Reinventing Zionism with wine and vines

New nonprofit seeks to promote investment in Israel, supporting other nonprofit organizations, and rebranding Israel as a country of art, music and beaches

Founder Adam Bellos, fifth from left, and The Israel Innovation Fund team members at the Wine on the Vine launch party on Jan 18, 2018 in Jaffa. The organization aims to connect people to the Israeli wine industry  (Aviram Valdman)
Founder Adam Bellos, fifth from left, and The Israel Innovation Fund team members at the Wine on the Vine launch party on Jan 18, 2018 in Jaffa. The organization aims to connect people to the Israeli wine industry (Aviram Valdman)

Israelis are known worldwide for their strides in creating innovative technologies. Now, a group of them is creating a new way of investing in the so-called Startup Nation that will appeal to the younger generations.

The Israel Innovation Fund (TIIF) is a nonprofit organization, founded by Adam Bellos, an entrepreneur and political consultant who immigrated to Israel from Cinncinnati, Ohio, some six years ago. It seeks to develop innovative programs to feature Israeli culture through wine, film, and art.  The idea is to make Zionism — the national movement to support Israel — more appealing to a younger generation of Jews and non-Jews and rebrand the image of the nation.

“The image of Israel is (that of) an intolerant, religious and violent country which is ridden with conflict. We need to change this conversation,” said Michael Oren, deputy minister at the Prime Minister’s Office at the launch of TIIF’s signature project, Wine on the Vine, last Thursday in Tel Aviv.

“We have a hard time getting off the topic of conflict and strife, and it’s important for Israel that we change the conversation to one about technology and culture,” Oren, who supports the cause, said in an interview.

Michael Oren, deputy minister in the Prime Ministers Office, speaking to Israeli youth at the launch of TIIF’s signature project Wine on the Vine on January 18, 2018 (Aviram Valdman)

The Wine on the Vine project offers Jews, Christians, and wine lovers the ability to plant vines in Israel. The proceeds from their donations are used to support other Israeli non-profits.

“What we are selling is a vision for the 21st century Israel — not a country defined by strife, but a nation defined by a culture of wine, technology, art, and its beaches,” said Bellos.

An eclectic crowd of entrepreneurs, artists and politicians and more than 250 young Israelis inspired by TIIF’s message attended the soirée of art, music, culture, and wine.

The launch featured a live auction of works by Israeli artists and wine from Psagot, Yatir, Gush Etzion, Carmel, Tabor and Tulip wineries — all of which have partnered with the initiative.

Of the $3.7 billion in donations that the Jewish causes receive a year, 38% goes to Israel-focused groups, according to 2014 data collected by the Forward.  Now TIIF wants to increase the charitable contributions coming into Israel through the projects it is promoting.

“We want to introduce what it means to be Israeli through the language, art, and culture that flow out of the life here. The grapevines are a metaphor for our message not only because they are rooted in an ancient tradition but also represent the future, as Israeli wineries start producing some of best wines in the world,” said David Hazony, executive director of the Israel Innovation Fund.

Attendees at TIIF”S the Wine on the Vine launch party in Jaffa, January 18, 2018. (Aviram Valdman)

Proceeds from the wine will support a number Israeli charities that cut across religious boundaries including: Education for Empowerment, Esek Mishela, BINA,  Roots,  Kolech and Kehilla Bona.

These charities support causes such as education in the periphery, vocational training for women, secular yeshivas, Palestinian-Israeli relations, feminism in Judaism, and urban development of underprivileged communities.

“The way we choose our charities are by judging for impact, efficiency, and innovation, said Tatiana Hasson program director of Wine on the Vine.

Other projects in the fund’s pipeline include setting a video production enterprise to produce documentaries and short videos about Israel. Their first major project will be a 52-minute documentary about Israel’s pioneering role in the development of medical cannabis, which the fund plans to enter into the Sundance Film Festival.

Next month, TIIF supporters will be hosting fundraising events in the Upper West Side of New York City and Beverly Hills, California.

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