Click the video above to play a 30-second clip. To view the complete film, click here

On the occasion of Israel’s 70th year of independence, we commissioned Hanoch Piven to create 5 portraits of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. These thematic portraits are filled with stories and symbols exploring different aspects of the country’s people, values, culture, places, and history. Taken individually, they offer many entry points into conversations about Israel with learners and educators. As a group, they can stimulate rich discussion and thought about the place of Israel in our lives.

5 Commissioned Portraits from Hanoch Piven

This resource is filled with programmatic ideas that can be used on a mix-and-match basis. Elements can be used as quick conversation-starters or in-between activities; alternatively, several components can fill an hour, half a day, or a week of activity blocks.

From his studio in Jaffa, Israel, Piven recorded the above video for you (click here for the complete video). In it, he describes his methodology and shares stories. You may want to show it to learners; at the very least, staff should watch it before leading any Piven Workshop activities. It’s bursting with energy and ideas!


In order to have a workshop based on found objects, you’ll need to gather a lot of random objects. Everything from buttons, labels, packaging and keys to stickers, stamps and small toys will come in handy as learners create portraits. Preparation is key: gather copious amounts of “junk” to ensure that everyone finds what they need.

Begin by introducing Piven. In addition to the information in this resource, you can refer to the Piven card (at right, click to enlarge) within the greater Israel Resource Cards for more about the artist. You may also want to introduce David Ben-Gurion - you can refer to his card (at right) within the resource cards as well. Help learners understand Piven’s technique by showing them his new Ben-Gurion series and giving them time to explore the portraits in depth. Encourage them to focus on the elements of each portrait. Feel free to create questions to inspire each learner, or you may consider these:

Hanoch Piven - Israel Resource Cards - The iCenterclick to enlarge
click to enlarge


  • What images of Israel can you find in these portraits?
  • What is “Jewish” about each portrait?
  • What values do you see represented in each portrait?
  • Compare a specific feature in the five portraits (e.g., ears, nose, body) — what do you think of as you look at them?
  • Why do you think Piven used Israeli flags for the eyes in all five portraits?
  • Caption each of the portraits: Israel is made of ____________.
  • If you could add a sixth portrait, what would it be? What story would it tell?
  • Replace Ben-Gurion with you. What would be different? What would be the same?


It’s time to get your hands dirty! Place a wide array of random objects on a table and invite your learners to browse them. You can choose what kind of portrait your learners will create, or you can let them choose. Working in small groups, let them decide which items to include based on their decisions about the stories they want their portraits to tell. Here are a few ideas for collaborative group art projects based on Piven’s methodology that can give learners a chance to tell stories about things that matter to them:

  • Make a portrait of your community. What items will you include and how will you explain them to outsiders?
  • Create your own “portrait” of Israel that highlights aspects of the country that hold meaning for you or poses questions that intrigue you.
  • Create a portrait of a person who you see as a symbol of your community or another community with which you identify. What stories will you try to tell through your choice of objects?


If you’re looking for a brief activity, consider using one or more of the portraits as a conversation starter. Use some of the questions posed here (or create your own!) and facilitate a discussion based on what learners see in the image. A few more questions to consider:


  • How would you describe Piven’s style if you were talking on the phone to someone who could not see the portraits?
  • If you were going to create a portrait of this community, what items would you want to include?
  • Ask Israeli peers or educators to look at these portraits with you. What do they see that you didn’t notice?
  • What surprises you about these portraits?
  • If you’ve been to Israel, how do these portraits connect to what you saw and experienced there?
  • If you have not yet been to Israel, what do these portraits tell you about life in Israel?
  • If you are planning on going to Israel, what are you excited about after exploring these portraits?


The Many Faces of Israel

As learners share their reactions to the portraits of David Ben-Gurion, use this information as a guide to help them dig deep into the messages of each image:


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Pioneering. As they worked to achieve independence in the decades preceding 1948, Jews from around the world returned to the Land of Israel to work the land and make it green. They dreamt of creating a democracy where Jews and all other citizens would be free to express themselves, able to live in safety and security. This portrait captures the pioneering ethos of the founders of Israel. In one hand, Ben-Gurion holds a shovel, and in the other, Israel’s Declaration of Independence. His hat is a kova tembel (literally: fool’s cap, the standard-issue hats worn by many pioneers in Israel’s early years), and his clothing is adorned by stamps and symbols of the state.

  • What do you see in this portrait?
  • What would you like to know more about?
  • How do you think this portrait relates to Israel today?
  • What will you explore this year?

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Leadership. Being a leader involves making difficult choices and decisions. It means taking risks and asking others to support your moves. It means motivating people to follow your example. Here we see Ben-Gurion made of many objects that symbolize leadership and the difficult choices that leaders must make. The IDF symbols hint at the role of the military in securing Israel, while the outstretched hands made of traditional hamsas reflect the importance of pursuing peace. The compass, the doves — even the mezuzah — everything carries meaning.

  • What do you see in this portrait?
  • What would you like to know more about?
  • What kind of leader are you?
  • Which of these symbols would you include in your own portrait?

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Diversity. Israel is home to Jews who came from more than 100 countries around the world. Whether they came because they were fleeing persecution or because they wanted to be a part of the Zionist dream, they all brought with them their own traditions, stories, hopes, and memories. Add to the mix the traditions and values of those people who already lived there — Jews, Arabs, Druze, Bedouin — and you begin to see just how diverse Israel is! This east-meets-west reality helps explain the vibrant mix of cultures, values, and traditions in Israel. This portrait is packed with so many symbols and meanings that your head will spin — but it’s really nothing more than a depiction of the diversity of Israeli life. Look for religious symbols, LGBTQ pride, Middle Eastern coffee and tea, a backgammon board, and more.

  • What do you see in this portrait?
  • What questions arise as you look at this portrait?
  • What symbols might you add to the portrait?
  • Find two symbols that might be in conflict with each other. How might you reconcile them?
  • How is diversity expressed in this community?

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Innovation. Visitors to pre-State Israel back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries described it as a harsh, inhospitable place. Mark Twain called it “sorrowful and despondent” and predicted it was unlikely to change. Ben-Gurion dreamt of making the desert bloom and being a “light unto the nations.” Today, of course, Israel has evolved into a global technological powerhouse, and many aspects of that trajectory are captured here — from the circuit board and the cherry tomato (invented in Israel!) to the symbols of leading tech and social welfare trendsetters. And it all takes place along the beach with the Tel Aviv skyline in the background.

  • What do you see in this portrait?
  • What do you want to learn more about?
  • What Israeli innovation impacts your life today?
  • What innovative things will you try this year?

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Culture. The Israeli food scene is incredibly creative and exciting. In 2017, Israeli chef Michael Solomonov won the prestigious James Beard award for best cookbook of the year. The book reflects an incredible amalgamation of multiple cultures and cuisines that have merged to create a uniquely Israeli kitchen. Look for classic local foods here — from Bamba to Mekupelet, from Crembo to falafel. It’s all anchored in the Israeli passion for mixed nuts and the seminal book by Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State. So much of Israeli life is based on Jewish tradition and values, which explains Ben-Gurion’s nose, made of one of the seven species. Of course, there’s much more to culture than food, and it is worth noting that Israel publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world.
  • What do you see in this portrait?
  • Do you have a favorite Israeli food?
  • What foods would you include in your own self-portrait?
  • What object(s) would you choose to symbolize the culture of this community?