For quite some time, I've had an affinity with the people of Israel. I retrace it to my 13th year when on any given weekend, I was attending a friend's bar mitzvah. Some of these friends are still in my life today and like then, my strong Catholic faith and their Judaism has never been an issue. Proof once again that it is adults, not children, who nourish division based on religion or race. And with time, my affinities as someone of Haitian origin have developed into a sort of kinship with Israelis. And here's why:
When I tell people how much I love to vacation in Haiti, many look at me like I'm a crackhead. It's not unlike the reaction I got when my producing partner and I decided to produce a whole TV series on Israel. He had traveled there many times for both work and pleasure and I had wanted to go since my teenage years. Our decision was an easy and natural one. It then dawned on me that there really were many connections between Haiti, the pearl of the Antilles and Israel, the Jewish state.
For too long, people have tried to oversimplify the complexities of both Haitian and Israeli politics. I'm not equipped to fully assess these complexities but I know this for sure: people are not their governments. As a Canadian, never has this been truer than now. And, if we were to talk politics, the answers to what may or may not be litigious issues certainly cannot be neither properly explained nor solved in the comments' section of blogs nor by journalists in a 3-minute reports or in the cover story of a glossy weekly.
What I also do know is that for both Haiti and Israel, the best publicists, the most efficient brand ambassadors and most enthusiastic champions are their respective tourists. Those who, even after just one visit, breathe thanks to the country's soul in their lungs, live to its heartbeat and have its vitality in their veins. The mission for these de facto brand ambassadors is simple: rebuke the too often misguided, misleading and too quickly concluding reporting by the media that can pollute the minds of potential visitors while reminding them that:
1) Like Haiti, Israel has some of the most breathtaking beaches sand & sea can muster up;
2) When in Jerusalem, just like in in the outskirts of Cap-Haitien, you will be left speechless by the vestiges that are reminders of the importance of the country in the annals of world history;
3) That gaining 5 lbs. in a week in Israel is child's play because like Haiti, it is a gastronomic destination. And, if Haiti already has its medal-winning and world-renowned Barbancourt rum, I can't imagine it will be much longer for Israeli wines to get similar types of accolades.
4) Everywhere you'll go in such Israeli cities as Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Jerusalem, you'll be treated to stunning contemporary Art because in Israel, art matters. Post earthquake in Haiti, it is the island's artists who through their mediums, were the first to help the nation pick itself up and regain its senses because there too, art matters.
5) You'll be pressed to find many cosmopolitan cities like Tel Aviv, putting it right up there with New York, Toronto and Montréal. And, as someone living in Canada's only francophone province, I did find quite amusing that in Israel, street and road signs alike are in three languages yet both Hebrew and Arabic are alive and well. Are you reading this, Quebec language police?
But by far, both countries' greatest assets are their people. Because of their recent pasts, Haitians, like Israelis have an urgency to live to the fullest supported by a contagious energy and a collective common knowledge to carpe diem. It's also not lost one me that in the wake of Haiti's devastating January 2010 earthquake, Israel was the first country on-site, setting up a makeshift hospital in record time.
The name of our TV series on Israel is "Plus loin que prévu" which translates into Further Than Expected. In it, we'll go beyond the headlines because judging books by their covers creates illiterate opinions. And that should scare us all.
It's a safe bet to assume the series' second installment will be on Haiti, B'ezrat Hashem.
Until then, I can only urge you to visit Haiti and to visit Israel. Go ahead, let yourself be surprised.