Life & Culture

A vision of Israel on yoga mats

Thousands of people will gather in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Wednesday to take part in International Yoga Day. And their mats will make up a giant work of art.


TEL AVIVIANS love yoga. Whether it’s practising by the sea at sunset or getting stuck into a challenging vinyasa flow in a downtown studio, the city’s young and beautiful population queues up to prove their flexibility. And, this week, thanks to a joint venture between the Indian embassy, the Tel Aviv municipality, and local artist and entrepreneur Sharonna Karni Cohen, thousands will gather to do yoga outside, together, on a giant mat that’s been emblazoned with a depiction of what Israel might look like in 2048.

It’s all part of Israel’s contribution to the third International Yoga Day, which takes place on  Wednesday. And it’s been no small undertaking for Karni Cohen.

“Last year, the event was smaller — it was at the old train station— the Hatachana. But this year we’re taking over Rabin Square and filling it with Israel’s largest art installation, which is also the world’s largest artwork ever made out of yoga mats,” she explains.

She worked with three Israeli artists — Amit Trainin and junior artists Yonatan Hadari and Danielle Kaplan Lugassi — to develop the piece. They incorporated visions of a future Israel that were submitted by 500 people — Jews, Arabs, Christians; people who have been to Israel before and those who have never visited. “That’s the beauty of doing something like this in Tel Aviv. Everyone chips in,” says Cohen.

The event, entitled The Big Dream, was inspired by Cohen’s business which enables people to create bespoke artworks with artists.

“You upload a memory, a photo or an idea and we send it to an artist who will interpret it and turn it into art. You can then have it printed on to a pillow-case, a phone-case, a laptop cover or on to a canvas,” Karni Cohen explains.

“Six months ago, I added yoga mats to our product list and they were instantly popular. I realised that the potential to create art and share it with the world through yoga was huge. There’s a great synergy between the balance and calm yoga provides and the creativity of art.

“I really believe in the future of this country. I was born here — my Israeli mother came back here when she was pregnant to make sure I was born Israeli.

She was educated in England, but returned to Israel in 2010 aged 22. She now lives in north Tel Aviv says she “loves the non-stop nature of life here.

“But Israel faces challenges. I started thinking about what the country might look like, aged 100, in 2048. My personal vision is for Israel to be a place where Jews, Muslims and Christians all live together, not in segregation. Everyone learns Hebrew and Arabic, and I can drive to Gaza to spend the day with my Palestinian friends on the beach there, and they come to see me in Tel Aviv. I wondered if there was a way to show this through art.”

She met representatives of the Tel Aviv municipality and shared her thoughts. They told her about the forthcoming yoga event and put her in touch with the Indian Embassy, which this year celebrates 25 years of full diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Big Dream was subsequently commissioned. “Ever since then, it’s been crazy busy,” says Karni Cohen.

She secured sponsorship and then posted on social media, asking for people’s visions of the future. “I asked people to look outside their window and tell me what the view would be like in 2048.”

She was struck by the similarity in the ideas submitted.

“Dreams came in from all over the world and there was a lot of emphasis on the environment, on water and on borders — or lack of them,” she reveals.

“Two of the most popular words that came up were ‘equality’ and ‘freedom’. Ideas ranged from sweet personal visions such as: ‘I’m a grandfather and I have my wife next to me,’ to more heart-wrenching ideas such as: ‘The concept of shaking hands for peace will no longer exist; Palestinians and Israelis will shake hands because they’re friends or because they’ve done business together, not because they’re meeting for peace talks.’”

It was up to Amit Trainin to interpret the ideas and turn them into art. “I love Amit’s style,” Karni Cohen says. “He’s an illustrator whose work has been shown all over the world, and his imaginative project, Cities of My World, made him a natural choice.” They met three times to discuss the visions and he then started creating it.


“While Amit was sketching and colouring, I spent endless hours calculating how many mats would fit into the artwork and vice versa.

“We did a lot of squared calculations, then we scanned the artwork and an amazingly talented graphic designer cropped it into 1,500 pieces. The file was so large it broke two computers! Finally we approved all the pieces and sent the files to the manufacturers of the mats, and production began in China.”

The mats are all numbered from one to 1,500, making them collector’s items in themselves. “I’m calling each one ‘a piece of peace’, because the final artwork depicts a peaceful, beautiful Israel.”

The event, billed as a “stress-free zone” kicks off at 6pm and runs until 11pm. But Karni Cohen will be at Rabin Square from dawn.

“I’ll get there at 6am on International Yoga Day with a team of 15 people,” she explains. “We’ll be putting the mats together in sequential order — it’s like a giant jigsaw — and then it’ll be photographed from above by drone.”



The organisers expect 5,000 people to come together in Rabin Square, where they can take classes in everything from asthanga yoga and sun salutations to acro-yoga (a blend of aerobics and yoga) and yoga for children. The day will end with a performance including Indian dance and music.

“It’s been an enormous amount of work, much like every yoga class I’ve ever been to,” says Karni Cohen.

“Yoga helps emotions to fly out of you; it works your core, mind and soul. This project has been huge and I’ve still got loads to do, but Tel Avivians thrive on hard work — and Israelis have never shied away from a challenge, so it seems completely fitting, too.”


For more information on the Rabin Square event or to buy one of the 1,500 yoga mats:

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