Nancy Cahners
Nancy Cahners
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The story of us. In a pandemic. In posters.

Tel Aviv's artful pre-pandemic posters signified a vibrant, edgy cultural scene. The post-pandemic offerings reveal how deeply things have changed
Poster photos by Nancy Cahners. Collage by Times of Israel.
Poster photos by Nancy Cahners. Collage by Times of Israel.

When I first moved to Tel Aviv, I started pulling posters off of the kiosks and message boards around town. (I know, I know – my mother (z”l) would be horrified.) But the images were bold and irresistible; and I needed to do something about the stark white walls in my new apartment.

I always felt sheepish doing it – it takes a while to pry the staples free from the paper – but, as a former designer of posters myself, I knew my vandalism was the highest compliment I could pay the designer. Or so I told myself– always hoping the event being promoted was sold out by the time I swiped its message.

After a while, I realized that my collection was more than a funky way to cover my walls. I had compiled a kind of cultural record – a window into the way folks spent their time in Tel Aviv.

I’ll attach a few examples below, just to give you an idea. Some are goofy, some are decorative, one I didn’t include is downright pornographic. Together they tell you there was always something to do no matter what your tastes.

Click to view:

But that was before the pandemic. When I returned to Tel Aviv after 10 months stranded in the US, all that was left on the kiosks was a crust of rusty staples and a collage of paper fragments that survived the rains.

(Nancy Cahners)

Of course, this makes sense in a world of lockdowns: no festivals, no concerts…no posters.

Finally, three months after my return, I can report that the posters are slowly returning. But they tell a different story from their predecessors. These speak to the reality of the pandemic.

(Nancy Cahners)

Before Corona, according to its posters, no self-respecting Tel Avivian would spend time at home alone. But this poster offers piano lessons to fill the long stretches of free time during a lockdown – but only to a single player, a nod to social distancing.

(Nancy Cahners)

And this one, with only one glass, gives another clue to the impact of keeping a safe space.

(Nancy Cahners)

Anyone who has spent time with a youngster in an Israeli home (think concrete walls) knows that the noise made by happy, normal kids can blow out adult eardrums and patience in no time. What a great idea to offer a dedicated (and hopefully muffled) space to express all that exuberance.

(Nancy Cahners)

It wasn’t long before I saw a notice offering Math Tutoring pasted on top of the drum poster. I guess their thinking is once the kids have burned off some of their energy at the Drum Space, they might be willing to concentrate on their homeschooling. No harm in trying.

(Nancy Cahners)

And here’s one, offering to buy silver and other domestic treasures, reminding us of the economic pressure of the pandemic. (It was too sad to steal.)

(Nancy Cahners)

And here’s one that reveals the emotional cost of the virus. The image may be tender and calm, but the text tells a different story.

Where has love gone? If you feel that the relationship is suffocating you, that you are constantly giving up and everything becomes a quarrel, welcome to the process of training for relationships.

The chilling last line “If you are in a violent relationship and are unable to break free, call and I will coach for free,” should make us all wince and worry–and feel gratitude to the therapist who is willing to help a stranger.

Obviously, the post-Covid posters tell a much sadder story than their predecessors, but it would be a mistake to think life here has lost its oomph.

These posters point to a future – a new talent, a novel way to co-exist with your child’s exuberance, a strategy to heal a troubled relationship. It takes courage to face struggles directly, and imagination to adapt. These are messages of resilience and pragmatism, not to mention new business opportunities!

I feel I’m watching the city stir back to life. Sure, it will take a while—thanks to the pandemic, we’re building up from a much darker place than where we started. But for me, these choices to mend the present and focus on the future are as contagious as the virus itself.

About the Author
Nancy Cahners was the Design Director of MIT Technology Review, until one day, the entire staff was fired. Poof! Gone. After a stint at Harvard Divinity School and Medical School, she became a Healthcare Chaplain and Medical Ethicist. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, The Jewish Advocate and has been broadcast on NPR’s Morning Stories and Morning Edition and TLV1’s WhyWhyWhy. She lives in Neve Tzedek where she takes the same Ulpan course over and over again, and steals posters. She also helps her daughter’s family keep up with their laundry.
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