You can tell right away thatthe Angelcy isn’t your usual rock band. The Tel Aviv-based group plays an unusual assortment of instruments, including a fife, a ukulele, and a toy guitar. There are two drummers, but they perform on a single drum set and only use their hands.
Clarinetist Uri Marom, a longtime member, says that’s why the band doesn’t look or sound like anyone else.
“I think the sound, to begin with, is very acoustical,” Marom says. “On stage, we don’t stand in a straight line. We stand in a half-circle to see each other. It’s the natural way for us to play.”
Founded by Rotem Bar Or in 2011, the six-member ensemble — three men and three women — has spent the last four years touring practically non-stop in Israel and Europe. Their energetic music is inspired by reggae, folk, and even cabaret.
“We come from a very diverse background,” says Marom. “Rotem was mostly self-taught. He’s been writing songs since high school and is a very dedicated musician. I, myself, have a classical music education and a master’s in orchestra conducting.”
The band was the winner in the performing arts category for the WeWork Creator Awards, held for the first time in Jerusalem. Bar Or performed live at the event on Wednesday, June 20.
Bar Or used to roam barefoot along sidewalks in Europe and throughout India, playing music and singing to passersby. During this stretch of time in 2006, he wrote many of the melodies that the band would still be playing more than a decade later.
By the time the Angelcy had 16 or 17 arrangements, they were ready to cut their debut album,Exit Inside. It took two years to record because of the pressure of touring.
“An album is a very hard process,” Marom admits, saying the group is presently working on its second. “It’s always taking longer than expected because you want to make it better and better.”
The Angelcy’s first break occurred when the biggest radio station in Israel, Galgalatz, added one of their songs, “Dreamer,” to its playlist.
“That was our first boost,” Marom says. Events such as Germany’s Fusion Festival and Israel’s InDNegev and Yaarot Menashe provided platforms to help the Angelcy built a big following. Within the next month it’s performing all over Israel, Germany, and France.
The group’s lyrics, exclusively in English, are sharp and purposeful. Marom says the choice was deliberate, but not without its challenges.
“If you sing in Hebrew in Israel, it’s easier to become popular in Israel,” Marom says. “But for indie bands that decide to sing in English, it lets us communicate with people all over the world.”
When Marom calls the Angelcy a family, he’s not joking. Performer Maya Lee Roman and sound engineer Gil Teleman bring along their toddler when the band tours.
“We’re not getting any younger,” Marom says, thinking back on the band’s early days when they were in their twenties and thirties. “Back then, we had no kids, no plans. When you grow older, it tends to be harder to move, harder to dedicate yourself 100 percent to something.”
But he says that it’s the sheer pleasure of performing together that matters most.
“Now is a pretty good time to be alive,” he says. “We try to keep going, and do it with joy.”
When Larry Irvin and Kristyna Jones met at Mardi Gras in 2011, they immediately connected through their shared love of hip-hop and rap. Then the conversation got more personal: Jones gave Irvin her perspective of working in community development in New Orleans both before and after Hurricane Katrina, and Irvin shared his story of growing up as a black man in New Orleans with questions of self-identity.
“Young black men are perpetually trying to figure out who they are supposed to be, because the representations both in our neighborhoods and schools are, a lot of the time, negative,” Irvin says, citing high rates of incarceration and unemployment.
Irvin and Jones came up with a potential solution: getting more black men into the classroom.
“There’s a particular demographic, even within the demographic of black men, who aren’t attached to their academic experience,” says Irvin, 36. “College is something they’re told to do, but not with any purpose behind it.”
Together, Irvin and Jones founded Brothers Empowered to Teach, a nonprofit that urges people of color – particularly black men – to explore careers in education. It seeks to generate a network of teachers who serve as role models for the next generation.
Starting with just seven fellows in 2014, the organization has since grown to have over 40 participants between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It has partnered with over 10 schools across New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and four graduates of the program teach in New Orleans public schools.
Irvin himself is a former substitute teacher, a job he held while coaching high school football. He discovered that he had a special connection with many of the kids.
“Having grown up in some of those same neighborhoods that they did, there was a cultural connection,” says Irvin. “It started to seem like I was meant to do this work.”
The organization offers two programs for future educators: a one-year program tailored toward college graduates and those changing careers, and a three-year fellowship geared toward current college students. The organization’s teachers get together on Saturdays for professional and personal development workshops.
“We have intimate conversations about things like redefining what masculinity looks like, around male-female gender relationships, and around sexual orientation,” says Irvin. “We’re trying to create a better version of the individual, which in turn turns them into a great educator.”
Brothers Empowered to Teach got a big boost last year at WeWork’s Austin Creator Awards. When it was announced that the organization had won $130,000, Irvin was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 2,750 people.
A WeWork member, Irvin uses the company’s spaces when he travels, especially to cities like Austin and Washington, D.C.
While Brothers Empowered to Teach has so far worked with only male teachers, the organization recently opened up 30 percent of its seats to women of color.
“It is really beautiful to see our fellows attached to something, approaching education with fervor and excitement,” Irvin says. “We’re trying to change the narrative and reignite a lost reverence for the education profession.”
When former Marine Corps captain Zach Iscol went out for beers with his former commander, they talked about the 33 men in their battalion who had been killed in action in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004.
Unfortunately, tragedy did not end there.
“[We] realized that there’d soon be a point in time when we’d lost more Marines to suicide than to enemy action,” Iscol says. “It’s an epidemic.”
That moment six years ago led to the founding of theHeadstrong Project, a New York-based nonprofit that helps veterans heal the wounds that have plagued so many of their lives as a result of the experience of war and beyond — in particular, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Iscol decided he wanted to do something about this problem by providing veterans with top-notch mental health care, free of charge. He joined forces with two staffers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City: Ann Beeder, a clinical psychiatrist who has treated patients suffering from trauma for more than two decades, and Gerard Ilaria, a licensed social worker and health care professional who has dedicated much of his career to caring for people with HIV. Together they co-founded Headstrong.
At Headstrong, post-9/11 veterans can receive confidential treatment at no cost, and without bureaucracy or paperwork — or the stigma that often surrounds mental health counseling.
“These are good people who have to make impossible life-and-death decisions,” says Iscol, 39. “And you have to live with those decisions. And when you’re a good person it can be really hard to live with those decisions.”
There is no cap to the number of counseling sessions veterans can partake in. According to Iscol, the program currently has more than 500 veterans in treatment across 18 cities.
“We’ve treated over 700 veterans in six years,” he says. “And we’ve had zero suicides that have been in our treatment program.”
Ilaria said that helping veterans in the workplace is a big part of the program. It’s an important part of getting their lives back on track.
“Veterans make excellent leaders and they’re great on a team,” says Ilaria, 57. “But they can’t really do well at their job if their mental health isn’t in order.”
Todd Bowers, director of WeWork’s Veterans Initiative, says that Headstrong is a valuable resource for veterans and their loved ones.
“By providing cost-free, bureaucracy-free, and stigma-free treatment for the hidden wounds of war, Headstrong and their incredible team have helped to shape the narrative around post-9/11 veterans and their families by showing that the right help at the right time can heal anyone,” says Bowers, who was a staff sergeant with the Marine Corps serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Life ‘changed in the blink of an eye’
One of Headstrong’s success stories is Joe Quinn, who was a year away from graduating from West Point in 2001. But a week after he received his senior class ring, a celebratory event, the World Trade Center was attacked. “It all changed in the blink of an eye,” Quinn says.
His 23-year-old brother Jimmy was on the 104th floor when Flight 11 hit the North Tower on September 11, 2001. A graduate of Manhattan College, Jimmy was working for Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services firm whose offices occupied the 101st through 105th floors. The company lost 658 employees, including Quinn’s brother. “All of the sudden there was this punch in the face,” says Quinn. His classmates at West Point realized, as Quinn puts it, “that this is why we’re here.”
He graduated as a lieutenant and joined the Army, serving two tours in Iraq before being deployed in Afghanistan as a civilian counterinsurgency advisor for General David Petraeus. He then earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School and returned to West Point as an instructor at its Combatting Terrorism Center.
For 14 years Quinn held onto a complex set of feelings wrapped up in the grief of his brother’s death and the experiences surrounding the deaths of many of his fellow soldiers. Quinn, now 38,described in a personal essay how his feelings compounded and manifested repeatedly over the years: a heaviness in his chest; a warm flush of blood rising to his head; a sharp jolt of heat stinging his heart. He had PTSD. At first he thought he felt guilt, but eventually realized it was shame. “I placed no value on myself, which led to depression and aggression,” he wrote. “I thought going to war would save me, but it made things worse.”
After referring numerous friends to Headstrong, Quinn decided in 2015 that it was time to seek help for himself there.
Quinn now serves as the executive director of Headstrong, working from his office atWeWork 42nd Street. “I jump out of bed [to go to work],” he says. Quinn, who grew up in Brooklyn, alsocontinues the annual tradition of the “Jimmy Quinn Mets Game” in which he and early 200 family and friends go to Citi Field in Queens for a ballgame.
Quinn isn’t the only member of Headstrong’s management to seek help at his eventual place of employment. Dustin Shryock, the nonprofit’s director of operations, served two tours in Iraq. During his second deployment in 2007 and 2008, he says his unit set a new record for the number of days in a row during which they were engaged with direct fire, indirect fire, mortar fire, and grenades.
Like many veterans, Shryrock, 35, hadtrouble transitioning back to civilian life. He had left his home state of California for New York City, enrolling in graduate school, but was doing poorly, and began to notice that he was experiencing anxiety and depression. “I was not going home anymore. I was staying out all night. I quit responding at work. [NYU] was about to kick me out because I’d rather be at the bar than at class,” says Shryrock, who also works from WeWork 42nd Street.
Then, in 2014, he sought help. “I was actually told, ‘You look sick.’” Friends referred him to Headstrong and he’s never turned back — first as a client and now running its day-to-day operations. “That’s when you start to do the work,” says Shryrock. “You address moral injury. Consistent bombardment or enemy fire. You address the absurdity of war. Thanks goodness I cleaned myself up.”
Reporting on the ongoing civil war that had spilled over from Syria into Lebanon, René Cao says she witnessed suffering on a scale unlike anything she’d ever seen before. But despite the hardships she encountered in war zones and refugee camps, she found herself inspired by the selflessness of the people she encountered.
The former reporter for Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV network now works for a bitcoin exchange based out of Shanghai’s WeWork Financial Center. But the Chinese citizen has never forgotten the people she met when she was on assignment in Lebanon in 2011.
“The people I met really shaped my values,” says Cao. “They have driven me to do something for someone else, not just care about myself. As a journalist, I thought I could use my skills to tell their stories and share them with the world. I knew their voices needed to be heard.”
Her determination to help the displaced people in the Middle East led her to found the Ponybaby Project, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for the education of refugee children.
In 2014, she decided to return to Lebanon to document the lives of young people there. Finding a videographer was tough — her first one dropped out after a terrorist attack in Paris — but her editor connected her to Olmo Reverter. Together Cao and Reverter made a documentary called The Hard Stop: The Plight of Syrian Refugee Children, which reached more than 10 million viewers in China alone.
“Flying over with Olmo and shooting that first documentary was really a turning point in my life,” says Cao, who is 30. “I had no idea at the time that I was going to carry on with this project. What I really wanted to do was tell their stories.”
Within a year the team had officially set up the Ponybaby Project. Cao and her partners tell moving stories through articles, documentaries, and photo exhibitions. In honor of World Refugee Day, she and her team hosted a panel discussion on the crisis in Syria at WeWork Shanghai Finance Center.
Cao says the name was inspired by a verse in a famous Chinese poem, which loosely translates to: “Take your dream as a horse, act your glorious youth.”
The Ponybaby Project partnered with Pear Video, one of China’s leading video platforms, to broadcast its Orphans of the World series. It recently embarked on a new series called Their Responses that follows more than a dozen Syrian refugees living across the Middle East. The Ponybaby Project also teamed up with Tencent Charity, one of the leading fundraising platforms in China, to help raise money to help refugees directly.
Niu Song, a professor of Middle East Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, likes the “community spirit” displayed by the Ponybaby Project team.
“I believe that the stories and documentaries displayed by Ponybaby Project, as first-hand information, can honestly uncover the real status of the refugees, including their basic life, children’s education, job employment, and willingness to return to their home country,” says Song, who was among the speakers at the panel discussion.
All of the funds raised by the Ponybaby Project go towards scholarships for families living in refugee camps who can’t afford their children’s school fees, materials, and books.
“Almost 90 percent of Syrian refugees are in debt,” says Lisa Abou Khaled, who works for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Parents are having to resort to difficult choices like pulling their children out of school and sending them to work because they can’t afford to feed the family anymore.”
Since Cao’s first visit to the Middle East, the humanitarian crisis in Syria has claimed the lives of 70,000 civilians and displaced 5 million others. Despite the scale of trauma, Cao says the refugee crisis is rarely discussed in her native China. But that’s part of the goal—to start the conversation by bringing the personal stories of refugees to households across the country.
“Many people don’t have a chance to talk with refugees, so they have a very unclear concept of who they are,” says Cao. “They’re often treated like wild animals, vulnerable and unpredictable. But they want to live with respect and dignity, just like everyone else.”
Even before the lights went up on the stage, the WeWork Creator Awards was literally one of the biggest events of the year in Jerusalem. Nearly 4,000 people packed a stadium that usually hosts basketball games, and they came from as far away as Tel Aviv, Herzliya, and Be’er Sheva. It was also the largest regional competition so far for the awards, hosted in cities around the world.
At the job fair and pop-up market held before the awards, there were so many people that it was sometimes difficult to navigate the aisles. People eagerly pushed forward for free samples of food — even crispy grasshoppers.
When WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann finally stepped onto the stage, the event had the feeling of a homecoming. Neumann and his sister Adi Neumann, a model who hosted the event, both grew up on a kibbutz not far away.
This is the second time the Creator Awards has been held in Israel. In October more than $1 million was awarded to winners at an event in Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem — where a WeWork location isslated to open later this year — a total of $774,000 went to eight winners.
Here are some of the most unique and exciting highlights of the evening.
Most progressive fashion statement: More than 30 local artists, companies, and nonprofit organizations took part in a pop-up market on the arena’s concourse. There were bright paintings on canvas, glittering jewelry, natural beauty products, and plenty of T-shirts, including some emblazoned with the words “I’m Not for Sale,” part of a campaign against prostitution and human trafficking by the local nonprofitTurning the Tables, which was also a finalist at the Creator Awards.
Best product you can bury: Perhaps the most intriguing items for sale were paper greeting cards that weren’t just recyclable — they could actually be planted in the ground. Made by the Israeli company Paper Bloom, there are nine types of seeds embedded in the paper of the cards, resulting in several types of flowers that bloom throughout the year.
Best way to attract a crowd: More than 30 companies and nonprofits staffed tables at the event’s job fair, including half a dozen Creator Awards winners from last year’s event in Tel Aviv., The participants, like Yahoo’s Israeli R&D team and Taboola, were looking to hire a total of more than 70 people. Among the most attention-grabbing booths was that of the Israel Innovation Fund, a nonprofit promoting culture and creativity in Israel, whose table was covered with bottles of local wine.
Most popular souvenir: The most intriguing table at the job fair belonged to Hargol, an Israeli company that produces food products made from grasshoppers. The company — the top winner at the Tel Aviv Creator Awards — caught many people’s eyes with jars of roasted grasshoppers. About 40 percent of people who stopped by the table sampled them, leaving their transparent wings and crispy legs in little piles on the table. Many people then pocketed full jars to take home. “People keep taking them when we’re not looking,” said Hargol CEO Dror Tamir. “I don’t blame them. It really is the best souvenir.”
Most practical swag: The most in-demand item of the evening appeared to be bright red bags emblazoned with the words “Work Happy.” These were from Jobbio, the Dublin-based online hiring platform. “Personally I think they are quite eye-catching,” said Jobbio’s account manager Martha Hayes, who traveled from Dublin to attend the event in Jerusalem. “And they are a useful place to keep the rest of your swag.”
Favorite food: At a moment when Israeli cuisine has been making global headlines, tables filled with local specialties were scattered throughout the event’s pop-up market and job fair. Popular items included fresh pitas stuffed with chicken, lamb, fish, or roasted vegetables and topped with cilantro-infused tahini. There were also tiny jars of creamy malabi pudding topped with pomegranate syrup and pistachio nuts. But the biggest hit may have been the chocolate chip cookies, baked on the premises in a giant oven by Pilpel Catering. “Holy Moses, these are good,” said one person who sampled them.
Most creative cocktail: Open bars served beer, wine, and craft cocktails all night long. People seemed to love the Golden City, a drink inspired by Jerusalem and made from vodka and honey and garnished with fresh cucumbers.
Most mind-blowing performance: For those who could tear themselves away from the party-like scene at the pop-up market, the highlight of the masterclasses was a show by Israeli mentalist Lior Suchard. As usual, the internationally known performer wowed the audience by reading people’s minds. At one point he seemed to know some participants better than they knew themselves. When asking one woman how many letters were in the name of her first crush, she kept saying five. Suchard replied, “Are you sure it isn’t six?” Sure enough, Suchard guessed the name, and there were indeed six letters.
Most tear-inducing moment: After the audience heard inspiring stories from all of the night’s finalists, it was Kaima Farm, which helps teeneagers who have dropped out of school, that took home the top prize for nonprofit ventures. Yoni Yefet-Reich, Kaima’s CEO, immediately handed the prize over to one of the teenagers who said his life had been transformed by his time on the farm.
Biggest winner: The $360,000 grand prize went to Yehudit Abrams, a recent American immigrant to Israel, for her startup MonitHer, which is developing a hand-held ultrasound device women can use for monthly breasts exams. The device will alert them to any changes in tissue, a key to early diagnosis of breast cancer. “I’m empowering women,” Abrams said, holding up her award.
Best show of hometown pride: Moments after Abrams was showered in sparkly confetti, another top figure in women’s empowerment, Netta Barzilai, who recently propelled Israel to Eurovision champion with her song “Toy,” took the stage to kick off the real party part of the evening. The crowd gathered around her, wildly snapping photos.