‘Not just tanks and chasidim’

‘Not just tanks and chasidim’

UJA-NNJ presentation to show another side of Israel

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey wants to change what people think about Israel.

To do that, the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA-NNJ has spent the past two years putting together a multimedia presentation about the Jewish state to show that "Israel isn’t just about tanks and chasidim," said Ruth Siev, the JCRC’s project coordinator. "We knew there was a need in the non-Jewish community to understand Israel a little better."

The resulting project — Hope for Peace in the Middle East: Understanding Israel — is an initiative of the Hope For Peace Speakers Bureau, a committee of 10-1′ people within the JCRC. The group decided two years ago to make the video after seeing a similar presentation at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs conference.

A member of the committee will narrate the PowerPoint presentation, which will provide information on Israel’s positions and history and take a close look at the Israeli people. Hope for Peace will have its first public showing on Sept. 30 at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne.

"There’s been a need in the Jewish community to explain Israel and its people to the world," said Alain Saunders, a member of the committee, and the narrator of the first presentation. "A lot of what is said about Israel in the media and in general discussions is not accurate. There is a need, especially for the non-Jewish community, to explain clearly what Israel is about so people can understand the issues and come to a realistic and positive understanding of what needs to be done there."

The PowerPoint is targeted to religious, civic, and nonprofit organizations, but Siev would like to see it available to the entire community. And although the committee originally put the project together for the benefit of non-Jewish groups, it has found that Jewish organizations are just as interested in the material.

"Unfortunately, a lot of American Jews don’t fully understand Israel either," said Siev. Israel is very similar to the United States, she pointed out. It is a democracy with freedom of speech and religion, and a diverse population. The presentation draws attention to Israel’s powerful hi-tech sector and to its lesser-known humanitarian side, she said, pointing out that Israel has provided humanitarian aid to Vietnam, Greece, Turkey, and Indonesia, and it sent help to the United States during Hurricane Katrina. Many in the Jewish community are unaware of Israel’s aid work, especially regarding what it has done in America, Siev said.

A portion of the presentation focuses on Israel’s biblical roots and on the connection Jews have had with the land over the past 3,000 years. To complete the picture, the presentation addresses the war on terrorism and Israel’s quest for peace, which, Siev said, is a central message.

"There seems to be great support for the State of Israel but [people] don’t have an understanding of what Israel is," Saunders said. "One of the big points is to [show] a country very similar to the United States, very familiar, very comfortable to live in."

The Y in Wayne will show the program as a kick-off to its "Israel at 60" programming, said Cheryl Wylen, the Y’s director of adult education. It will hold two showings: one open to the community, to which area churches have been invited; and the second, for children in area religious schools.

"Everybody can benefit from the program and learn a little bit more," Wylen said. "People might have misunderstandings that this could help clear up."

For example, said Saunders, he wants to correct misperceptions relating to the west bank and the Gaza Strip.

"We have found many times that people really don’t understand the basics of the conflict," he said. "They take it as the starting point that Israel is in possession of these territories, but how it came to be, nobody knows."

Leading up to its debut next month, the presentation has undergone many changes, said Siev, pointing out that the Middle East continues to reshape itself.

"We feel we have a good product now that we’re ready to show the community at large," she said. "As things change in the Middle East, we will be adding and deleting materials. It’s a work in progress."

For more information on the Hope for Peace presentation, call Siev at (’01) 488-6800.

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