May 15, 2008
A birthday gift
In a marketing-obsessed world, milestones give us an easy way to promote our brands. For lovers of Israel, promoting the brand of Israel is important business, especially since the country has taken a real beating over the years. So naturally, when a chance comes up to give that brand a little shine -- like a 60th birthday -- we run with it.
That's why this year, Israel@60 has become the hot Jewish brand.
Every Jewish newspaper in the world has devoted a special section. Every Jewish community is doing multiple celebrations. Israeli embassies and consul offices are busy squeezing every ounce of Israel@60 good will from their local communities. World leaders are sending messages of congratulations. Elites from everywhere are gathering in Jerusalem at the invitation of President Shimon Peres. And, of course, every Jewish writer of note is weighing in with their personal reflections on the state of the Zionist project. (My favorite is Yossi Klein Halevi's piece in this week's issue.)
There's something intoxicating about all this activity. I feel like I'm getting drunk on Israel. The Jewish world is rising up and giving my cherished Israel a celebration for the ages.
So why, then, do I also feel a certain emptiness?
Is it because I'm too aware of the growing dangers that Israel faces? Or that I know most of the world will go right back to hating us once the party's over, or that these kind of big-bang celebrations just leave us with one big hangover?
Maybe, but I think there's more. I see a missed opportunity. I love the sense of pride that the celebrations have fired up, but I wish someone had launched the Israel@60 campaign with this theme: "What will you give Israel for her birthday?"
That's right: What will you give Israel for her birthday? What I think is missing from all the hoopla is a birthday gift from each of us to the Israel we love.
And I don't mean money. Money is the gift for normal times. A 60th anniversary is not a normal time. It's a time to celebrate, yes, but also to reflect, take stock, look deep inside of ourselves -- and offer a special gift.
Imagine going to celebrate your parents' 60th wedding anniversary. What kind of gift would you bring? Would it be personal? Would it have special meaning?
Now imagine going to celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary. What's the most personal and meaningful gift you can make? What is your unique passion or talent? What can you bring to the party to show your love for the honoree?
Whatever your thing is, it's worth bringing. If you're a musician, organizer, writer, artist, environmentalist, cook, teacher, activist, comedian, doctor, architect, rabbi, Web designer, business tycoon or filmmaker, whatever your passion, it can become your personal gift to Israel.
Make a film. Write a poem. Start a Web site. Help at a soup kitchen. Organize a trip to Israel. Find a cause dear to your heart. In short, look at what Israel needs, and see how your talents match up.
So, what about me, what's my "thing" for Israel?
These days, the advertising guy in me would love to promote a side of Israel the world rarely sees -- the good side. God knows the anti-Israel propaganda machine has done a remarkable job of turning Israel into a globally reviled country. And God knows Israel has more than enough critics who expose her many mistakes and weaknesses. But who is balancing the picture? Who is showing the other side? Who is spreading the word on Israel's many contributions to the world?
Of the $1 billion a year in Jewish philanthropy, how much do you think goes to advertise in the mainstream media the numerous contributions Israel makes to humanity? Virtually zero.
So this is my birthday gift to Israel: Ads4Israel.com.
It's a new organization whose mission will be to create and run ads worldwide that show Israel's incredible gifts to the world, in such areas as combating disease, developing alternative fuels, fighting world hunger, creating life-changing technologies, revolutionizing agriculture and much more. There are literally hundreds of areas where Israel has helped make the world a better place, and Ads4Israel will do its share to let the world know. The Web site will offer a variety of ads that donors will be able to support and help run.
Why ads? They're dramatic, quick and efficient. You can reach 100 million people with a powerful message in a few seconds. Grass-roots efforts, conferences, articles, books, Web sites, etc., are all valuable, but when 99 percent of the planet has been poisoned by three-second visual sound-bites about Israel, the best way to fight back is with equally powerful sound-bites.
Will this solve Israel's image problem overnight? Nothing can. But we can at least raise immediate awareness of Israel's value to the world, and that's a gift.
We each have a gift. What will be your birthday gift?
David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.