No small wonder

‘Israel Inside,’ a new film by, shows how a small nation became a technological and business giant.

Tal Ben-Shahar 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of
Tal Ben-Shahar 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of
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-, 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.”
Israel Inside 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.
David Coleman, 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.
The documentary 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 years.
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.
Medved lauded the film for its fresh approach to changing Americans’ associations with Israel.
“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.
Israel’s “actualizers,” 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.
In the segment on chutzpa, the determined attitude found among Israelis from “the marketplace to the boardroom,” the story of United Hatzala is featured.
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 year.
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.
The Jewish 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.
“Israelis 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 catastrophes.
“That’s the Jewish DNA,” says Daniel Gordis, senior vice president of Jerusalem’s Shalem Center, in the film.
The extremely 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.
To 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 people.
“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.
As 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 pride.
Shore also produced the films Relentless, Obsession, The Third Jihad, and Iranium.