Jonathan Baruch had his first taste of beer – a Goldstar, he recalls – during his first trip to Israel in 1982.
Thirty-five years (and 25 trips to Israel) later, Baruch came back to explore the Israeli microbrewery phenomenon as executive producer of “21see” – ISRAEL21c’s new online video network uncovering how Israelis put their personal stamp on fun, food and fashion.
21see pairs up Baruch’s personal passion for Israel with his professional expertise as founding partner of Rain Management Group/StoryBy Entertainment in Santa Monica, California, where he works with artists, writers, directors and producers to make television shows, movies and digital content.
“As someone who’s been to Israel many, many times, I’ve been fortunate enough not only to see the country, but more importantly to meet the people. I’ve learned that we have a lot of shared values — whether we’re Jews, Christians, Muslims or Druze — that can bring us together,” Baruch says.
“I wanted to do something that looks at all the good things I have gotten to experience, and share them in a way that is fun and interesting and maybe challenges some misconceptions. I want people to learn something they don’t know, while being entertained.”
Baruch grew up in Long Island, New York, in a traditional Reform family with roots in Spain on his father’s side. Many of his paternal relatives had emigrated from Spain to Israel and he was raised with an appreciation for the Jewish state. He didn’t actually visit until he went on a summer teen tour at 16 and tried that first beer.
“I have the letters I wrote home when I was there in 1982, right before the Lebanon War, and the narrative really hasn’t changed,” he relates. “I felt confused that the world wasn’t able to see Israel the way I did – as a place that was completely inspiring — and that it judged this small country by a different standard.”
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Baruch moved to Los Angeles to pursue his interest in the entertainment business. On a date with his future wife in early 1991, when Scud missiles were raining on Israel from Iraq, he recalls telling her that “if things got crazy over there I’d have to go over and help.”
As it turns out, he didn’t go to Israel again until 2010, when his family joined a group tour sponsored by their temple in LA just after his daughter’s bat mitzvah.
“I call it the bus-and-truck hummus tour; you see everything in Israel over the course of two weeks. It was an amazing experience,” he said. He even found time to visit his Aunt Ida, whom he hadn’t seen since the previous trip at age 16.
That is how, at age 45, the Israel spark was rekindled for Baruch in a big way. “Thus began my journey,” he says.
Baruch feels that his passion for Israel gives him “a center and a purpose” that pushes him to excel in other areas of his life.
Upon his return to California in 2010, he got involved in the Jewish Federation and AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. About five years ago, he told then AIPAC Western States Director Elliott Brandt that he wanted to build a video platform to share stories of modern Israel. Brandt introduced him to Amy Friedkin, president of ISRAEL21c, and she invited him to join the board.
Baruch has since been to Israel more than two dozen times and has progressed to speaking nearly fluent Hebrew with the help of a private tutor. “I have a lot of Israeli friends, and when I go to dinner parties I want to understand what they’re saying,” he explains with a laugh.
His dream of a video network showing the cool stories of everyday Israel is currently being realized. With the aid of filmmaker-producer Haim Silberstein, director of photography Eyal Sella, video editor Shahar Beeri and on-screen presenters Kathy Cohen and Yogi Roth, Baruch has so far produced videos on beer, tattooing, fashion and football in Israel.
“It’s important to me that I have the support of my family and also my business partners. Without their support I wouldn’t be able to pull this off, and for that I am deeply grateful,” he says.
“I hope the 21see video series will continue to tell dynamic stories that people didn’t expect about Israel, and maybe also aggregate content that is in alignment with our values. My hope is to build a digital online video network on top of our online digital magazine that everybody benefits from.”