The medium is only part of the message

Shoni Cooper and Daniel Shugert were working in the video production business independently of each other in Israel before they met and made movie magic.

Shoni Cooper (44) and Daniel Shugert (35) from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Aderet, 2004; and from Tucson, Arizona, to Neria, 2010. (photo credit: JERUSALEM MEDIA GROUP)
Shoni Cooper (44) and Daniel Shugert (35) from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Aderet, 2004; and from Tucson, Arizona, to Neria, 2010.
Shoni Cooper and Daniel Shugert, business partners and friends, grew up in the American West and Southwest. Both have taken unusual and unlikely routes to their lives in Israel today.
“I grew up naked in the jungles of Hawaii,” chuckles Cooper, 44, as he recounts his early childhood. Cooper was born in Las Vegas to parents, who, he says, “were very devout and avid hippies.” When he was three months old, they sold everything, packed backpacks and tents, and moved to Hawaii for five years, where they lived on the islands, in the jungles and on the beaches. When he was five, Cooper and his parents returned to the US mainland and backpacked through the Oregon Trail and Colorado. After Cooper’s sister was born, the family moved back to Las Vegas, where his father worked as a casino dealer and his mother was employed as a cocktail waitress while studying to become an emergency medical technician. The family continued their nomadic ways, as they moved to California, where his parents founded a video production company.
Cooper – who is named “Shoni” for his grandmother Shoshana – was a precocious eight-year-old, and soon became a valued part of his parents’ company, working with lighting, cameras and cables. Eventually, the Coopers moved back to Las Vegas. After finishing high school, he spent a year “motorcycling around” California and Arizona. Later, he decided on a whim to join the Air Force, because “I realized that I had never had discipline growing up.” He spent three and a half years in the Air Force and received his degree in engineering while serving in Guam. After finishing his service in 1995, he returned to Las Vegas and began working for ABC News as an operational engineer, videographer and editor.
Cooper grew up with a strong Jewish identity and visited Israel when he was 15. When his aunt in Las Vegas became friends with the wife of the local Orthodox rabbi, he became even more interested. He met the rabbi and began to study more about Judaism. He eventually quit his ABC post and formed an independent production company. In 1998, he traveled to Israel as the official videographer of the Las Vegas Jewish Federation’s “Mega Mission” and “fell in love with Israel all over again.”
In January 2000, he came to Israel and studied at Aish HaTorah for two years. He officially made aliya in 2004, got married in 2005, lived in Moshav Kessalon, moved to Moshav Zecharya, and eventually settled with his wife and family in Aderet.
DANIEL SHUGERT was born in the tiny northern California town of Weed and moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, with his parents as an infant. After his parents’ divorce, he lived with his mother in Flagstaff until he was eight, when they moved to Skokie, Illinois, to live in a Jewish community and to be near his great-grandmothers. When his mother remarried, Shugert moved back to California to live with his father.
“I basically graduated from being Jewish at 13,” he says. His father was not Jewish, and after going to live with him, his Jewish involvement was minimal.
Since childhood, Shugert had been interested in photography, video and multimedia production, and as a college student he worked for the school in video production, while studying that very same subject in class. It was a 2008 bicycle ride across the University of Arizona campus that changed his life. While riding through the campus, he came across an information tent promoting Birthright trips to Israel. His mother had visited Israel years earlier, before he was born, and urged him to go on a Birthright tour. Wanting to please her, he signed up.
“I figured I’d sign up for the trip and make my mom happy so she’d stop bugging me,” he says. Shugert didn’t really enjoy the tour.
“They just rush you through everything so quickly – 30 minutes at each place, then back on the bus.” He extended his return ticket, took a bus to Jerusalem and started walking, “wandering all the dangerous parts of the Old City I shouldn’t have been in,” he chuckles. He found Rabbi Meir Schuster’s Heritage House and began taking classes at Aish HaTorah’s Essentials program.
“I was learning about Judaism in a way I had never been exposed to before.”
After six months, he returned to the US, only after he first purchased a return ticket.
He officially made aliya in 2010, remained at Aish HaTorah for another year and a half, married, and today lives with his wife and family in the community of Neria, near Talmon.
AFTER MOVING to Israel, Cooper and Shugert were working in the video production business independently of each other. Cooper had his own production company. Shugert, needing to use Cooper’s studio space for a project, met him through a mutual friend. Eventually, they combined to form their own video production and live streaming company, Jerusalem Media Group, which today produces content and events for some of Israel’s top artists, companies, organizations and institutions, including Israel Now News, a weekly TV news magazine that is broadcast to predominantly Christian audiences. Their most interesting and rewarding project is Land of the Bible, a weekly 30-minute show sponsored by the Tourism Ministry that focuses on sites in Israel, highlighting their biblical significance.
“Anyone who watches Land of the Bible sees that Israel is a beautiful, dynamic place, with communities in every different style of life that are living here and working together and trying to build something greater,” says Cooper.
Cooper and Shugert compare the video production work that they did in the US with the type of work that they do today. Chuckling, Shugert says, in Israel “one has to remove a lot of zeros from the prices.”
Cooper, a bit more seriously, adds, “Here, there is a lot more meaningful work, all the time. Everyone has something that they want to do from the bottom of their soul.” Producing videos in Israel has additional benefits.
“I’ve been in Israel for nine years,” says Shugert. “Through our work, we’ve met more famous people and been more places than people who’ve spent their entire lives here.”
From Guam to Hawaii, from Arizona to Illinois and points in between, Cooper and Shugert have made many stops along the way.
But as Cooper says, “Israel is the only place in my entire life that I’ve felt like I’m home.”