Israel. The word sparks a shiver, a smile, maybe some frustrations… but for too many people in the world it sparks a question mark.

Why? Why should a Jew living comfortably elsewhere in the world feel obligated to have a connection with this controversial slice of desert so far away?

In truth, there is no “should” in the formal sense of the world. The “should” isn’t because someone else expects it of you. Or if it is, that shouldn’t be the basis of the connection. It should come from somewhere real. It should come from the heart, the mind, the soul that says “this is something that I belong to, bigger than me, maybe far away, but still something that I can proudly be a part of.”
Last night, gathered together in a fabulous niche in Talpiyot at PICO Jerusalem, social media-minded individuals came to take part in the Social Media Mingle: Voices for Israel Engagement. Put together by the up and coming Israel Forever Foundation, the evening was designed to share, question, and ignite inspiration and action.

People came because, for one reason or another, they were intrigued. This was an opportunity to combine our passion for social media and networking with our a deep-seated love for Israel and the future of the Jewish People. 

Social Media Mingle Jerusalem 2013 (47)

An incredible panel, brought together for the very first time, shared their thoughts on what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, and how we can respond to the current trends to improve our effectiveness and strengthen our impact. I was thrilled to be working with people who share such passion and dedication to Israel and an interest in being a part of this innovative approach. Some of their great quotes have been highlighted by Mordecai Holtz, an enthusiastic attendee who, like others in the room, also brought experience, perspective, and insight into how we can work together to make change. 

As I shared last night, we have an opportunity to help people beyond the headlines that tarnish the magnifying glass held over our one and only Jewish State. We have the power to not only “Take Back the Media,” as Sarah Tuttle Singer so eloquently phrased it. We also have the ability to “Take Back Israel” by shifting the focus toward how Israel can be a meaningful part of someone’s identity and life, no matter where they live in the world.

Advocacy, Hasbara – both essential – are missing one component: the desire to feel a connection must be there. The understanding of how Israel is or can be meaningful must be fostered. The only real way to make a difference is to make Israel relevant for the 70% of Jews in the world. 

We all know how easy it is to just click “LIKE” but getting those “shares” is so much harder… Our goal in coming together is to think beyond the like, tweet, or shared photo as to how we can make a real influence in the way people think about and relate to Israel.

We at The Israel Forever Foundation try to put Israel at the fingertips, and in the heart and home, of every Jew in the world. Should they be able to afford that family vacation? Fantastic. Should they make Aliyah, wonderful. But there will forever remain a large percentage of those who need to be able to connect in the meantime. It is our responsibility to invite them, and that is what we aim to do: to help people celebrate and strengthen their personal connection to Israel by providing a sense of belonging through innovative and collaborative initiatives.

Israel Engagement from a distance is reliant upon people knowing where to go, what to look for.  More importantly, people have to have the wherewithal to commit themselves to the ongoing and often negative rhetoric of accusation, debate, and constantly being on the defensive. Otherwise its just about sharing pretty pictures.

Those of us who live here are lucky enough to know the Israel that helps us get through the challenges, the politics, the conflict from the inside and the media misrepresentation, the delegitimization from the outside. By working together, we can create a different type of Israeli Innovation – opportunities both virtual and real that address the question of how those of us passionate about Israel can inspire interest, engagement, and connection for people who might otherwise not consider Israel important to their lives or who are searching for a way to be involved.

We who already have the feeling within us, we have the ability to inspire it. How can we encourage people to see there is a value as to what Israel brings to their lives? How can we help them feel as if they are a part of the community and to move beyond the political, religious, even cultural differences that might otherwise divide us? All the talk about the best forms and formulas of Israel education are only as good as how personal they make it. Just as it has been said that a man or woman does not walk away from Israel unchanged, so, too can we make it possible that a person’s life can be enhanced by an ongoing relationship with Israel. We have the power to make that a reality.

Social media platforms are today one of the most important and valuable ways to reach the masses. Four incredible initiatives were created last night. The impact of each of them will rely not only upon our success as a collaborative, but also on our success in finding others to join us, to become a part of a global initiative to make Israel personal.

Just as we continue to be proud of the hi-tech innovations of Israel, we can also be proud of this new and dynamic Israeli innovation of inspiring a personal connection, of making waves, of creating a virtual community with our Virtual Citizens of Israel, and of providing fun ways to engage with the Israel that can indeed contribute to a vibrant and fulfilling Jewish identity just as it has for 2000 years before we were again returned to our ancient homeland.

This is clearly just the beginning of something wonderful. We look forward to welcome everyone as a part of this new movement for inspiration through engagement. What better way to enter into Shabbat than knowing that we have already begun by inspiring each other…

A heartfelt thank you to everyone for joining. We look forward to seeing you at the next #Mingle4Israel!!!