(August 7, 2019 / JNS) Philanthropist and serial entrepreneur Adam Bellos cares deeply about the current direction of the Jewish future outside of Israel. As he describes what he sees as the Jewish community and philanthropic base “disappearing” in America, he maintains that traditional institutions are unsuccessfully engaging the Jewish people, especially the younger generation.
“Donors are disappearing, the community is disappearing, and institutions can’t keep people in synagogue. That’s not what interests them,” he told JNS.
The only way to reignite the Jewish future outside of Israel, he maintains, is to bring the true Zionist spirit into the 21st century, connecting people around the world to the vibrancy and creativity of contemporary Israeli culture, which is non-religious and non-political, starting with its wine.
Wine, he says, is “a modern expression of our ancient tradition and way of life. It is the deepest part of our culture that has lasted.”
“Wine is everything; it is the root of our culture, prevalent throughout our entire history and a way to make a living. Planting vines is part of our culture,” he maintains.
Bellos, raised in Cincinnati by an entrepreneur and an artist, is the fifth-generation American from a line of “self-generated entrepreneurs.”
Entrepreneurs begin with finding a problem and a need within society, and according to Bellos, there is a need for leaders who earnestly want to make a positive impact in shaping the Jewish future—ones with a young, innovative and entrepreneurial mindset “that is embodied in the Israeli spirit of every man and woman.”
Bellos’s initiative, Wine on the Vine, is a modern upgrade to the traditional model of planting trees in Israel, but “making it more your own.” A project of the Israel Innovation Fund, for $18, one can purchase a vine in Israel for any occasion, learn about the stories of different wineries and build a direct connection to a small business in Israel.
So far, Wine on the Vine has planted 4,000 vines.
Bellos hopes to travel to Jewish Community Centers throughout the country—running parties and events that reach young people, and “creating a new atmosphere that inspires the next generation.”
“Every single thing comes back to wine,” he says. “Every single life-cycle event is consecrated with wine: confirmations, consecrations, b’nei mitzvot, weddings and births.”
“You cannot deny the connection of Jews to glass of wine,” he affirms.
After ancient vineyards were destroyed and many replanted as olive groves, Bellos notes that the reintroduction of wine-growing to Israel “is so authentically Israeli.” The products speak for themselves, he says; “Israeli wines are exported and considered among the finest in the entire world.”
For a people who are rooted in the land, much like the vines themselves, “Jews need to be taught that they can do what they want if they believe in themselves and who they are,” continues Bellos. And it’s not necessary to immigrate to Israel to engage in this transformation; it’s not about “selling Israel,” he says.
This collective consciousness, the future of Jewish identity in America, is Israeli culture, maintains Bellos—and that change in mentality is “exactly what the Israel Innovation Fund is doing with their projects, creatively connecting to our vibrant and sexy country that is our history.”
“If you want your great-grandchildren to be Jewish,” insists Bellos, “they need a connection with Israel. They need to know its language, art, film and history, and to appreciate the things that come from Israel and understand its cultural side.”
And a bottle of Israeli wine,” he quips, “is easiest way to bring Israel to you.”