After almost 15 years, the man who created Hillel's popular flame logo is pleased that his design is being used around the world on everything from T-shirts, to buildings, to publications -- and that it's still going strong. "Logos have a lifespan and very often they fall out of use," explained retired graphic artist Harvey Marks on a recent visit to Hillel's Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center in Washington, D.C. "I'm pleased with the longevity of this design."
Marks recalled the birth of the "new" Hillel logo. When Richard Joel was appointed international director in 1988, he turned to Marks, a former colleague from Yeshiva University, to help recreate Hillel's image. At the time, Hillel was still using a logo designed decades earlier. With its open Torah scroll in the center, the logo spoke to an older generation. "It was as literal as you could possibly get," Marks said. "If it could do any good for the organization, it had probably already done it."
Through the new logo, Marks and Joel wanted to express "one basic community in a lot of different places." When he looked at the word Hillel, Marks saw the two middle "L's" as candlesticks. Flickering on the "candlesticks," Marks imagined two separate flames molding into one. The two long flames were designed to resemble the Hebrew letter "lamed" and Marks placed the letter "heh" in flame form on top to spell out "Hillel" in Hebrew.
Marks explained that fire symbolism is used in Jewish art and ceremony around the world. He added that for his generation, the flame is a reminder of the eternal flame placed on the grave of President John F. Kennedy as a symbol of hope and idealism. He thought that the new Hillel under Richard Joel would connect the symbolism of the old with the idealism of a new era. "It's really a timeless symbol. It can be adapted to nearly anything," he said.
Most viewers see the flame of the Hillel logo. Some miss the fact that the shapes spell the Hillel name in Hebrew. To others, the logo is a picture of two dancing worms. And some even see a human form in the space between the letters. Marks is quick to point out that he did not put the figure in the logo -- it's just the product of viewers' imagination. Marks and Joel wanted the logo to speak to many different types of people. "Everyone has their own connection to the logo, as long as they connect," he said.
"When I look around this building I see that Richard's vision of 15 years ago has been achieved," Marks said. "It wasn't my logo that did it -- it was Richard and his dream. But now that Richard is leaving [to become president of Yeshiva University], the logo carries on."