myself a unique career path where I could apply my creativity and artistic strengths – but I had no clear vision of what such a career looked like. After I completed my BA in Michlelet Emunah, I moved around a lot – both physically and professionally.
How did your career evolve over the years?
Straight after college, I moved to Manhattan and worked in a temporary tattoo company where I designed body art, and then as a graphic designer for The New York Sun. When I returned to Israel, I worked for The Jerusalem Post, following which I was a designer in HP Indigo in the Marcom department. At HP Indigo, I expanded my skillset beyond design and learned marketing. I later met my husband Aviram, and we had four kids (two of them twins) in quick succession.
After the twins were born, we moved to India for three years for my husband’s work. I wasn’t able to get a work permit for myself, but it was in India, one of the most colorful and beautiful countries on earth, that my passion for photography was ignited. The country is a kids’ playground for aspiring photographers. I wanted to be behind the camera all the time, capturing each sight and each moment.
What was it like for you returning to Israel after three years in India?
I loved my three years in India – they were amazing and rich – but I knew that Israel was the best possible country to raise my children. In India, it was like stepping back in time to the 1950s: children were to be seen and not heard. Life outside of work was geared toward adults’ enjoyment. In parks, it was actually against the law for kids to throw a ball so as not to ruin the adults’ enjoyment of the park. Kids in India didn’t have the freedom to run around. In Israel the mindset couldn’t be more different – children enjoy a great deal of freedom and are the focus of their parents’ lives.
After the freedom I experienced in India, and having not worked for three years, I could not imagine returning to the grind of an office job or having a boss. I struggled for two years unsure of how to create a career for myself in Israel. I went on so many interviews for dull and soul-destroying jobs, but I couldn’t picture myself sitting in an office. I wanted my own business which would give me the freedom to express my creativity while giving me the flexibility to raise my four young children.
How were you inspired to begin your graffiti tours?
I participated in a graffiti tour and suddenly it clicked. This is what I wanted to be doing. But my vision was to create a graffiti tour in Florentin, Tel Aviv that would be family-friendly and interactive. I created quizzes and games intended to expand and open children’s minds, away from the lure of screens and technology, while parents and adults would listen to the stories behind the pieces of art and learn about Israeli historical figures.
Graffiti tours provided an outlet for all the talents and skills I had developed over the years to be expressed through one medium. While I was working in the tattoo company, I learned how to airbrush spray designs. While in HP Indigo, I learned marketing that helped propel my business. Raising my kids gave me insight into what makes children tick and what most engages their minds. The photography that I learned as part of my degree, and pursued in India, gave me the expertise to provide professional pictures of the families at the end of my tours. I couldn’t have created the interactive part of my tour without my graphic design degree. The travel bug I carry around with me constantly is fed by my encounters with tourists from all over the world who attend my tours.
Which age group is most suited to your graffiti tours?
My graffiti tours are suitable for ages 6-90. Honestly the tours can be customized for, and appreciated by, each age group. My 85-year-old stepfather loved it. That is what is so amazing about them. Everyone can enjoy the tour on their level. While the kids are doing the puzzles and charts, and drawing on chalkboards, the adults are educated about everything they are seeing. One graffiti tour which is ideal for teens includes huge stickers – paste-ups of paintings from the Renaissance period – which have social media elements attached to them. For example, Facebook icons that say no friends, no messages, on top of a picture of one kid crying while others are laughing.
What has been one of the most eye-opening experiences for you on your tours?
A Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) family from Beit-El reached out to me and requested a graffiti tour. They had very specific needs based on modesty requirements and any content that would be potentially inappropriate. I made it clear that I could not control what they would see on the walls. I was very nervous, concerned the tour would be an uncomfortable experience for the family. This was going to be the family’s first time in Tel Aviv, and they were with family from abroad.
The experience could not have been more positive. The husband absolutely loved the tour and the wife told me that the kids were so inspired that they decorated their Sukkah with graffiti.
In addition to graffiti tours, you now offer birthday parties in the Modiin area where children get to paint a bus. How is that going? How do people hear about your graffiti tours and bus parties?
The bus painting really great. It’s a fresh and fun way to celebrate your birthday – a departure from the typical birthday parties with clowns and party entertainers. A lot of work goes into preparing these parties. You have to think out of the box and realize what goes into it.
LoveLoveIsrael on Facebook has been an amazing way for me to get the word out. People who participated and enjoyed the tours recommended me on the group. I would love to expand the market to provide tours for Israelis as well as Anglos. In prime season, during the holidays and summer, I do multiple tours a day. I have a lot of bookings for December-January.
What’s next on the horizon?
I plan on offering an interactive tour of Nachalat Binyamin, Tel Aviv. I am also excited to be creating a graffiti experience in the lowest art gallery in the world in the Dead Sea, Gallery -430. The gallery was created by a group of volunteer street artists to highlight the plight of the Dead Sea. I will be providing an art workshop inside a hut, featuring discussions about solidarity between Arabs and Jewish with the new font “Aravrit,” stencil art using salt, stories behind the artists and murals, and interactive graffiti games based on the pieces. This is an incredible photo opportunity.
As an Olah, what has been the best aspect of creating your business in Israel?
My professional experience has been enriched by so many “only-in-Israel” moments. During the middle of one tour, an old man on a mobility scooter stopped and offered me a ride because I was tired, this being my third tour of the day. Another time, I met a world champion boomerang thrower. The experience took on a life of its own as the boomerang thrower stopped us mid-tour to share his experiences with all of us. I recently came across the Festigal crew while they were filming their latest show in Florentin. Living in Israel means you meet the most interesting characters during the course of your work. Everyone is there to have fun – and you are meeting them at their happiest.