Teens can explore Israeli pop culture online, speaker says


David Bryfman, who served as director of Secondary Education for the Central Agency for Jewish Education from 2001-2003, made a return visit to St. Louis last Sunday, where he addressed 30 local Jewish members and friends of the Kaleidscope Israel @ 60 Teen Committee at the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building.

Richie Gallant, co-chair of the Kaleidoscope Israel Teen Committee along with his brother Tommy, extended a warm welcome to Bryfman and the teens who attended. Bryfman’s topic was “Love, Humor & Tension in the Holy Land,” and his presentation included a wide range of videos which young Israelis are downloading on their iPods, “a lot of which may not be what they taught you in school,” according to Bryfman.

Bryfman, who is now a doctoral student in Jewish Education at New York University, focusing on informal Jewish education, said he was “really glad to be back in St. Louis” in support of the Kaleidoscope Israel Teen Committee, and introduced his video presentation with a mild warning, “some of these film clips are not exactly as ‘kosher’ or ‘modest’ as some of what you have been shown about Israel in the past.”

He indicated that he wanted to share with the teens “that Israel is a complex and at times confusing country.” He used the analogy of falling in love. “When you have an initial crush on someone, you might think they are perfect. When you fall truly in love, you love the whole person, including the parts of that person which are not perfect. The same is true of Israel. Just because we see faults does not mean that we love Israel any less.”

Bryfman said that there is a wide variety of material on Israel available through YouTube, and said that while parents may have concerns about their children using the Internet, it can provide a broader view of Israel than what people see in the media.

“Just because there is bad stuff on the Internet is no reason not to check out the Jewish and Israeli sites on the Internet.”

As examples of some of the “bad stuff” on Israel, Bryfman played a video interview of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who has become a vehement critic of Israel. In the tape, Clark says that “for the past 50 years, practically every Palestinian has suffered greatly under Israel.” Another film clip was from an Arab source, in which a hip-hop song strongly condemned Israel and justified suicide bombers as the “only way” Palestinians have to fight back. “Who’s the terrorist?” the voice-over asks as they show an Israeli plane firing a missile juxtaposed with a young Palestinian suicide bomber.

Bryfman said, “some of the Arab material comes from a hip-hop group called Dam, which produces rap songs about Israel that are very negative. If you Google Israel you will find this kind of material along with more positive material. There is also a lot in-between, which shows that Israel is a democracy, with a very vigorous free press. If you want to see newspapers that give Israel a hard time, check out Israel’s major dailies. They attack the government strongly, which indicates that they operate in a democracy that protects a free press.”

“Conflicts of all types” were illustrated in the next set of video clips shown by Bryfman, including one that satirized West Side Story, using religious and secular youths meeting on the street and challenging each other with dueling break-dancing. “They had frummies versus secular kids instead of Sharks and Jets,” one of the teens present commented.

Other videos presented by Bryfman included some of the more popular hip hop artists in Israel today, and various examples of Israeli advertising. One was for an Israeli version of Donald Trump’s TV show The Apprentice. The Israeli version is called Ambassador, and features various people competing to become ambassadors of good will for the Jewish State. The show’s similarity prompted threats of legal action by producers of The Apprentice.

Among the current popular hip hop and other artists whose work was featured in the clips was Hadan Nahash, which performed a song version of a poem by the Israel writer David Grossman which was based on the wide array of bumper stickers in Israel, advocating for or against different candidates, withdrawal from Gaza or the Golan Heights, etc. Another artist performs under the name Subliminal, or Sub for short. In one piece, he teams up with the popular Israeli hip hop violinist for a controversial video called “Gidenk,” Yiddish for “Remember,” or “Zahor” in Hebrew. The video juxtaposes hip-hop lyrics with often graphic images relating to the Holocaust in dance form. The clip received a very mixed reaction from the teens present. Some saw it as disturbing, while others saw that it was an effective way to teach younger people about the Holocaust. One teen who objected to the contents still defended it. “The fact that there is so much freedom of expression in Israel is something to be proud of.”Bryfman closed the program with some other clips showing a Hebrew lesson, giving words for various animals, and then culminated with a traditional presentation of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. The word “Hatikvah” means “The Hope” in English, and Bryfman urged the teens to learn both the Hebrew and English versions as “homework.” The teens stood as a group, closing the event with the singing of Hatikvah.

Richie Gallant thanked Bryfman for his presentation, “and all of you who came to take part in this Kaledoscope Israel Teen event. We hope you will attend all of our future teen and overall events as well.”

For more information on Kaleidoscope Israel @ 60, call Karen Rader at CAJE, 314-442-3756, or [email protected], or visit the Web site, www.caje.org.

Published Feb. 13, 2008