“I get a lot of complaints from high school and college students who say that when it comes to Israel, they didn’t get the whole picture,” said Zeev Ben-Shachar, director of Israel education for Jerusalem U. “They don’t know how to respond to criticism of Israel and Zionism.” Ben-Shachar spoke on “Israel Beyond the Conflict: Innovation, Creativity and Improving the World” at the second Metrowest Community Breakfast for Israel held on Sept. 10 at Temple Israel of Natick.
Jerusalem U is a Jewish National Fund (JNF) partner organization which creates and distributes feature films and film-based educational programs with the goal of connecting young Jews, 16-30, with their Jewish roots and with Israel. Ben-Shachar explained to the packed house in Natick that “to comprehend the miracle that is Israel is to understand that Jews are indigenous to the land, with a history tracing back 3,000 years, with the same religion, language and traditions.” Ben-Shachar showed the two-minute documentary “Imperial History of the Middle East – 5,000 Years in 90 Seconds,” which depicts how Jews persisted in the land of Israel despite invasions by the Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Mongols, Crusaders and Ottomans, to name a few. He noted that JNF was founded 115 years ago to help Jews purchase land in Israel from the Ottoman Empire.
Ben-Shachar oversees a team of content writers and develops online courses and documentary films. “We need to help young people understand what claims are real and which are made up,” he said. “Young Jews hear that all narratives are valid, that there’s no right or wrong. But there is a difference between a narrative that’s made up and one that can be backed up with facts.”
Why use film to connect with young Jews? “It’s not enough to ‘get it’ intellectually,” said Ben-Shachar, “you need to ‘get it’ viscerally. This is how we inspire the next generation, along with facts and history.”
Ben-Shachar also serves as senior educator for the Jerusalem U Israel Gap Year, a leadership development program for post-high school students studying in Israel. The course, taught in over 20 schools to 500 students, provides a comprehensive foundation of Israel-related knowledge and addresses the issues at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
During his Natick talk Ben-Shachar also showed “Forever,” an inspiring two-minute ode to the Jewish people featuring Chole Valdary, who was called “an expert in Israel engagement in the millennial space” by The Times of Israel. He also showed trailers for a new film about Israeli soldiers with PTSD, “When the Smoke Clears,” which will be screened locally in October and for “Sustainable Nation,” which documents how Israeli water technology is helping developing nations in dire need of water. “Sustainable Nation” will debut on Earth Day 2018.
Jerusalem U has also produced “The Six-Day War Project,” 12 mini-documentaries to educate those who are uninformed about the 1967 war, which, said Ben-Shachar, “transformed the Middle East as well as the Israeli and Jewish psyches.”
Jerusalem U has worked with Hollywood stars including Mayim Bailik and Gary Sinise, as well as Alan Dershowitz and England’s Chief Rabbi Emeritus Lord Jonathan Sacks. All films are in English.
Film producer Raphael Shore founded Jerusalem U in 2009. His first production was the 2010 documentary “Crossing the Line: The Intifada Comes to Campus,” which explores the proliferation of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments on North American college campuses. His second was the 2012 PBS-broadcast film “Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference,” which explores the global contributions of the State of Israel.
Ben Shachar noted that Shore was concerned about the moral confusion among millennials. “They need to understand that there is no moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. In Israeli schools the children learn about peace, not so in Palestinian schools. When Israel makes a mistake we investigate; when there’s a wrong the person is punished. There is a difference between an army like the IDF and a terrorist organization. They also need to understand that the Holocaust accelerated but did not lead to the establishment of the state of Israel.”
Ben-Shachar holds a BA in psychology from Harvard. After graduation he taught there (Mark Zuckerberg was a student) and received a certificate of distinction for teaching. He also holds a master’s in Middle Eastern studies from Tel Aviv University. Ben-Shachar served as a commander in the IDF’s elite Sayeret Givati Brigade.
Jerusalem U is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. For more information and to view film trailers, go to jerusalemu.org.
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