The Persian Cowboy
When Joseph Shamash came to Israel on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip in 2003, he already started thinking about "preconceived notions of Israel—and how different the daily life here really is."
Shamash speaks with the voice of many Jews who grew up with a strong Jewish identity and education but did not relate to the Judaism they were being taught. In order to integrate the Jewish facet of his identity – he returned to Israel, and began to explore all which that means.
Part of the meaning, it turned out, involved the young American walking into a veteran oleh's store in Tel Aviv, and speaking to him in Farsi, only to find out that, back in Iran, the store-owner was his grandfather's neighbor.
Born to Persian immigrants in Dallas, Texas, the 32-year old calls himself a Persian Jewish cowboy. He's even got the moustache to prove it.
It was the Persian part of Joseph who was inspired by Iranian Ali Molavi's YouTube video. He, fellow Pardes student Andrew Lustig, and Jeff Handel held up a crude but colorful sign asking in Hebrew, English and Arabic: Time for one question? In one day, they filmed people all over Jerusalem, leading to the video 'One Wish Jerusalem.'
The One Wish Jerusalem team is excited about being able to create something that reaches people anywhere in the world—evident by the 140,000+ hits the video received in just a few short months online. 'One Wish for Iran, Love Israel'—in which they asked people living in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Bethlehem to send a wish to Iran and its new president—has garnered over 20,000 hits since they released it on August 4, 2013, coinciding with Hassan Rouhani's inauguration as President of Iran,
The plan is to turn One Wish Jerusalem into a larger project. They have taken footage for more short films on other hot topics in this complex country, which they would like to use for Israel and Jewish education. "We want to create effective change," says Shamash. The team has grand plans of forming a non-profit organization centered on doing just that.
Shamash insists that the project could never have come about if it were not for the unique skills of each of the crew members: poet, Andrew Lustig; assistant-producer, Malky Schwartz; cinematographer, Jeff Handel; producer, Raphael Sisa—both Masa Israel Journey alumni—and translator, Elhanan Miller.
What is your wish?
When asking what their wishes are, the men have bold answers.
Handel wishes to form bridges connecting people who would not otherwise be connected.
"I wish people would ask themselves good questions," answers Sisa.
"I wish that everyone in the world would overcome their fears, and get out of their comfort zones," says Shamash.
When Shamash left his LA job with DirecTV on the Dan Patrick sports show to come to Israel, he never thought he would be returning to the US to pursue a Master's Degree in Jewish Education.
"Israel was always some place over there... When I came on Birthright, a relationship began. This time, I have been able to spend some time cultivating that relationship. Now that the relationship is strong, I feel responsible. I am asking myself, What can I do to help? I didn't serve in the army, and I am not making Aliyah right now. I am bringing my background, my skills, to do my part in whatever little way I can. "
"It's beautiful to have something like these films, and the start of One Wish Jerusalem, to show for my time in Israel," adds Shamash.
...and make sure to check out their crowdfunding campaign.