JERUSALEM – Rabbi Joel Landau, a congregational rabbi who made aliyah, used to promote Israel from his pulpit at Beth Jacob Congregation in Irvine, Calif. Now he helps produce film clips promoting Israel’s scientific and cultural achievements. Rabbi Landau’s involvement began when a congregant, J. Harvey Karp, took a trip to Israel in 2003 during the Intifada. The image of Israeli buses targeted in suicide bombings, Israeli security forces and the blood stained streets of the Holy Land were the only window afforded to those watching the news outside of Israel. But in Jerusalem, Karp saw a different side that wasn’t getting reported.
“On an everyday basis, Israel was making contributions to the world in agriculture, high tech, education, plus a meaningful amount of Arab and Jewish interaction. Yet none of this was covered, Rabbi Landau said. “People were getting a distorted picture about Israel. Based on the mainstream media, people would think that Israel was another Beirut.
“Harvey was always a supporter of Israel. I motivated him to ‘upgrade’ the nature of his support of Israel, to do something more involved than writing checks,” Rabbi Landau told the Jewish Tribune.
Thus, Karp, a retired commodities trader, set out to form Israel Up Close (israelupclose.org), a nonprofit production company dedicated to finding the stories beyond the headlines and finding space in the bad-news cycle for some positive news, unrelated to politics and reflective of real life in Israel.
Research has shown that the average person doesn’t care about the Arab-Israel conflict, media expert Jason Pearlman explains. “Therefore, if you try to explain the conflict, it falls on deaf ears,” he said.
But technology speaks to the average person that politics doesn’t because he perceives how it could improve his life.
Rabbi Landau sees Israel’s contributions to the world as the “Jews being a light unto the nations.”
He explains how Israel Up Close’s goals are twofold: to show what Israel is and to show its humanitarian side.
“It’s true that Israel has a nasty conflict with its neighbours. But it also has a wonderful side to things,” the Rabbi mentioned.
To date, Israel Up Close has produced more than 100 high-quality news videos, each giving a positive perspective on Israel and Israelis. Among the film clips are videos showcasing Israeli innovation such as a device that produces water from thin air, skyscraper mass evacuation and a mechanism that generates electricity from traffic.
The film clips have been shown on Israeli TV, CNN, and other international TV networks and websites.
Israel Up Close already has 20 clips in Arabic.
Rabbi Landau says that it will soon have an Arabic website. And he has future plans to create film clips in Chinese, Russian and Spanish.
“One of the jobs as a rabbi has been to motivate people and strengthen their connection to both Judaism and Israel,” Rabbi Landau said, “Therefore, this is a very important vehicle to connect people with Israel.”