Hillel Smith

Blog

Written by Fray Hochstein, on behalf of Team ROI

For Hillel, art is a way to express, connect, and celebrate Judaism. Born and raised in the bright sun of Los Angeles, he was riveted by the street art he saw on his way to the comic book store for the latest installment of Spiderman and X-Men. Growing up in a fairly observant household but finding little to inspire him in his Orthodox day school education, Hillel was still fascinated by the stories and rituals of Judaism. As an adult, Hillel thought about how he could access this heritage in a meaningful way. “I find that Jews are stuck in the same mold; we have this idea of what Jewish art is supposed to look like and don’t move far away from it. I try to chip away at that by creating new forms of Judaica that I haven’t seen before. Inspired by the murals he saw as a child Hillel sought to create large-scale street art with Jewish content in L.A. and subsequently in Israel and Rome as well. He also spent a year creating concert posters illustrating the parashat hashavua (weekly Torah portion). “A poster is an often colorful and minimalist form of expression. It reaches down to the essence of the themes and characters to create deep and powerful imagery.” Hillel has also created GIF the Omer. The days between the second day of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot are known as the Omer, and Jews count each day with a special blessing. “I thought, how can I take this ritual of counting and make it fresh and interesting? So I created this project where people can sign up and get different animated Omer designs in their email every day.” Hillel’s defining impetus is to inspire others to rethink their approach to Jewish life, encourage them to think about what they are passionate about, and pass their joy of Judaism onwards. 

A participant of Asylum Arts, Hillel jumped at the chance to participate in ROI as well. “Through Asylum Arts I had already met so many people involved in ROI that it was incredible to finally be able to take part in it. The Summit was a fantastic experience. It was so powerful to meet people from all over the world, and see how passionate they were about making their communities thrive. I was inspired by the truly interesting and creative approaches people had to engage Jews in innovative ways. Every ROI event I’ve ever attended is just infused with this commitment and energy to make the world better.” Being part of the ROI Community has opened up whole new avenues for Hillel. “I’ve started to think bigger, to be more ambitious. How can I scale up and have a greater impact? I spend time wondering, how do I make my work worthy of this network I’m part of?” This sense of connection also extends to the personal level. “In the last year alone I attended events organized by ROIers in Paris and Mallorca. People showed up from all over the world. It’s an immediate bond. I’m not just one person making stuff in my own little corner of the world, rather we are all part of this much larger family.”