Posted on January 31st, 2011 1 comment
A Filipino who speaks Yiddish.
Arabs living in Jerusalem speaking in Hebrew about identity.
A Jewish grandmother returning to home of her youth –in Djerba.
These are some of the people I’ve encountered recently through the new Israeli arts site Omanoot.com.
The importance of the arts for Jewish education is an axiom among those of us who make Jewish learning a central element of our lives. YouTube and services like Netflix have made it possible for us to access a growing amount of artistic content for use in connecting with and inspiring our communities. Yet much of Israeli film continued to lay beyond the reach of those of us in the US, either because it was not available for viewing on our systems or because of the language barrier. Enter Omanoot.com. The site’s claim that it is “Omanoot is Israel’s HULU, Amazon, iTunes and virtual MOMA all in one” is a bit grandiose but it does hit its mark of making “Israeli, literature, and visual art) accessible for cultural, educational, and entertainment purposes,” by streaming many films, providing subtitles, searchable indexes and educational materials.
Moving far beyond the Hasbara films of the Israeli foreign ministry, the site provides a great deal to explore. But I was particularly intrigued by how the offerings might be used to enhance Jewish education. The founders of Omanoot worked with artist and master educator Robbie Greengrass of Makom in conceptualizing the site. The thoughtfulness has paid off. Though the educational materials are for the time being quite limited, the lesson plans that have been posted are particularly strong. Mixing classical Jewish sources with contemporary ones, pairing when appropriate Jewish and non-Jewish sources, and providing educational activities for different settings. A particular favorite of mine was a lesson that used Israeli Reggae Band Hatikva 6’s song “If I Met God” in conjunction with Bob Marley’s “Forever Loving Jah” to open up conversation about the nature of the Divine.
But the site should inspire educators far beyond the prefab lesson plans. Nor should Omanoot.com be limited to Israel ed moments. The content on the site is appropriate for opening conversations on many topics. For example, Yossi and Jaeger about gay Israeli soldiers, for example is available for streaming here and quite relevant as we look towards the repeal of DADT.
The short lesser known films from the students at the religious film school Maalot, are especially easily adapted for classroom and youth group triggers. The Yiddish language film A-Maiseh which looks at a moment in the life of an elderly Jew and the young Filipino who cares for him might be used in a class on aging or on immigration –not necessarily Israeli. Of interest in this short piece are not only the dynamics between the police and the illegal immigrant but those within the family and among the friends. A class on world Jewry would undoubtedly warm to the story of Aunt Diya, who with scrimping and saving makes her way back to Tunisia to celebrate Lag Ba’Omer in the synagogue she grew up in on the island of Djerba. The story is at once very familiar to those who know the genre of similar roots films retracing Jewish life in Europe and at the same time new and novel given the setting and the customs. Students with whom I watched the film had little knowledge of Jewish life in Arab lands and were curious not only about Diya’s reasons for leaving but also for going back.
I highly recommend Omanoot.com to the bookmark list of any Jewish professional who knows the value of the arts to make deep connections and lasting impressions.