The Designer Of Modern Hebrew, A Font Of Wisdom

Zvi Narkis, credited with reinventing the Hebrew letter, left a huge archive after his death. A new book will document this treasure, which is integral to the history of Israeli design.

Zvi Narkis and some of his creations
Zvi Narkis and some of his creations
Keren Tzuriel Harari

TEL AVIV Twenty years after discovering Hebrew letters and a talent for writing them, Zvi Narkis arrived from Romania to what would officially become Israel.

The country’s first years were quite modest, as were the letters of Hebrew. At that time, there were only four fonts and each one had just one or two versions (bold or italics, for example), and Narkis’ talent was exactly what the country needed.

In 1958, he completed the design of his first font, Narkis Block. In the following decades he made even more, including Narkis Tam, Narkisim, Narkis New and Narkis Chen. By his death in 2010, Narkis had become the most prominent typographer and designer in Israel.

The fonts Narkis designed are Hebrew’s most common, and like the rest of his work, they are ubiquitous, even if most people have no idea where they came from. Every Israeli has read books, official forms, newspapers or posters in his fonts. His designs appear on Israeli coins, on currency notes he designed for The Israeli Bank, even guidebooks for the Israeli Defense Force.

Source: Yonidebest

His amazing contributions have earned him several domestica and international awards, yet there has never been extensive documentation of his work. Even after his death, no public or academic entity published a collection. Until now.

Nearly a decade in the making

Yehuda Hofshi, a designer and researcher of Hebrew typography, launched an independent project April 2 on the Israeli crowd-funding website Headstart. The project’s goal is to fund a book about Narkis’ extensive archive. The project immediately became the subject of the day among designers. It took only a few days for hi to collect half of the amount he needed, and the project has since surpassed its goal.

The idea for the book was born nine years ago during a meeting between Narkis and Hofshi. “I drove to Jerusalem to see him, and I was introduced to the amazing variety of things he had done over the past five decades,” Hofshi says. “After we had talked, we agreed that it would be good to publish a book to cover his entire work. It is a tribute to him and a valuable book for many audiences.”

Hofshi began visiting Narkis once a week for more than a year. During every meeting, they went through Narkis’ archives and reproduced his work processes on various projects through videotaped interviews. “Meeting him was fascinating, and it was very moving to go through his drawers,” Hofshi says. “Nobody has seen most of his archive. For example, we found his first pencil sketches for the Narkis Block. It is a simple font, with no gimmicks, and that’s why it’s so good. He is not trendy at all.”

Hofshi discovered projects that Narkis had done about which he had no prior knowledge. “These projects are masterpieces he worked on for years, days and nights from a feeling of vocation,” Hofshi says. “He did not do to sell. He did it for the symbolism of connecting an 18th century European design to the Hebrew letters. It was important for him to connect history to the Israeli modern identity. It was in his blood.”

By the end, they amassed 3,500 pictures of Narkis’ archives and 120 hours of videotaped interviews. All the material was sorted and categorized, then Hofshi raised the money to complete the project.

The book itself is supposed to expose the different fonts the designer created, and the book will also show other designs such as posters, stamps, coins, bills and documentation of a two-year research project on writing styles around the world.

Hofshi is considering publishing the book in English too. “I am not raising money for myself or for my work assignments,” he says. “I am doing it because I think it is a very important project. This project excites people because it is unimaginable that there isn’t a documentation of the work of such a master. ... Letters that are properly made have massive power, beyond the words written with them.”

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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