Opinions & Commentary

Making the case for Israel through storytelling

Jerusalem U, a relatively new nonprofit organization with roots in Israel and the U.S., takes a very clever approach to advocating for the Jewish state. Instead of arguing with critics and detractors of Israel, Jerusalem U produces well-crafted documentary films about the history, people and daily life of the Jewish state that aim to cultivate among young Jews pride in being Jewish and an emotional connection to Israel.

At the second annual Jewish National Fund MetroWest Community Breakfast for Israel held at Temple Israel in Natick on Sept. 10, we were treated to an introduction to the group’s pedagogy, illustrated with clips of some of its films, by Jerusalem U’s personable director of Israel education, Zeev Ben-Shachar.

As with last year, this highly successful event, attended by 200 Zionists, happened through the commendable efforts of Dubi Gordon, on the synagogue side, and his son Gali, on the JNF side. Other noteworthy participants included presenters Rabbi Daniel Liben and Harriet Merkowitz of Temple Israel; JNF regional director Sara Hefez and outgoing president Jeffrey Woolf, both of whom serve with distinction; and Jerusalem U’s passionate regional director, Sara Zuckerman Ovadia.

First, Ben-Shachar screened stirring footage of Moshe Dayan and the Israeli army retaking the Temple Mount in 1967. While the Six-Day War transformed the modern state of Israel “from a weak people to a superpower,” he suggested it was Israel’s 3,000 years of continuous existence – including 1,000 years of autonomy – that really cultivates an appreciation for “the miracle of Israel.”

A true Zionist, Ben-Shachar throughout his talk quite rightly made no distinction between the nation of Israel and the State of Israel.

He then laid out the sequence of six tenets about the Jewish nation-state that Jerusalem U seeks to impart in its films:

Israel’s authenticity derives from our following the same practices and speaking the same language in the same place that we did three millennia ago.

Israel draws inspiration from the development of our ideas and our current and historical innovation, and creates structures to sustain that inspiration.

Israel makes a choice to embrace the future, is inspired by a vision of that future and does the hard work of making that vision a reality.

Finally, Israel creates structures that ensure accountability; essentially, we are accountable to each other.

This page may quibble with some of the aesthetic choices made in some Jerusalem U films, but we strongly concur with Ben-Shachar’s description of the Zionist aspiration of the group.

“Success,” he said, “is when a student sees himself as a part of the story of Jewish history.”


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