Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
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: email@example.com
Donates can be made to this account:
Name of account: practico
Swift name of bank: POALILIT
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August 17, 2012 | 3:15 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
As you all probably know, when you reach the age of 18 in Israel, you automatically (with exceptions) serve in the IDF for two years at least. There are many types of jobs you can do, and many ways to serve. It all depends of your personality and abilities. Most people either serve in combat, secretarial jobs, commanding, or intelligence, but there are various other ways to give back to your country. One of the types of service, which is very hard to get in to, is the singing groups. Yes, the IDF soldiers need some entertainment while sometimes being away from home for a long time. While simply being one of the many ways to serve in the IDF, during the 60’s and the 70’s, the IDF singing groups and bands were trendsetters when it came to music. These were times of war, and the soldiers, as well as the civilians, needed their spirits to rise. At that time, the IDF singing groups took over the music charts, and could easily be compared to nowadays Adele or Maroon 5.
Their fame may have faded with time, but their songs from back then are still being heard on the radio, not only during Independence Day. I love this music, and enjoy listening to it. From time to time, after Shabbat dinner, my father takes out the guitar, and we all sing the best of the IDF.
A tribute medley from 2004
August 16, 2012 | 11:29 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Today, I would like to tell you the story of a true friendship, which turned out to be impossible because of a rivalry. I know you’ve already heard of Romeo and Juliet, but I promise you this one is more modern and because of that, more disappointing. This story has officially worn out my optimism when it comes to the Israeli- Iranian relationship.
Remember the “Israelis/Iranians- we love you” campaign? The one that was so successful it turned over some decision makers’ heads? Turns out it is nothing but a wish of the heart. Ella Klein from Israel and Horra Amin from Iran met in Thailand about two months ago. They clicked right away, and knew they won’t let politics ruin their blooming friendship; at least not while being abroad. In one of the warm summer days, the two friends decided to post a shared photo of them on Facebook. Soon, their picture, hugging each other with one hand and creating a shape of a heart with the other, was spread throughout the web, being a living proof of an alleged taboo friendship. This photo revived the old “we love you” campaign, and brought this calm breeze upon us.
But just like in all the classic dramatic plays, the minute everybody’s happy, everything falls apart. When Amin returned to Iran several days later, she reluctantly asked Klein to remove the picture. Klein obeyed and also asked all of her friends who shared it, to remove it as well. Behind this somewhat small act of a picture being removed from Facebook, there’s the shadow of hate. Turns out there were no hugs of joy for Amin when she returned home. The day she got back, she started receiving threats for her life, from people who seek no peace. All she did was make friends with an Israeli, and for that, she ought to be punished. Not so far away from there, Klein was interviewed for the papers, and was welcomed with hands wide open and a big hug. While she was away, she became, even if for a short while, a symbol of peace. Her photo and her new friendship were living proof that there’s room for hope, and that if the people will ever have a say in this, they would end these shenanigans.
At this point, it is very important for me to state that this does not mean that the haters are from Iran only, because we do not lack haters here, too. This is merely an example of how blind hate, which comes mainly from the decision makers of both sides, can sometimes overshadow the true nature of the Israeli-Iranian relationship- friendship. As the “we love you” campaign and many stories such as this showed us all- Israelis and Iranian do not seek war. It is just something our leaders got themselves into, and we are ought to live by.
When I think of this story, I think of what it symbolizes. This is a lot more than a story of a friendship against all odds. This is a story of a friendship destined to be forgotten with time, as this photo will slowly fade away, leaving yellow marks where there were once smiles of two happy women, just enjoying the beach and the sun, not worrying about things not needed to be worried about. Unfortunately, hate won yet another time, and with the removal of this photo, peace was forced to take a step back. However, I have a feeling these small rays of light will not stop glowing from time to time. And although I became slightly less optimistic about this whole peace thing, I want to believe it will be possible someday. Hopefully, before it’s too late.
August 14, 2012 | 12:24 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
This is the first time, since 1988, that Israeli athletes return from the Olympic games without any medals. None. It’s not like we usually bring more than one, but this was still one hell of a national disappointment. This was the first time I watched the Olympic Games, and after a while, I stopped watching games involving Israelis, simply because it is a true downer.
We can’t help but being sentimental here, because here, we are all brothers and sisters. I had at least two friends tagging the athletes on Facebook, wishing them good luck, which means I know most of the athletes by a second degree. That’s how it’s like here, in Israel. We all know each other somehow. It’s partially because we live in such a small place, but mostly because our shared experiences are many, and our warm nature help us make friends faster than Usain Bolt. When we send a representation to a worldwide competition, we all cross our fingers, sharing their tension and excitement, and later their happiness or disappointment. Each and every loss in the Olympics was like punch in the gut for each and every one of us. But even when we’re down, we don’t forget to do the other Israeli thing- hugging strangers. The Israeli athletes’ Facebook pages were filled with “we are proud of you, no matter what” messages, and with every news article that mentioned the word “disappointment,” came the words: “but still a champion.”
I don’t know if you feel it there, in the US. I mean, I know you are very proud of your athletes and that they are now the well- deserved biggest stars nowadays, but do you sympathize with every achievement and every loss? I lately wonder how much would I care about the games if we would have won every second competition. Because now, during these Olympic games, is the first time I feel like Israel is as far away as it gets from the States. On a day to day basis, both countries share common goals and a way of life. When it comes to economics, media, culture, and pretty much anything but size, I feel like we are very much alike. Israel, in spite of being in the middle of the Middle East, is a very progressive western state, that can be said in one breath with the US, Britain, or Germany. In the past couple of weeks, Israel was mostly mentioned in one breath with third world countries.
It’s hard to see Lee Kurzits, Alex Shatilov, Arik Ze’evi and the rest of the team return home with their heads bowed. It’s hard to see them looking for excuses, and feeling guilty for not being able to meet with the expectations. No one knows if it was bad luck or if we were just naïve to believe we can match up to other athletes. After all, for many reasons, known and unknown, the government chooses to put the big bucks in security or education, and not in sports. The bottom line is, we send to London world champions who came back to a strange mixture of appreciation and disappointment. Now, we can only do what we do best: keep up our optimism, hug our national heroes, and hope the lesson will be taught in time for 2016, where we will win.
August 13, 2012 | 12:18 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
*Apparently, even the other side of the globe has heard of our achievements, and wants some of that Israeli magic. University of International Business Economics, one of the largest universities in Beijing, China, will open a department for Israeli economics studies. There, the Chinese students will be able to learn about the history of Israeli economy, about our coveted High-Tech developments, our business culture, and more. To add to that, the first class of Israeli Culture and Language graduated the University of Foreign Studies in Beijing. Seems to me like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
*Turns out Israel has a part in the latest space extravaganza: The Mars rover- Curiosity. Believe it or not, but NASA itself used a small refrigerator, which was developed and created at a factory in the Kibbutz Ein Harod. The small refrigerator has the very important role of protecting a radar on Curiosity, that must be kept in a temperature of -279.4 degrees.
*With all the attention to the Olympic games, an Israeli achievement in sports almost went unnoticed. But even if it’s been outside of London, it is still worth mentioning: Nadav and Aviv Ativ, brother and sister from Rehovot, are now the new champions of Water Skiing. Last week, Nadav won the gold medal at the world championship in Australia, and Aviv took first place in the European championship to the age of 19.
*The American real estate Tycoon, Stan Hoffman, donated dozens of televisions, air-conditioners, fans and other electric appliances to lone soldiers in the IDF. Hoffman, a lone soldier himself, left his family and friends at the age of 19, and joined the IDF. He then continued living in Israel for 21 years, and then returned to the States and made his big fortune. Now, Hoffman’s son serves also in the IDF, and his daughter is also about to join. Hoffman himself decided to use his fortune for a good cause, and with his donations, helped lone soldiers, who are mostly Jews who made Aliyah by themselves.
*Jay and Lina Pedgog, tied the knot at the age of 80 after meeting in Florida. After getting remarried, something both widows never thought they’d do, the newlyweds decided to take another leap. Tomorrow, they will arrive in Israel with a special flight of the “Nefesh BeNefesh” organization, alongside 400 Americans who wish to make Aliyah. Now, they are ready to start a new life here, as they plan to study Hebrew and tour their new home- Israel.
*Florence Waren, who danced for Nazis in Paris, while keeping her Judaism a secret, passed away at 95. In the 1940’s, while France was occupied by the Nazis, Waren helped the French resistance by hiding Jews in her apartment, and transporting guns, according to the New York Times. It was also said that she risked her life many times when helping Jews while trying to maintain her secret, safe identity. After the war, Waren moved to New York, married producer and director Stanley Waren and started an acting career. Last month, she died at her Manhattan apartment at 95.
*Gadi Sahalo, 37, is an Israeli who made Aliyah from Ethiopia. Now, after completing a two month long course, he will become the first Ethiopian Israeli instructor for the high schools Journeys to Poland. In most places in Israel, 11th graders fly with their schools to Poland, for a trip back in time to world war 2 and the Holocaust. Sahalo, who lived in a concentration camp in Sudan for a year before arriving in Israel, will now guide them through the former concentration camps and death camps in Poland.
August 10, 2012 | 3:08 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
This week, I would like to recommend a book. It took me a while to find a good book in Hebrew which was translated to English. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of them, and I must admit: you miss out on a lot. Fortunately, considering the circumstances, the Minheret HaZman (The Time Tunnel) series contains more than 50 books, all written by the amazing Galila Ron-Feder-Amit
The series tells the story of two children, Dan and Sharon, who discover a secret tunnel which takes them back in time to meaningful events in the history of Israel. For example, in the first book in the series, they find themselves in Jerusalem during the Independence war, as they meet new people and try to come back home safe and sound. What I love most about these books is that they involve both action and learning, because as you follow the new characters the kids encounter and the places they go, you actually get to witness, in a way, chapters in our history. I’ve been reading this book since I was about eight or nine, and still enjoy them every once in a while, as I “steal” a glance at them while the kids I babysit read the latest ones. I believe that while they are meant mostly for children and young teens, adults can enjoy them as well.
August 8, 2012 | 10:19 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Tel-Aviv was listed in Lonely Planets’ “Top Ten Hedonistic Cities Worldwide” list. On the surface, this is yet another nice achievement to add to our pat-on-the-back list. But if we dig a little deeper, we can find out there’s so much more into the appearance on this list. Israel is one of the most unique places on planet Earth. We may be a small place, which can sometimes be hard to find on the map, but in our tiny territory we have all kinds of scenery and activities: from late-night cities to beautiful beaches to historical places to small, quiet suburbs. You name it- we got it. Every Israeli knows that they can find a place in Israel for any type of an activity. If you need proof of just how unique Israel is, just ask out neighbors- they all want it for themselves…
The unfortunate fact is, however, that most of the tourists who choose Israel as their vacation destination are either Jews who come for a back-to-the-roots trip, or very religious people who come to experience the holy places for the major three religions. This is how it works, and this is how it has always been. Because of our negative publicity in the world media, and our reoccurring appearances in the news under the taglines: bombing, security and Iran, people just don’t see us as a vacation possibility. I don’t blame anyone, I would probably do the same. But it is not easy to experience so much without the ability to share it and sound reliable. Programs such as Taglit help our image a lot, because it begins with fulfilling the tourists’ expectations to see the land of the Jews, and evolves into everything that Israel is.. What I remember the most from my Taglit experience was how in the last day, the Americans admitted they were both surprised and amazed to see Israel as it really is, and like they never knew.
Programs as such do an amazing job in showing all the various faces of Israel, and thanks to these programs, many Jews do come back here to experience non-Jewish experiences. However the problem is that even if these programs do attract more tourists, they still address only the Jewish audience, when Israel’s target audience is way more varied. A lot had been said, by me as well, on how Israel is so much more than rockets in the sky and day to day fear. But a lot is still needed to be said on how Israel is so much more than Judaism. We have clubs, and quiet cabins up in the mountains, and beaches and archeological sites and constant cultural action. Israel has a lot to give, and I see no reason for it not to be a consideration when planning the next vacation. Sure, there were bombings here, and they sometimes reoccur, but the last time I checked, worse things have happened in cities which are major tourist attractions worldwide. So this really should not be a reason to not come here. Fortunately, Tel Aviv is slowly but surely rising as a popular city, and is heard alongside names such as New York or Berlin. This rising popularity got it the respected place on Lonely Planet’s list, and to me, this is a truly remarkable landmark, and hopefully, another baby step in our way of being recognized as a world class city and a popular vacation destination.
August 6, 2012 | 11:01 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
*The Israeli actress and model, Moran Atias, is expected to co-star in a new picture called Third Person, alongside Mila Kunis, James Franko and Liam Neeson. The new feature is created by Paul Haggis (Million Dollar, Baby), and its plot revolves around three love stories happening in Paris, Rome and New-York. Atias, who speaks fluent Italian, will play a Gypsy living illegally in Italy and does everything in her power to survive. The shooting will begin in October. This is not Atias’ first international role. After becoming a famous figure in Italy, she participated in small roles in CSI:NY and CSI:MIAMI and also took part in the features: The Next Three Days, and Crash.
*The international music festival Lola-Palooza will arrive to Israel next year. The once alternative-rock festival that started in 1991 became one of the best musical attractions, and hosted, amongst others, Lady Gaga, The Killers, Kanye West, and more. In a press conference held in Chicago last week, it was announced that next year’s festival will take place on August 20th in Ha’Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv.
*Jewish Russian tech investor Yuri Miller, decided to transfer 3 million dollars into the bank accounts of nine physicists. Two of the recipients of the Fundamental Physics Prize were the Israeli-American Professor Nathan Seiberg and the Jewish Professor, Edward Witten, both of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton N.J. Witten then announced he is most likely to donate part of the $3 million to J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
*150 young Jews from around the world arrived in Israel to participate in Magen David Adom (the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross) summer program. In this special summer program, foreign volunteers go through a quick 10 days first aid and emergency care course and then experience a month-long volunteer period in an ambulance alongside professional Israeli volunteers. The MDA volunteer programs run in conjunction with the Jewish Agency for Israel.
*A brand new initiative by “Bishoolim” school for cooking opens the opportunity for handicapped individuals to learn how to cook like professional chefs. The school recently opened a new class, aimed for handicapped people sitting in wheelchairs, and provides a specially made cooking class, which allows the participants to function at their best and move around freely. For some tasks, which are a bit more complicated to perform while sitting in a chair, the participants’ caretakers help out.
*74 years after being shut down in Germany by the Nazis, Ha’Shomer Ha’tzair youth movement, re-opened a first branch in Berlin last week. The movement’s first branch in Germany opened in 1931, and was allowed to keep working due to its Zionist nature (at first, the Nazis wanted to clear Germany of Jews, and the longing for Israel helped their initial purpose). In 1938, during the Crystal Night, they were banned from existing, but continued meeting secretly.
*The Breakdance team, Kosher Flava, who’s members come from a small town in Israel, won the Israeli Breakdance championship for the second year in a row , and is due to represent us in the world championship taking place in France, two months from today.