The creators of the new documentary Israel Inside: how a small nation makes a
big difference are looking to re-brand the Jewish state in America’s living rooms
as an innovative, ethical country working tirelessly to find solutions to global
problems of the day.
“It’s time for us to take back the streets,” said
Rebecca Shore, one of the film’s writers and the wife of Rabbi Raphael Shore,
the film’s producer and CEO of Jerusalem Online- University.com, the film-based
education program behind the project.
Typically, the media set a negative
agenda on Israel, but not this time, she said.
“We’re setting the
agenda... we want to show Israel beyond the conflict.”
premiers December 1 on PBS in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, Florida,
but an audience in Jerusalem got a sneak peak this month at an event that also
featured a panel discussion with Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency
for Israel, at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.
JerusalemOnlineU’s vice president for video distribution, said he aims for the
film to be shown on PBS across the US by the end of 2012.
is a smart and savvy approach to hasbara (public diplomacy) because it does no
persuading, arguing or advocacy whatsoever. Politics could not be further from
this film. Rather, it’s an emotional, inspiring look at what makes Israel tick,
what accounts for its technological and financial success over the last 63
Featuring interviews with leading entrepreneurs, academics and
politicians like President Shimon Peres, Naty Barak, chief sustainability
officer at Netafim – the global leader in drip irrigation – and Harvard
University professor and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz, the film puts a heroic
and approachable face to Israel.
The aim is to show “how the Israeli
people have transformed this country against all odds in a very short time,”
Raphael Shore said from the podium at the screening.
“It’s about the
Israeli people, but it’s not really about the Israeli people. It’s about the
most incredible people on earth: the Jewish people.”
The film spotlights
societal values like family, education, volunteerism and diversity, and Israel’s
blossoming non-profit, business and technology sectors. These are universal
themes that resonate with people from any background, said panelist Jonathan
Medved, the Israeli CEO of VRINGO, a video ringtone company.
lauded the film for its fresh approach to changing Americans’ associations with
“It’s not about arguments. It’s about feelings, images,
emotions,” he said.
Narrated by Tal Ben-Shahar, the positive psychology
professor who left his teaching position at Harvard after 14 years in the US to
return to Israel with his family, the film analyzes Israelis via Ben-Shahar’s
criteria for happiness and self-actualization.
those factors that help this country reach its full potential, according to the
film are: family, resilience, chutzpa, education and tikun olam (repairing the
world). The film’s outline is clearly stated, its agenda up front from the
beginning. Ben- Shahar serves as the academic chair of
The firm foundation of family in Israel that
fosters an interconnected society in which every person cares for every other
person like family, Ben-Shahar says, allows children to grow up feeling
supported and confident in themselves, which in turn teaches them resilience in
the face of adversity. Israelis, well known for their entrepreneurial spirit,
have had this attitude since the state’s early days.
As Ben-Shahar says,
Israel’s “unparalleled progress and success” is due in large part to its ability
to find solutions to challenges like living in a water-deprived desert. The
kibbutzinnovated drip irrigation system of the 1930s and today’s widely used
solar heating panels are two such examples, the film shows.
segment on chutzpa, the determined attitude found among Israelis from “the
marketplace to the boardroom,” the story of United Hatzala is
ELI BEER, the organization’s president, explains how the
emergency medical service’s volunteers began responding to ambulance calls
faster than the emergency ambulances, and today saves thousands of lives a
Amit Goffer, inventor of the ReWalk, is also shown in this segment.
This Israeli’s invention is giving wheelchair-bound individuals the ability to
walk upright, and was even featured on an episode of Glee. The film’s message:
Israelis have a knack for turning adversity into advantage.
and Israeli approach to education is another actualizer in this society.
Students are encouraged, whether it be in traditional religious learning centers
or university, to question, challenge, and turn theoretical ideas into concrete
solutions for the world’s problems.
“This is part of the Israeli
culture’s DNA,” says Ben-Shahar in the film. “There isn’t a barrier between
theory and practice.”
Take Yossi Ben-Dov, the CEO of Time to Know, a
company that produces a digital curriculum for the classroom, or Shai Agassi,
the founder of Better Place, which is working to mainstream the electric car and
reduce the world’s dependence on oil.
“Israelis take an idea and put it
into action,” Ben-Shahar says, and are not afraid to fail.
practice this day in and day out.”
Lastly, Israel’s culture of repairing
the world and volunteering time for the sake of the community have helped the
society achieve unprecedented success, the film says. Whether it’s teenagers
volunteering for Maged David Adom, or Save a Child’s Heart, which since 1995 has
performed thousands of live-saving surgeries on children from around the world,
the film portrays Israel as a society committed to social change, claiming that
25 percent of Israelis volunteer their time.
Israel also looks beyond its
borders in times of crisis. Israel Inside shows the Israeli medical teams that
set up field hospitals in Haiti and Japan following their recent
“That’s the Jewish DNA,” says Daniel Gordis, senior vice
president of Jerusalem’s Shalem Center, in the film.
positive depiction of Israel is meant to reach the 70% of Americans who are
“undecided” on Israel, Raphael Shore said at the event. While only 10% of
Americans are virulently anti-Israel, the majority of people haven’t made up
their minds, he said.
The film also seeks to reach young Jews lacking in
Jewish pride or attachment to Israel.
JerusalemOnlineU, founded three
years ago, is deeply concerned about what it sees as the politically correct
anti-Semitism: anti- Israel sentiment, on college campuses and beyond. On top of
that, students on campus and the public receive a negative and false narrative
of Israel from the mainstream media, which encourage young Jews to disengage
from the Jewish people and Israel, according to JerusalemonlineU.
combat these foes, JerusalemOnlineU offers online courses and films about
Judaism and Israeli history to build this missing pride among young people and
adults. Raphael Shore cited a recent study that 54% of young Jews can’t explain
why Israel must exist, while 70% don’t feel a need to associate with the Jewish
“If they can’t feel proud of Israel then they can’t feel proud as
a Jew,” said Shore.
Lack of pride and Jewish identity are “a straight
line to assimilation.” Through education and positive media, he added, young
Jews can feel empowered and proud of Israel and their people.
Sharansky said from the panel, Israel Inside will show college students that
“it’s cool to be part of the Jewish family.”
The film is being promoted
by JerusalemOnlineU’s partner organizations, synagogues, churches, federations
and individual supporters.
“People have been our greatest resource,”
Coleman wrote in an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post.
It may even make its
way to Israeli homes and classrooms. Coleman said he has received feedback that
the film could help build Israelis’ morale and give them a stronger sense of
Shore also produced the films Relentless
, The Third
, and Iranium