Imagine a different kind of Israel program. This one features a wide range of Israeli citizens who share their own stories about Israel. And all of them work for the country's national airline.
"Who better than the people of El Al can come and do that?" asked Alon Futterman.
Futterman directs El Al's newest project, undertaken in collaboration with StandWithUs and designed to bring real stories of Israel to campus. Called El Al Ambassadors Blue and White Advocates, the program is the brainchild of El Al President & CEO Elyezer Shkedy, who believes in the importance of helping people outside Israel understand the reality of the Jewish state, according to El Al’s vice president for North and Central America, Danny Saadon.
Saadon explained that Shkedy is convinced his staff can impact public opinion simply by talking about their "normal lives in Israel" -- without mentioning the conflict.
The program launched late last year in New York and involves dozens of El Al personnel in the airline's three North American gateways, New York, Toronto and Los Angeles. More recently, teams began to work in London as well. All of the participants give up their free time on layovers, and do it on a voluntary basis.
It wasn't difficult to convince El Al staff members to volunteer. "The amazing thing about this initiative is that once the offer was made, we had hundreds of applicants," Futterman said.
They come from all parts of the El Al workforce, and represent the full spectrum of Israeli society. Saadon noted that the company's pilots all served in the Israeli air force, "so they have a lot of interesting stories to tell." The flight attendants in the project reflect the diversity of Israeli society, including Druse, gay people, university students, new immigrants and others.
"There are enough people, especially diplomats and Israeli activists, who come and explain other sides of the conflict, but there's not enough discussion about the sides of Israel that not everyone knows about," Futterman said.
The unique travel schedule required for international airline crews makes El Al the perfect company to bring everyday Israelis to speak to communities outside of Israel.
"I don't think there is another company that has people spread around the world every day that can do a program like this," Saadon said.
For all their superficial differences, these passionate volunteers all share the common desire to speak out for Israel.
"They're here because they want to talk to people about what they feel they don't know enough about," Futterman said. "And that's their home."
The program has been received positively.
"People who walk into the event are kind of curious," Futterman said. "When they start hearing the stories and meeting the people, there's something about this connection and the framework that we've created that draws people in. Then that curiosity turns into pleasure, and we're sure that it's going to continue that way."
At an event at UCLA, an audience comprised of students and community members appreciated the opportunity to meet these Israeli world-travelers.
"It was interesting to hear the perspectives of people whose job is to represent Israel and hear about their daily lives and travels around the world," said Tal Lerner, a senior who is active in Bruins for Israel.
Saadon and the entire El Al crew are happy to be achieving the goal of bringing the real Israel to people across the globe.
"We're all making a contribution bringing Israel closer to the heart of people around the world," he concluded.
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