Israel is their classroom literally

Ten-year-old Odelia Shalev couldn’t wait to tell her friends why she wouldn’t be in school from April 1 until the following September. The Petah Tikvah girl, along with her 6-year-old brother, Albi, and 3-year-old sister, Naomi, would be traveling the length and breadth of Israel in a camper with her parents, Amit and Yael — with professional camcorders in hand.

No ordinary road trip, Family on the Road is a multimedia project dreamed up by Amit, a director and filmmaker. He and his kindergarten-teacher wife wanted to explore for themselves, and for the world, exactly what makes Israelis tick after 64 years of statehood.

They headed out from the symbolic birthplace of the state, Independence Hall on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. From there they would go south to Mitzpeh Ramon, Nitzana and Eilat; back north along the Arava, the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley; around the Sea of Galilee; up to the Golan Heights and west into the Upper, Western and Lower Galilee; into the northern valleys, up Mount Carmel; and finally to Jerusalem.

Aside from the general route, they will not follow a fixed schedule. “We want to start fresh, as a regular family from Petah Tikvah, and let it grow naturally,” Shalev said.

Though the scenery is bound to be breathtaking, the family’s live-streaming, filming and blogging won’t focus on landscape but on people. They’ll stop to interview religious and secular Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze, recent immigrants, sixth-generation citizens, musicians, authors, academics and scientists.

The Shalevs hope to do interactive activities such as cooking with an Arab family, pressing olive oil in a Druze village, picking dates on a kibbutz and toiling alongside a factory worker.

Yael is home-schooling the children, giving them the chance to take starring roles on and off camera. Odelia will keep a personal blog and will provide original material for Matach, a Tel Aviv University-based content producer for the Ministry of Education. Her dad will help her edit the clips and Matach will embed them on its website.

Family on the Road generated plenty of buzz long before the Shalevs’ departure. Israel’s Education Channel and El Al Israel Airlines want to show segments. Israel’s largest cable TV provider planned to air daily footage.

Most importantly, since the project couldn’t get off the ground without outside resources, Shalev received a pledge of $50,000 in matching funds from the Avi Chai Foundation, and a donation of a jeep and high-tech gear from the Israeli Internet companies eWave and BumpYard.

“We thought to do a regular new media project, but then eWave and BumpYard said, ‘Why not use a totally cutting-edge format, making everything on Facebook? There’s no need to open an independent platform.’ So we’re building all our content on Facebook,” Shalev says. “That’s the best way to engage with the public and make it a public discourse.”

Shalev, who has created documentary and feature films, TV shows, ad campaigns, commercials and music videos, conceived of the project partly as a result of last summer’s social protests that began on Rothschild Boulevard. He sensed that the unrest was about more than housing costs.

“The social protests of 2011 … demonstrated a collective yearning for feelings of brotherhood and solidarity that was long forgotten over the past few decades,” he says. “We could feel that hope once again, fragile yet sincere, that has enveloped an ancient group of people that is currently living in Israel but has not finished searching for the mutual dream on which it was founded.”

Shalev hopes to upload at least one new clip daily in order to build a unique, mosaic-like picture of Israel in 2012.

“Not conventional clips, but very dynamic and ‘fresh from the oven.’ If we’re visiting a family and have a moving scene, I’ll edit and upload it immediately. At times we’ll upload longer five-minute clips to sum up what we experience.”

Audio and written text will be mostly in Hebrew, but subtitling in English and perhaps other languages is planned “so all our videos will be relevant for all viewers.”

If he could sum up his wish for what Family on the Road will accomplish, Shalev says it would simply be this: “To really acknowledge and bring to the public an awareness that we are totally interdependent with one another and bound to live together in this place. And the only way to do it is to bridge over gaps and mentalities and all kinds of self-centered paradigms that we live according to. We must start mutually and collaboratively working together with the recognition that we are one big family.”

Abigail Klein Leichman
Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is associate editor of ISRAEL21c.