Jewish Journal

The Israeli Family

by Noga Gur-Arieh

August 20, 2012 | 12:10 pm

This is the truly inspiring story of a family putting every single bit of selfishness aside to help Israel: Chami and Oksana Zemach, from the small town, Kadesh-Barnea, Israel, decided that Israel’s lack of proper PR skills will not get in the way of helping the world understand the real Israel. A year ago, the couple, along with their three daughters Gali, Tamar and Michal, went on a seven-month trip through Europe and the U.S and told the locals the stories they never get to hear on the media. They met up with more than 300 groups, and through their personal stories, told the untold story of Israel. It cost them about 600,000NIS, spent from their own pocket, to reach many people and touch many hearts. There was no secret motive, only the wish to make a difference. Now, they started a project called “The Israeli Family”, in which they wish to continue their trip around the world, and send more families abroad to tell their own stories of Israel. 

“We live in a small place in the southern Israel, so we got to meet many tourist groups who came here to see something different than central Israel,” says Chami in an interview to the Jewish Journal. “We moved here from the center ten years ago, and in this time, we found ourselves telling our story to the tourists, in a way that turned to attract their attention. We got the feeling that the people arriving here, listening to what we have to say, go through a personal, positive experience”.

So what got you to pack and tell your story abroad?
“About three years ago, a French group of tourists came to visit. Before they left, the head of the group turned to me and said that she believes we must make sure this story gets to more people worldwide. We didn’t forget what she said, and later that night we were watching television and witnessed yet another false coverage in the world news, another media attack on Israel. We wondered how come no one manages to pass on the Israel beyond the Palestinian conflict, and asked what every Israeli asks at that point: How come no one does anything? At that point, we decided to do something.”

“For two years we planned our trip, which was meant to go around the world. We made connections worldwide and published ourselves in different places, calling people to come and meet with us. The purpose was to talk only to people who want to talk to us, and not force ourselves. We left a year ago, on August 1st, and began our journey. We were six weeks in Europe and six weeks in the States. In this time, we enjoyed great popularity and got massive media coverage in the States, in Europe and in Israel. We were hosted by NBC news and other channels, and were interviewed on the radio and in print media. We had 300 meetings in that time, in which we tried and managed to show Israel from a normative point of view. We tried to avoid talking about politics, and the main purpose was to say that when we wake up in the morning, we don’t just worry about the possibility that Iran would cast a nuclear bomb or something. Our say was that there is normal life in Israel every day. My wife, who’s a Chef, taught cooking classes, in which she told her own Israeli story, as a person who made Aliyah. My daughters sing and play the guitar, and they met with teenagers to talk about music and culture. I gave lectures and presentations, but the most important thing to us was to allow as many questions as possible to be asked. People don’t see Israel as a regular tourism destination. Most tourists who come to Israel are Jews or religious people. This is a wall that is hard to break due to the media focus and exaggeration on the negative sides of Israel. However, we were surprised to see many pre-judgments shatter.”

Have you encountered difficult questions? Ones you didn’t know how to answer?
“People worldwide are very interested in Israel for many reasons. For natural reasons to get a headline, the media chooses to focus on the Palestinian conflict when addressing Israel, and so, those who don’t dig any deeper, only get this coverage as information about Israel. Most people don’t know the daily life here, and so we wanted to being them the most normative, average Israeli family and tell them about our normative life. We don’t spend our days thinking about the conflict for the same reason the citizens of Chicago don’t spend their days thinking about the many murder cases there. We assumed that if we come with interesting content and present it in an appealing way, people would want to hear more. We let people ask as many questions as they want, and most of them asked about our day to day lives, and not about the conflict.”

“In the several times we were asked about the conflict, we knew it’s not our job to explain Israel’s foreign affairs. What we did to was to show the complexity. Those questions came from a place of no knowing many things, which is natural when you live someplace else. We tried to show that the purpose was to learn and understand, and not to judge.”

“Our last stop was L.A, and then we had to return home, because we ran out of money. The plan was to travel around the world, and we figured out we would be able to raise more money in the process, to help us finish the journey. But after seven months, we had to cut the trip short. It wasn’t a disaster or anything, but it does feel like a miss. Now we are trying to create the sequel and go to the other side of the world as planned.”

So what’s next for you?
“We’ve built an organization called ‘Israeli family’ whose purpose is to expand this activity and make it continuous. We will track down volunteering families, train them and send them on their journey. So far we have a great cooperation with the Jewish Agency, but our expectations of finding donors and sponsors in our trip were turned down. When I tried to realize why we didn’t have success in that area, I’ve come to the conclusion that our confidence and passion maybe made people believe we don’t really need the financial support. On the other hand, we couldn’t change the way we did things, because we didn’t want to compromise our mission. We want to continue our mission and expand the Israeli Family project, so that we can influence more people in presenting them the real Israel, and so we are now looking for people who wish to help us with funds or sponsorship. This is the only way we can continue to speak on behalf of Israel.”

The Israeli Family website: http://il-family.com/en/

If you seek to donate to the Israeli Family project, or become a sponsor in any way, you can either contact Chami here:  isrfamily@gmail.com

Donates can be made to this account:

Name of account: practico

Swift name of bank: POALILIT

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My name is Noga Gur-Arieh, and I’m an Israeli Journalist, currently studying for my B.A degree in Media and Political Science, at Tel Aviv University.

I am very socially...

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