Culture, Global, Israel, Politics

Israel does something right!

I just left Hebrew College at half-past midnight, and despite needing to be back there in about eight hours for work, I’m so excited about what was taking place I need to share it with you all here.
I was motivated to show up at my place of employment on a Saturday night to hear one of my favorite authors, Etgar Keret, read some stories and speak. That program in itself was pretty terrific, drawing a crowd of about 150 or so people, ranging in age from high school students to senior citizens. But that’s not what I’m so excited about right now.
Etgar KeretLet me back up. In the week leading up to tonight’s program, I found myself thinking about Keret’s work a lot. Most of his stories are so short, they can sneak up on you, stun you, and conclude before you’ve really had time to process what they’re saying. But this week I had a big “aha!” moment when I figured out why they resonate for me. Many of Keret’s stories deal with individuals who get whatever it is they wanted, only to find out that what they wanted isn’t what they thought it was. So for example, there’s the boy who wants a doll, but gets a piggy bank instead (so he can save up for a doll), but he ends up loving the pig as a doll and refusing to crack it open to spend the money. Or there’s the man whose girlfriend has a secret: at night she turns into a fat, hairy, foul-mouthed man. So, the protagonist makes the best of it and has great sex in the afternoon and a hell of a drinking buddy at night. And so on… What I realized about this theme is that it sums up my relationship to the modern state of Israel. Israel sure hasn’t turned out how I (or, I’d assume, anyone) imagined it would. But I make the best of it. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish she didn’t turn into a fat, hairy, foul-mouthed man — or that I don’t hope the man at least will lose some weight and learn some manners — but that doesn’t undo the positives either. If my facebook page had a spot for relationship to Israel, you know it would say “it’s complicated.”
Makom: Renewing Israel Engagement, A Jewish Communities/Jewish Agency NetworkBut I was telling you about the very exciting part of the night. That came afterward, when I was part of an interview conducted by the Jewish Conversation Project under the auspices of Makom. I had never heard about Makom until their logo showed up on the flier for tonight’s program, but it apparently has been around since 2004, when the Jewish Agency decided they wanted to adopt a new approach towards Israel education in the United States.
So, according to the fellow representing Makom tonight, that approach now is to encourage Federations to back off from the “Israel right or wrong” approach in favor of “engaging with Israel.” To put it in layman’s terms, people in the young adult age demographic don’t like being talked down to, and the Jewish establishment is alienating us but narrowly defining the conversations around Israel. The Jewish Agency thinks that maybe we’d be better off encountering a broad range of realities about Israel and having the opportunity to form and share and reform our opinions. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Where does the Jewish Conversation Project come in? They’re working with Makom to develop a documentary film of real, live American young adults talking about our relationships to Israel and what we think of the Israel programming we’ve seen. Let me tell you, there was no mincing of words tonight. We were upfront about what we love about Israel, what troubles us about Israel, and why we’re tired of flag-waving, falafel-eating keg parties and political rallies as the only programming available. Makom intends to use the film to show Federations what we think, straight from the horses’ mouths.
Tonight was the first set of interviews in a process that will stretch across the country and last through the summer. I’m really interested in seeing the final product, and even more interested in how Federations will react. And I’m thankful that the Jewish Agency understands that open, honest, in-depth engagement with Israel, warts-and-all, is ultimately good for the Jewish people.

11 thoughts on “Israel does something right!

  1. I have been reading Keret for many years now and this is a wonderful insight into his stories that I never thought about before. Thanks for sharing.

  2. The project is just starting – filming won’t finish until the summer, and then there will be editing/post-production. I’m sure whenever there’s a product, I’ll blog about it here. You can also check the Jewish Conversation Project website periodically. I’m sure they’ll have information when it gets closer, but I wouldn’t expect anything before autumn at the earliest.

  3. Just a style comment, that triple negative is really confusing “That doesn’t mean I don’t wish she didn’t turn into a fat, hairy, foul-mouthed man”.
    I’m still not exactly sure what you’re trying to say with that line. Do you want Israel to turn into a fat, hairy, foul-mouthed man?

  4. That’s what I get for posting at 2 in the morning. I mean, in an ideal world, Israel wouldn’t be a fat, hairy, foul-mouthed man… but in the reality we have, she does. We have two options: dump her and miss out entirely, or learn to appreciate the good while hoping for (and working towards) rehabilitation of her deplorable qualities.

  5. Hmm. With all respect for the poster’s enthusiasm, I have to say that I’m pretty skeptical of this initiative. Personally, I doubt very much that the “Jewish Agency understands that open, honest, in-depth engagement with Israel, warts-and-all, is ultimately good for the Jewish people.” It seems far more likely that this is just the Jewish Agency’s newest idea for a way to attract Jews of a particular demographic.
    I doubt that they’re particularly interested (to say the least) in the nuanced opinions of young American Jews regarding Israel, and I further doubt that “the JA thinks that maybe we’d be better off encountering a broad range of realities about Israel and having the opportunity to form and share and reform our opinions.”
    I think it’s far more likely that this is just a new marketing strategy on behalf of the sochnut. The real realities of Israel are such that they would, methinks, ultimately work to the detriment of the JA’s goals. There’s a tremendous difference between rejecting “flag-waving, falafel-eating keg parties and political rallies” and really dealing with the realities of the state, some of which are pretty horrific.
    And finally, isn’t anyone else disturbed that this much time and energy is being spent “engaging” Americans on questions of a country of which they are not citizens, and to which they probably have very little connection? How about instead of agonizing over the question of how Jews should engage Israel, Jews forget Israel for a little while and focus on the country in which they actually live?

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