Abigail Klein Leichman
February 3, 2019

Adam Scott Bellos founded The Israel Innovation Fund (TIIF) to tantalize young adults with what he calls “cultural foreplay” in the form of Israeli wine, art and music.

“Through cutting-edge contemporary culture, lifestyle and travel, young diaspora Jews and non-Jews are discovering new ways to personally connect to the Israeli experience in ways that go far beyond conflict and survival,” says Bellos, a 32-year-old serial entrepreneur living in Tel Aviv since 2012.

“Our vision is to connect people around the world through the vibrancy and creativity of contemporary Israeli culture by bringing Israel to you and then you to Israel.”

A US-registered nonprofit established in July 2017, TIIF invests in commercially viable cultural projects in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and various American cities. A portion of the returns are shared with Israeli nonprofits the TIIF team has pegged as innovative, high-impact and efficient.

TIIF’s flagship project is Wine on the Vine, a modern twist on traditional tree planting.

Wine on the Vine Director Tatiana Hasson planting grapevines. Photo courtesy of The Israel Innovation Fund

The online purchaser can choose to plant any number of grapevines, at $18 each, in any participating Israeli winery and also chooses a participating charity to benefit from the purchase. Later that year, anyone who bought at least five vines is entitled to goods from the chosen winery.

“My goal is to create a great federation of wineries and an amazing tourism program that creates a trail of our wineries, connecting the whole world to Israel through its wines,” Bellos tells ISRAEL21c.

There are more than 300 wineries in Israel. The TIIF staff has curated a small and growing number (currently 10) “that have a really quality product and story,” says Bellos. “We have to like the wine and the people who make it.”

Though the vine-planting isn’t done by the purchaser, live events such as Wine on Canvas – combining Israeli wines and artworks – offer a personal taste of the merchandise in Israel and abroad.

Israeli street artist Solomon Souza creating live art at a Wine on the Canvas event. Photo courtesy of The Israel Innovation Fund

Hebrew Wallpaper Project

That brings us to another TIIF initiative, the Hebrew Wallpaper Project.

One aspect of the project is sending Israeli street artists to create large public murals in Israeli and overseas communities where access to public art is limited.

Another is an Artist-in-Residence program that provides a living wage plus materials and studio expenses to promising Israeli artists who have a fresh artistic message.

“We promote our artists through events, digital campaigns and publicity, in exchange for the rights to resell their work and related merchandise,” says Bellos.

The pilot Artist-in-Residence slot was filled by Solomon Souza, who has received international attention for his “night gallery” of portraits on the shutters of shops in Jerusalem’s Machaneh Yehuda market.

As part of his six-month residency from June to December 2018, Souza did live performance art at TIIF parties in the US and Israel. And he created original works for sale through TIIF’s online store ranging in price from $18 for a poster to $1,200 for a signed limited-edition serigraph.

The Hebrew Wallpaper project recently crowdfunded nearly $20,000to continue expanding.

Jaffa Nights

Israeli wine, music, art and food figure prominently at the Jaffa Nights parties TIIF has thrown in cities including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, New York City, Hartford (Connecticut), Cincinnati (Ohio) and Scottsdale (Arizona).

So far there have been about 20 parties with a total of 1,200 guests.

“All our events offer unlimited wine, great music, and a variety of event modules including live art, a wine-tasting workshop with our exclusive sommelier, video creation on site, art auctions, panel discussions and more,” says Bellos. “On the ground in Israel, we also offer graffiti tours, wine tours and more.”

Jaffa Nights is an outgrowth of the launch party for Wine on the Vine at the Noor Jaffa club in January 2018, featuring a local jazz band and an art auction.

“We had between 200 and 250 people there, on the night of a major monsoon. When I saw we could pack a house and people didn’t even know who we were, I saw we really had something,” says Bellos. “We realized this kind of party immerses people in an Israeli cultural experience.”

TIIF also engages in video production through its What If? Studios brand. The collection thus far features short productions about Israeli wine culture and street art in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Florentin.

“These videos are geared toward a millennial audience with a fast pace, interesting content and lots of humor,” says Bellos, who also hopes to do a scripted comedy series.

TIIF’s “Matzaball” in Jerusalem on December 25, 2018. Photo courtesy of The Israel Innovation Fund

Bellos began raising money to launch TIIF through immersing himself in the stock market in 2015 when he came back to Israel after a year of doing business in China.

“I saw all kinds of great ideas and initiatives [to promote Israeli culture] but there was always a money problem. I wanted to be the guy that brings the money to make them happen,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

“We’re a nonprofit that’s run like a business; we start other projects with profits. The profitsalso cover our staff of seven. They make it all possible.”

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