Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Even though Israel intended no offense with the latest Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs campaign, many American Jews were offended by the controversial television ad. The ad, meant to attract Israeli emigrants back home, showed several unfortunate emotional outcomes to leaving Israel. For instance, one of the commercials shows a child talking to his grandparents in Israel via Skype, who are celebrating Hanukkah. They are asking him what holiday it is today, and the child replies: Chirstmas.
While meant for Israeli emigrants, the campaign ads managed to insult many of the American Jewish communities, who saw it as implying that living abroad means being unable to maintain a proper Jewish life. It was certainly no one’s intention, but it happened. As I mentioned before, the best way to improve Israel’s image is to cooperate with diaspora Jewish communities, and not go against them or make accusations of betrayal of Israel. It has been proven, even if not statistically, that American-Jewish communities are very supportive of Israel, both financially and morally. There is no question on that matter, and the recent change of attitude made by the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs shows they agree.
There has been some serious criticism towards the MPDDA. Many Israelis were disappointed by the lack of ability to improve Israel’s image as seen by the world. When I saw their previous campaign, I actually believed they were even making things worse. After all, going against people would have led us nowhere. The MPDDA recent campaign shows they have taken the criticism to heart, and made a 180 degree turnaround. Instead of making former Israelis feel bad by playing the guilt card, they chose the unity card. This is the first time the MPDDA changed its approach, and really for the better. For the first time, the MPDDA shows diaspora communities the appreciation Israel has for every person who supports Israel and that loving Israel doesn’t necessarily mean moving there.
This campaign, once again, is meant mostly for former Israelis who moved abroad, but also for all American Jews. This time, instead of pushing former Israelis away, the ads try to deepen their connection to Israel from a distance. The commercial campaign is a part of a bigger project, called “Connecting.” According to the MPDDA, three stations have been set up at the two most American Jewish cities: New York and L.A. In these stations, there will be plenty of activities (experimental, cultural and educational) for children, teens and adults. The activity at the centers will be accompanied by a website. The three stations are the preview, and in case of a success, more will open. Another part of the Connecting project is the opening of Jewish schools and kindergartens, special events during Israeli holidays, and many afternoon activities such as cooking, make-up, yoga, Krav-Maga, coaching, preparation for Bar-Bat mitzvahs and weddings, and more.
One of the old ad campaigns. “They will always stay Israelis. Their children will not”:
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June 4, 2012 | 11:11 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
It’s a small world after all, and Globalization makes it even smaller. In the last few decades, thanks to technology mostly, the many civilizations of the world are gradually turning into one, as the citizens of the world share more and more interests. Those shared interests are somewhat “western” interests, such as capitalism and individualism. There is also shared mainstream music, movies, dress codes and more. Most of those western interests are driven by the country which became the center of the world, and is unofficially the world’s largest empire, the United States of America. If you don’t believe me, check the Magic Kingdom’s “it’s a small world” and see for yourself…If you need a less solid proof, read the research and scientific articles pointing in that direction.
As a worldwide trend setter, the American opinion is worth the most. When you vote in favor of something, it will soon spread all over the world- from east to west. Just to meet the eye, there are more than 33,000 McDonalds outlets worldwide, only 18,590 of them are in the U.S. But your opinion doesn’t only set cultural trends; it sets economic and political trends as well. In fact, I believe that American opinion can make a country sink or rise, just like that. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course, and also doesn’t rely on a small group within the American population. But sometimes an event takes place in an American city that can change the opinion that some people have on a certain thing, place or a person.
That is why I believe the annual Celebrate Israel Parade is worth more than in seems. Seeing pictures of Israeli flags which are NOT burning at an event which takes place somewhere else is something of an excitement for me. Not to mention thousands of Israeli flags. In New-York. I’ve never heard of the Celebrate Israel Parade up until Sunday, but this is the 48th time people march for everything that’s good about Israel. It may sound weird, but I don’t see this parade as a political statement. I don’t believe the marchers were expressing a solid opinion about the situation with Iran or the Israeli-Palestinian relations. I believe this was a celebration for Israeli culture and for the place on earth called Israel, where there is beautiful scenery, relaxing beaches and warm people. We are involved in many of the world problems, and many disagree with our policies, including Obama, sometimes. In this case, however, I believe that the public’s opinion may have a greater impact on the citizens of the world than the opinion of world leaders’. I see the age of Globalization as an opportunity for the public opinion to move mountains, and to make a difference, much more than any state cabinet.
I know the world-wide opinion towards Israel is not the most positive one, and this parade will not cause a 180 degree turnaround, but even if it got people to be a little bit more open minded, it has done its part. This parade is more important than any agreement to attack in Iran, or delegitimize the Palestinian state. This is a show of appreciation from people to people, and when it comes from the Word’s trend setter, it is worth much more.
May 30, 2012 | 10:49 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
The Israeli government will soon start paying non-Orthodox rabbis. This news, as it appeared in bold letters in my morning paper, literally put a smile on my face. Not because I am Reform or Conservative, or anything, but because I am really proud of my Israel finally growing up.
We are a start-up empire, we have the best sportsmen, we have a world-wide recognized culture, and a solid economy. By looking into all of these, Israel defiantly seems like a developed, modern country. However, even in 2012, it is run by Orthodox law. Since 1948, the Jewish state firmly condemned all other Jewish streams, by not recognizing them. The Orthodox law, supported by the Orthodox ministers in the Knesset, allowed the Orthodox stream its monopoly. This monopoly made the enlightened Israel, modern in every other way, old fashioned and medieval.
Earlier this week, the Attorney General’s office advised the Supreme Court Tuesday that Reform and Conservative rabbis in some parts of Israel will be recognized as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities” and will receive wages equal to those of their Orthodox counterparts. Only 15 out of 90 Reform and Conservative Rabbis will enjoy this privilege, and this doesn’t yet allow total legal recognition of those non-Orthodox Jewish streams (Non- orthodox weddings will remain unrecognized by the state, and same goes for non-Orthodox conversion). Still, this may be the first step out of the Dark Age lasting from 2000 bc to today. Orthodox Judaism, while being the foundation of Judaism, is a bit old fashioned, unwilling to move forward with time. When it comes to people at their homes, I believe anyone can do whatever he/she wants and believes in behind closed doors. But when an Orthodox law is leading a country, it becomes everyone’s business.
The official recognition of Reform and Conservative Rabbis as Jewish communities’ leaders is what I hope to be the first significant step towards a fundamental change. The true recognition of Judaism as a religion of all people who desire to be Jewish, as they follow their own Jewish beliefs. One thing I strongly believe in is that a religion, any religion, is what you believe it to be. A religion is a belief. I, for instance, don’t keep Shabbos, and I don’t think this makes me any less Jewish, though I’ve been told so several times. The Reform summer camp I worked in last summer seemed very Jewish to me, just as much as any Orthodox Yeshiva. I believe God sees all Jewish people as equal, no matter what Jewish path they choose to follow. All you need is faith.
May 29, 2012 | 10:20 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
• A Canadian holocaust survivor donated a million dollars’ worth of scholarships for young scientists who emigrated from Israel. 92 year-old Marcel Addams was born in Romania and survived the holocaust. Penniless, he moved to Israel, and in time, became a successful real-estate tycoon. Addams has donated grants for 75 Israeli scientists who moved to the States to finish their post-doctoral studies in Israel, helping lure “Israeli minds” back home. This past Monday at Jerusalem’s Israel Arts and Science Academy, nine Israel post-doctoral scientists each received a $100,000 scholarship, allowing them to continue their paths in Israel.
• A thousand Chinese business managers and entrepreneurs will study innovation in a new program at Lahav, the management department at Tel Aviv University. In this program, these students will learn world-renown Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship models. It is scheduled to be a five-year program, with the Chinese city of Nanjing sending 200 managers each year. The program starts next week.
• Henry Kissinger, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, former U.S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, will visit Israel next month. Kissinger will be President Peres’s guest of honor at the fourth President Committee, where Kissinger will be one of six recipients of the newly created President’s Medal. This will be the first time the medal will be awarded, honoring those who made a unique and recognizable contribution to Israel. Kissinger will be awarded this medal for his “Unique contribution to Israel, for maintaining the peace in the Middle East, and for being a statesman who sees to a distance and is graced with creativity and vision.”
• Two Israeli versions of originally American reality TV shows opened their new seasons. “Kokhav Nolad” (the Israeli “American Idol”), started its 10th season, and “Beauty and the Geek” (which features a fellow student of mine as the geek), opened its third season.
• The Israeli feature film God’s Neighbors, which had been chosen to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival’s “Critics Week,” won the Gaul’s Society of Authors, Directors and Composers award at one of the most important film festivals. The film, directed by Meni Yaesh, was also nominated in the Caméra d’Or category for “Best First Feature Film.”
• As we approach the Olympics, Israeli athletes have been taking over the news. Swimmer Jonathan Koplev won the European championship after swimming the 50 meter backstroke in 24.73 seconds. This personal record won him the gold medal, and made him the first Israeli to hold this prestigious title. Joining Koplev on the winners’ podium was Guy Barnea, who won the Bronze medal. Gymnast Alexander Shatilov won the bronze medal in the European Gymnastics championship, held in France this past Sunday. Shatilov will be a part of the Israeli delegation to the Olympics, where he will attempt to become the first Israeli gymnast to win an Olympic medal.
May 25, 2012 | 12:18 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
On March 31st, I had an idea, which I found brilliant at the time, for an April fool’s day prank: on midnight, I changed my birthday on Facebook to April 1st, and quietly laughed to myself.
I went to sleep, waiting for the morning to read what those who are my friends on Facebook, and not in real life, will write on my wall. What happened in the morning really took me by surprise, and was a great social experiment on the way Facebook runs our lives and controls our minds. The first one to congratulate me was a childhood friend from home, whose birthday is a week before mine. She wrote on my wall: “I didn’t know I already had my birthday…Happy fake birthday!”. After she blew my cover, I thought my prank was ruined, but birthday wishes and congratulations didn’t stop flowing. Most of the congratulators were, as I expected, people who my relationship with them is primarily online. Some were distant friends from home, who could have easily been confused with the real date, which is in about two months from now.
I was pleased with my prank, until I read something a good friend from school posted on my Wall. He didn’t just say “happy birthday”, he wrote something from the heart, which I noticed took him a lot of time to come up with. This person, like the rest of my friends from school, only knows me for four months, and there is no reason for him to know when my birthday was. I was lucky enough to gain many good friends in this short period of time, and while this prank wasn’t meant for them, they fell for it, and it hit my conscious. I tried to change by birthday back to the original date, but being smarter than I am, Facebook informed me that I can’t change my birthday twice on the same day.
On 10:50 AM I posted the following on my wall, in English, for my American friends to see as well: “It is only 11am, but I feel bad already…This is April fools day. My birthday is May 24th.
Thank you for the wishes and kind words. You are all free from wishing on my wall on my real birthday. SORRY!!” I thought this would end this whole shenanigan, but, boy, was I wrong…People kept congratulating me on and off my wall. I even received text messages and phone calls and really wanted to hide someplace. Since people didn’t notice the first clarification, I published another one, and a third one, an hour later. About ten people noticed my apologies. Some wanted to kill me. Others thought it was pretty funny.
Throughout the day, three of my good friends posted clarifications of their own on my wall: “Happy regular day, since it is clearly not your birthday”…“Trying to squeeze compliments out of innocent people?”…“You sneaky fox…”, etc. At this point, I was really shocked: how come people haven’t noticed neither my three clarifications nor my friends’ posts? Do people automatically count on Facebook, more than humans? Or maybe they simply congratulate whoever Facebook tells them to, without actually entering their profile?
The moment where I nearly lost my pulse, was when one of my very best friends, who I’ve known for more than nine years now, and currently travel throughout south America, wrote me a message, saying this little prank of mine really got her confused. “I know your birthday is May 24th, but I saw all the blessings on your wall, and I started thinking maybe I forgot…”
It is amazing how we rely on Facebook to tell us people’s birthdays and anniversaries. We count on it so badly, that we feel free to not write important dates on a solid piece of paper, or even to remember them. This time, I got everybody, but I know that I would probably react the very same way if I saw this was somebody else’s birthday. Hell, I do it right now, every single day. I have no idea if today is really my Facebook friends’ birthday, but I still posted three congratulations on three walls. Simply because Facebook recommended me to do so.
We always joke about Facebook’s influence on our lives, but I just realized how profound it is. It defines us, who we are. It tells us who our friends are, what is their relationship status, when are their birthdays, where have they been and who are they spending time with. If you don’t post it- it never happened. We can protest. Kick our feet in the air and say this is not true, and unfair and ruins our lives. But it would be just like fighting windmills. Maybe this is a bad thing, maybe it’s good, but the bottom line is that it’s happening. So go and share this post, because otherwise- you’ve never read it
May 23, 2012 | 11:23 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
In the past couple of weeks, Israeli newspapers’ headlines read “violence.” From murders to stabbings, rapes and even violence toward animals, the summer has brought a storm of violence upon Israel. The papers told the many stories from beginning to end, not leaving a single detail behind, including the criminals’ ethnicity and nationality. Some of the crimes were committed by Israeli Jews, some by Israeli Arabs, some by African refugees.
Indeed, Israel has become the home of hundreds of refugees who have found shelter here. According to the International Refugee Law, if a person requests shelter in a certain state because there is an actual risk for his/her life at their homeland, the state must not deport him/her. The problem is it is hard to tell which refugees have their lives at risk, and which decided Israel is a fine place to live. The latter are illegal immigrants. Because it is impossible to simply kick all immigrants out, for the fear of dismissing legitimate refugees, there have been several governmental campaigns calling citizens of Israel to report on any illegal immigrant who works here that they might know. There have been some arrests, but even still, there are many illegal immigrants still living here. This is a very complex situation, mainly because of the difficulty of making an assessment on the amount of danger one is facing in his homeland. According to the assessments, as of 2005, tens of thousands of refugees came to Israel, most of them entered through the border of Sinai. Only hundreds of them are defined as such by law, as they face a true danger in returning to their homelands.
In 2009, the then new internal affairs minister, Eli Yishai, began working on dismissing all illegal residents from Israel. Starting with “small portions,” hundreds of families were deported from Israel, to mixed reviews from the press and people. After being the top news topic for months, the refugees issue remained on a low flame, until last week. Due to the involvement of African refugees in a few of the violent cases recently, Yishai, who seems to believe Israel needs a new scandal, said that he “would place all of them, with no exceptions, in prison or a closed facility, and from there, provide them with funds and send them back to their countries” (free translation from Hebrew). He also mentioned that the very few defined-by-law refugees will be allowed to stay here. This comment was related to his opinion on the violence roaming the streets. And yes, this was a very racist comment made by an official who was chosen as a representation of the public. He unwisely claimed that most African migrants in Israel are involved in criminal activity, in a statement that couldn’t sound more random to me. True, according to the Israeli Police, 40% of the severe violent cases reported in Tel-Aviv involved African immigrants. But from that to an overall departure of an entire population, the gap is enormous.
Yishai’s remark goes not only beyond any humanitarian conception, but also beyond what is expected from a Jewish person. The land of the Jews was founded 64 years ago, but until then, for thousands of years the Jews wandered around the world, with no place to call “home.” Rootless, we were constantly deported from places and faced many false accusations and racist remarks. The inclusion of all Jews under the same umbrella soon became a valid perception, which peaked at the beginning of the 20th century. One sad day, when the world was low and people were looking for someone to blame for their troubles, one man decided that everyone who is different from what he defined as “standard” was that “someone.” Throughout the early decades of the 1900’s, when living in Europe became dangerous for Jews, most countries refused to accept Jewish refugees and provide them a shelter. Many years have gone by, and we founded that place where all Jews are safe from empty judgments. As Jews, we know best about being different, and the risk of turning our back to a person in distress. The Jews living in Europe at that dark time, were fat thieves with big noses, and had the blame for WW1 and all that followed. Back then, Europe was a place where human kind was ranked by races. There were no private people with different personalities, just labeled origins.
It is unreasonable that a person whose roots are deep in the Jewish history will make a racist remark, not to mention one of that kind. Deport all African immigrants because they are the reason for the violence level in Israel? To me, other than failing as a Jew, Yishai failed as a human being. A violent person is one who has a troubled personality or a troubles socio-economical status, not one who has a “troubled” ethnicity.
May 21, 2012 | 11:05 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
• Tel-Aviv is known to be one of the Gay friendliest places on earth. The Gay pride week, which will take place in the first week of June, has a tourist arrival estimation of 20 thousand people, and the preparations are at their prime. As rainbow colored flags will decorate the porches, the municipality decided to make the streets a bit more colorful as well. Last week, several crosswalks in Tel-Aviv were colored in rainbow colors. This marks the opening of the Gay Pride Month events, which began on May 17th and will last until the grand parade on June 8th.
• The award-winning series, Homeland, which is based on an Israeli series, is currently filming parts of the second season here, in Israel. We all know that art imitates life, but this sentence turned out to be a fact for the cast and crew as former Israeli Prisoner of war, Gilad Shalit came to visit the set. Since his return, Shalit has been turned into a mini-celebrity, as the press informs us of his whereabouts. As reported, Shalit, who already caught up and watched the entire first season of Homeland, was very excited to meet the leading man and woman of the show: Clare Danes and Mandy Patinkin, and even exchanged experiences with the cast and crew.
• As the cultural boycott on Israel gains strength, and more and more artists are cancelling their scheduled performances, there are many who still believe that music is the assent of all. Lenny Kravitz announced his upcoming performance here on October 6th and it will probably take place at the Yarkon Park. Kravitz was scheduled to perform here in 2007, but cancelled due to political pressure. Turns out he couldn’t stay away…
• Disney released the trailer for their new feature The Odd Life of Timothy Green. In the movie, starring Jennifer Garner, you can also spot a new rising star in the Hollywood sky: the Israeli 15 year-old actress, Odaya Rush. Rush moved to the States with her family when she was nine, and since then participated in various commercials, movies, and television shows.
You can see her in the recently released trailer:
May 18, 2012 | 10:01 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
In this post, I would like to talk to you about an experience I’m sure most of you know well- Jewish summer camp. But since you know it so well- I would like to tell you about this experience from an Israeli delegate side. Last summer I had the honor to be a part of an Israeli delegation sent by the Jewish agency to Camp Coleman in Cleveland, GA. It took six months from the day I sent my application forms to the day I boarded the plane. In those six months there were eight hours of examination on my work within a group and by myself; an interview in English with the camp director; a five day preparation seminar; an endless line to get my visa; three days of packing, and more. Being so busy preparing really got my mind off the excitement. It was only when the camp driver, Jon, picked us up from the airport in Atlanta, when the butterflies snuck into my stomach. The very detailed preparation was so we will know exactly what to expect. Luckily, my summer was full of good surprises.
When we, Israelis, go abroad, we take great effort in hiding both our Israeli and Jewish identities. In fear of having an unfortunate incident with an anti-Semitic violent group, or Israel haters, we avoid speaking in Hebrew out loud, and don’t wear any clothes that have Hebrew letters on them. When we are outside of our Israel safe-zone, we have to hide who we are. I don’t like doing it, but it is necessary and I already got used to it.
Camp was the very first time I was proud of being an Israeli outside of Israel. My friends and I felt like we were heroes. Instead of protesting against the IDF, both the campers and the counselors saw us, Israelis, as brave warriors, even if we sat behind a desk for our service time. I could wear my Hebrew T-shirts proudly, and by the time camp ended, I gave two of them to my best American camp friends, who still hold on to them proudly. At nighttime, before my eight year old campers went to sleep, I would tell them stories about the beautiful Israel and answer questions. I was lucky to work as a Journalism specialist, and during some of the classes, I had the campers write about what Israel is to them, and what they think Israel looks like. During days off, when we toured Georgia and came back to the real world, we had to hide our identity again, anxiously waiting for the next day when we go back to camp. For two months, the Camp Coleman Israeli delegation felt like the kings and queens of the world. I was in Heaven, surrounded by Jews who are proud of being Jews, and look up to me, simply because I am an Israeli.
Camp was the best time of my life, and a unique experience. We don’t have summer camps in Israel in that same format as you have, so it was defiantly an original experience for me. It was two months of pure fun (or: “Kef”, in Hebrew) and an everlasting smile. But it wasn’t just the living- in- a- happy- bubble- forgetting-all-my-worries experience that I will forever carry with me; Camp was also the time where I realized I have no reason to be ashamed of being a Jew and an Israeli. More than learning that lesson myself, I got to see children learning that very same lesson. I spoke with children who sometimes go through bad times, when being picked on for being Jews, or when reading the international news version of the Israeli behavior towards Palestinians. They may not be aware of it while being at camp, because they are busy having fun, but from where I was standing, I could see them bloom as Jews and as individuals. Those children were my everything and I am still in touch with some of my campers. Each and every one of them really influenced me in his/her unique way, and I hope I did the same for them. Camp teaches them, every summer, to carry their Judaism with pride, and to always remember where they came from. The Jewish Camp may seem like two months of nothing but fun, but it carries a great responsibility in making the campers love being who they are, as individuals and as a part of the Jewish community.
I’ve been to one camp, which I objectively believe is the best of them all, but I am sure all the hundreds more do the same amazing job in making the Jewish community stronger, and in tightening the Israel- US relationship. Seeing only smiles for two months, and being a part of that amazing creation which is Camp Coleman, was certainly a life changing experience for me.