The real Israel

In a new film, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar explores the country’s achievements in the face of adversity.

Thinking outside the box (photo credit: Atara Beck)
Thinking outside the box
(photo credit: Atara Beck)
When people think about Israel, they think about war, religion, and maybe felafel. I think about the triumph of the human spirit.’ So said best-selling author and lecturer Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, who discussed the motivation behind a new film: Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference.
The 55-minute documentary, produced by award-winning filmmakers, will be shown worldwide this month in celebration of Israel’s 64th Independence Day. In America, it will be broadcast on several Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations and shown at 64 events marking Israel Independence Day, as well as at Jewish summer camps, community centers, synagogues and universities., according to its website, is a distance-learning program designed to strengthen and broaden one’s knowledge of both Judaism and Israel as well as to “entertain and inspire.”
Ben-Shahar, who taught the most popular course at Harvard University on Positive Psychology before returning to Israel to join the faculty of the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya, narrates the film. He joined film producer Rabbi Raphael Shore, founder and CEO of; artist and educator Rebecca Shore, the film’s head writer; Amy Holtz, president of, and others for a recent breakfast briefing for journalists at the King David Hotel.
The purpose of the film is to take Israel beyond the conflict and to show that despite living in a perpetual state of war, Israelis continue not only to survive, but also to thrive and, in the process, to benefit the world with its ingenuity in a profound way.
“It’s thinking outside the box. It’s about overriding adversity... no land, no natural resources, in the middle of the desert,” Ben-Shahar says. “When I think about Israel, I think about technology, about prosperity, about giving.”
Erel Margalit, founder and chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners, remarked that Israel’s pioneers had a “great vision” for Jewish survival and for a new narrative.
They were the “entrepreneurs of the time,” and technology has become the new tool.
“In the last 18 years, Israel had the most outstanding run of any country,” and it became the “second-most important hub of technology,” next to the US, he points out.
“If you will it” – the phrase coined by Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism – “is the guideline for any entrepreneur starting something from scratch,” he asserts. “Our biggest competitive advantage is creativity.”
According to Rebecca Shore, the filmmakers’ goal is to emphasize Israel’s global contributions.
“This isn’t about propaganda. This is an attempt to let people understand the essence of the Jewish people,” she states.
Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, a book written by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, was published in 2009 and became an instant best-seller.
“We wanted to go deeper,” she declares. “What drives us to make these outstanding global contributions? Also, how do we have the ability to keep giving and to become this incredible lion of the Middle East?” The film shows the “deeper psychological issues....
This is the Israel that exists out of the conflict.”
Raphael Shore says the film depicts the humanitarian and social face of Israel.
“It’s a rags-to-riches story of a people who came out of 2,000 years of persecution and has risen to success economically and made a positive global contribution.
That’s a remarkable human story in and of itself.”
Israel Inside will be translated into Hebrew.
“This film is no less important to Israelis than to other people,” Ben-Shahar notes, adding that it should enhance their national pride.
Nevertheless, other attempts to take the focus on Israel away from the political strife have been made in the past. For instance, as far back as October 2005, the new York-based Jewish Daily Forward published an article with the headline: “Israel aims to improve its public image.”
The article states: “The plan was adopted during an October 2 meeting convened by the Foreign Ministry, involving its own director-general and his counterparts in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry. The participants examined specialized research conducted by American marketing executives over the last three years.
“The meeting is the latest manifestation of a growing movement – begun in America – to ‘re-brand’ Israel, or to reinvent the country’s image in the eyes of both Jews and non-Jews. The driving concept is that Israel will win supporters only if it is seen as relevant and modern rather than only as a place of fighting and religion.”
Another example occurred on the Canadian scene.
When Amir Gissin, Israeli consul-general in Toronto, took on that post five years ago, he launched a “Brand Israel’ project. Nevertheless, enemies of the Jewish state continued their attempts at Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel – albeit unsuccessfully – claiming that the ‘Brand Israel’ campaign was covering up alleged abuses against the Palestinian people.
In a letter to the editor in Canada’s National Post, published in September 2009, amidst an attempt by anti-Israel activists to boycott the Toronto International Film Festival, which was highlighting Tel Aviv that year, Gissin wrote: “For over two weeks now, Toronto has been the arena for a bitter struggle between Israel bashers and Israel supporters.... For the past two decades, more than 30 countries and hundreds of cities and regions all over the world have been engaged in a ‘branding’ process. It is a comprehensive, holistic attempt to present an attractive image of a place, which should lead to increased tourism, foreign investment and export. No other country was ever criticized for branding itself; but in Israel’s case, branding is deemed a demonic exercise of the ‘Israeli propaganda machine.’ This even though the Israeli government sponsors award-winning films with self-critical viewpoints that often deal with the conflict that the critics claim we are trying to hide.”
At the King David Hotel meeting, Ben-Shahar told the assembled: “As [American poet/philosopher Henry David] Thoreau said, a ‘fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.’ Of course, there are faults in Israel, and this is what the conversation is about. This is about changing the focus. No country is perfect, but Israel has a lot to celebrate.”