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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The New Zionist Plants Vines, Not Trees

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Adam Bellos’ stated mission is as grandiose as his personality. “I’m here to reignite the Zionist movement,” he says, without an ounce of facetiousness.

Injecting new blood into Zionism was the impetus for The Israel Innovation Fund (TIIF), a nonprofit Bellos founded last year to highlight Israeli culture. He points to both demographics and the Jewish state’s evolving image when he asserts that North America has lost its crown to Israel as the center of the Jewish world.

“Israel is cool and sexy and holy and fun. It’s the creative state,” he says. “It’s not your bubbe’s Zionism. It’s about ‘Fauda,’ it’s about Gal Gadot. We are ‘Wonder Woman’ Zionism.”

TIIF, he’s quick to add, is composed of 60 percent women, and aside from its executive director, David Hazony, and newly appointed president, Ted Sokolsky, all of TIIF’s staff members are under 40.

Stopping short of naming names, Bellos takes a shot at the reigning kingpins of the Jewish world, charging them with being wholly out of touch with the drives and desires of young Jews.

“You’ve got these old guys in a New York office telling a 25-year-old in Israel what Zionism is when they have no idea,” he says. Rejuvenating Jewish identity isn’t about gala dinners and planting trees, says Bellos in a not-so-subtle jab at the Jewish National Fund.

“It’s not your bubbe’s Zionism. It’s about ‘Fauda,’ it’s about Gal Gadot. We are ‘Wonder Woman’ Zionism.” — Adam Bellos

TIIF’s millennial version of tree planting is its flagship project, Wine on the Vine. The online fundraising platform connects people to Israel by planting vines at select wineries, with the lion’s share of proceeds going to support Israeli charities. The organization also hosts revenue-positive parties, from Zionist-feminism soirees to wine tasting events in art galleries.

Not bad for a boy from Cincinnati who, by his own admission, wasn’t exactly an honor roll student. But there’s no love lost from Bellos for his hometown. “There’s a reason I left at 18 and never looked back,” he says.

Having always nurtured dreams of being a filmmaker, Bellos moved to Chicago to study film and theater. But a 2007 stint in a study-abroad program at Tel Aviv University turned out to be a life-altering experience that would put his Hollywood ambitions on the back burner.

“I fell in love with a girl and I fell in love with Zionism and I fell in love with Israel,” says Bellos, his face breaking into a million-watt smile.

Even when the romantic relationship fell through, Bellos knew without question that Israel would become his home. He returned to the United States to study Judaism and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Arizona before making aliyah and volunteering in the army. Two-and-a-half years later, Bellos left Jerusalem to accept a job in Ningbo, China, running a belly dance company.

After a year, Bellos returned, this time to Tel Aviv. He enrolled in a master’s degree program at Tel Aviv University, but he never quite found his place professionally. He dabbled in everything from volunteering with the city’s young, professional community to consulting for former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren for the 2015 election, in which Oren was elected to the Knesset. Eventually, Bellos settled on playing the stock market, a venture that proved lucrative enough for him to realize his real passion of promoting Zionism.

He’s unapologetically pragmatic about the checks and balances of his ideals.

“I gotta be the guy who makes the money,” he says. “There’s so much passion out there and all these people have these great ideas, but you need money.

“Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to launch the hottest Jewish organizations in existence.”

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