Forward Thinking

Celebrating the Beauty of Israel in Film

By Todd Zeff

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On Yom Haatzmaut morning, bright and early at 8:30 am, my four-year-old son Asher broke a crystal vase. It was an accident, but it could have been avoided. He could have chosen to play in a different place, and we as parents could have guided him better in his morning shenanigans. Horrified, Asher asked if he would still be allowed to go to the Yom Haatzmaut BBQ.

While we need to teach our son to be responsible, we also need to teach him that we have reasonable expectations and do not expect him to be perfect. We ask him to learn and grow as he matures out of toddlerhood. So yes, he got to join the family — and all of Israel — at the Yom Haatzmaut BBQ and festivities in Jerusalem.

Yom Haatzmaut is a day of joy for Israelis and Jews throughout the world — a celebration of the establishment of a home state for the Jewish people. But Yom Haatzmaut is more than a BBQ and a day to relax: It is the day we celebrate the right of Jews to live freely, as a nation, in our homeland, the Land of Israel.

In the pages of the Forward, writer and editor for this blog Sigal Samuel critiqued Israel: A Look Back, a film made by Jerusalem U, the organization for which I work. She claims that the film, which highlights the struggles and triumphs of the Jewish State, is disingenuous for failing to highlight, among other things, the “terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to… (the) Arab population.” Samuel lists many similar accusations, some accurate and others false, that she feels our video should have included in order to celebrate Israel without bias.

I strongly disagree with everything she wrote except this: The unbiased truth is that Israel is a State where there is much work to be done, compromises to be made and wrongs to be righted. However, that should not preclude those who love Israel from celebrating her accomplishments. When my son Asher turns five and we throw him a birthday party, we won’t bring up the vase he broke and list the mistakes he has made up to that point. We won’t be ignoring them, but to define him by his faults, when he is growing, maturing and trying to do better, would be a mistake of our own.

We can celebrate Israel Day at parades in our communities, Israel Day at summer camp, or Israeli Cultural Day on college campuses, without contradicting our commitment to improving the democracy, equality and freedom of the State of Israel. In fact, with her article, Samuel has highlighted an entirely different problem; we have crossed a line from being able to both struggle with and celebrate Israel, to simply demonizing our country at every opportunity.

To demand that the world focus on Israel’s failures whenever it remembers her successes sets unreasonable expectations for this new state. That the critic of our film feels the need to refute and berate it can be seen as a reflection of her personal animosity toward Israel.

Our film was intended to support Israel — to bring confidence and encouragement to those who love her and to share a picture of Israel which reflects our joy, our pride and our hope for her future.

The question is what picture, what story, do we focus on?

Do we focus on the pain or the progress?

Do we focus on the injury or the healing?

Can we see the miracle without seeking fault at every turn?

The Jewish people are fundamentally a people of optimism. We are the people who took the text of Ezekiel 37:11, “Avdah Tikvateinu — our hope is lost,” and transformed it to say “Od Lo Avdah Tikvatenu — our hope is not yet lost.” Our history is filled with sorrow and defeat. But as a nation, and in film, we can choose to see the beauty. And not only can we tell of the beauty of modern Israel, but we should. We have much to be proud of.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch our minute-long film and decide for yourself. Leave a comment and let us know how you feel about this issue.


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