As a satirist and a cynic, you would think that at the conclusion of ROI, I would have a laundry list of complaints — but I do not. In fact, I think overall it was a great conference. I learned a lot, gained some valuable information, met some great people, got a free trip to Israel and ate like a king.
If I could do it all over again, I think I would have picked the Arts and Culture track over the New Media track. As a blogger and someone involved in New Media on a daily basis, I expected that people who chose the New Media track would understand the basics of blogging, Facebook and Twitter, but that wasnâ€™t the case. Too much time was spent talking about Twitter and building online communities, but I think there were some key points missed — most importantly, how to actually get the traffic there in the first place. There was no mention of search engine marketing, social bookmarking and proper tagging of things so people can find you in the first place.
Iâ€™m sorry to say, but you can discuss mobile media, Twitter and building communities all you want, but if your website gets 50 hits a day it won’t do you any good.
With that said, I think other people who were less advanced as I was gained from the track sessions. I gained my most valuable lessons from the professional workshops run by experts in their field. I think these were very important and would have liked to see more of them. I am not even sure I liked the concentrated track session time so much, I would have liked to hop between track sessions or the ability to sit in on other ones if I wanted.
The ROI organizers did get the networking events 100% right. From the first night’s childish games of rock paper scissors to the closing dinner VIP event, ROI staff and organizers did an amazing job with facilitating connections between VIP folks and the ROIers who needed to make that connection. I met a bulk of the participants and expect I may meet others in the future, mostly due to my handy little ROI laptop bag that has already helped me meet one participant in the central bus station of Jerusalem who recognized the bag but had never met me.
Like any critic, I think voicing my complaints may either bring change, or at least some awareness as to what should be done about the following issues.
I was in a resort hotel located next to a beautiful zoological park yet I never had enough time to look around. I didnâ€™t get to use the spa, health club, five pools and big screen HDTV in my room. I didnâ€™t get to relax — that should have been one of the activities. On Tuesday I skipped the open mic event which I may have even performed at because I felt myself getting sick from the lack of sleep and constant talking. I think the ROI organizers should could cut out some events in order to give the participants a break. Most of us already work so hard on our projects that it would be nice to have some away time, especially for the jetlag folks.
I think the lack of prayer services at a Jewish event was uncalled for. They had optional prayer services on the schedule, but not once were they announced. I tried on the first night to make a mincha minyan, but after asking two people who looked at me like I was nuts, I gave up and prayed behind a tree. You would think that a Jewish event where tolerance and diversity is key would have thought more about this.
I was a little perturbed about my track sessions being dominated by several people while many of us just sat back and zoned out. Track facilitators should realize when people are the center of the discussion for 20 minutes straight and there are a consistent four people who have not said a word in two hours.
My last complaint is about the VIP dinner. There were many VIPs, but unless you were a super-confident individual like myself, it wasnâ€™t the easiest thing to just start talking to people. Just calling a VIP invite-only event intimidated some folks, I am sure, and I think the ROI staff should have been the matchmakers, going around introducing ROI participants to relevant VIPs.
I took away many things from the ROI Summit — most importantly the ability to think way out of the box. I would have never thought to take my blog conversation into a real-life setting and actually get people talking about issues never really talked about. I even had the idea to bring together Orthodox Jews with members of LGBT and African-American communities because these are probably the two most misunderstood groups when it comes to the Orthodox community. I can’t promise things will stay civil, but I can guarantee it would be interesting and hopefully eye opening for both communities. I learned of salons, presenting at Limmud and grants offered by the Center for Leadership Initiatives and ROI itself. I even learned that I was doing more then make people laugh and actually doing something good, regardless of all the naysayers who love to sling chillul Hashems at me on a daily basis.
The best thing besides for all of the concepts and ideas that I gained from the experience were all of the contacts and access to ROI alumni and staff. I gained Facebook and Twitter friends, for sure, but the real-life friends and colleagues I gained from attending ROI cannot be replicated anywhere else.
Overall I would like to give a big Yasher Koach to Lynn Schusterman for supporting the ROI community and to all the ROI staff and organizers who made the 2009 ROI Summit possible.
I woke up Wednesday morning with a new bounce in my step. Today was the day I was going to make things happen, I had people I wanted to meet, a networking party to attend and I wasnâ€™t about to let my tired old self back out of the closet. This was made possible by skipping the optional Tuesday night in Tel Aviv and open mic organized by some random ROIers. I went to sleep at 6pm, woke up at 10pm, watched the very emotional movie Hairspray and fell asleep with a pounding head and chills fearing the worst.
I was over the extravagant breakfast and settled for an omelet with mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, some peeled orange and grapefruit slices and a cup of coffee with one sugar packet, I was really looking forward to going back to real Israeli food. At breakfast I sat with Alen Meyer who runs an organization in Chile, called Sttam, It works kind of like a Hillel, but he told me that Hillel failed in Chile, and Sttam also helps its members with finding work. I did learn that Chile has 14,000 Jews and the world’s second largest Palestinian population outside of Israel with 400,000 Palestinians.
After breakfast we did what I would call a Hippie-Bulls**t exercise which was supposed to get us to focus. I wasnâ€™t tired, but the exercise in which we were supposed to focus on an object, then close our eyes and do a bunch of concentrating stuff brought out the Cynic in me, I looked over at my friend Hindy Poupko who is the executive president of the Council for Young Jewish Presidents, in New York and we both rolled our eyes. All I could imagine were a bunch of people who wondered why they were dragged away from breakfast for this. Then of course people had to explain their â€œfeelings.” What now, group therapy?
After that exercise we did another thing which I would consider a waste of time, text study. All Jewish events have to do this in order to pinch themselves and make sure they are still Jewish. There was no talk of God until this moment, which is funny, because Judaism is God-centric, or should be, but unfortunately God is too abstract for many people to throw in the mix of their already idealistic world views. In the mix of this â€œtext studyâ€ was a piece written by Bob Dylan in 1951 when he was 15 years old and playing cover songs with his band. This famous wrestler walked past Dylan and didnâ€™t say anything, but Dylan thought his look said – â€œyou are doing it and keeping it aliveâ€ – which I understand very well, but what on earth this has to do with biblical text is beyond me.
After this an announcement for optional 7am programming was made for a “unisexual basketball game.” I love Israelis!
For those of you who donâ€™t know, I wasnâ€™t flown to Israel to perform at a comedy club in Jerusalem. I am not that good — I was flown to Israel to participate in the ROI Summit, which is a collection of 120 of the best young Jewish innovators from around the world, ages 22-34. “Best” is relative and, as of this year, the best from last year cannot be considered the best this year — kind of weird, since the sexiest people or best actors can be the best or sexiest multiple years in a row.
Either way, itâ€™s a conference of a bunch of people who are either doing really cool things, want to do really cool things, think they are doing really cool things, or have convinced the directors that they are doing really cool things when in fact they are doing nothing.
I was asked to blog about this by non-other then one of the more famous Jewish bloggers, Esther Kustanowitz. I warned her that it may be in traditional Frum Satire style of pointing out the negative and possibly some non-politically correct comments about the physique of the chicks, er, I mean, young ladies in attendance. After eating, what I can only call, an orgasm-inducing buffet of food, and seeing how insanely liberal some people can get, I decided to write about my initial reactions to the ROI Summit.
I sat next to a girl from South Africa on the bus from Jerusalem to Givat Ram who had overheard me say Kfar Macabiah, which made her assume I was a fellow ROI attendee. We walked to the registration window and met some other folks getting their complimentary laptop bags and initial scoping out of the hotel. “Fancy place” was my initial reaction, and it was quite cool with the lush surroundings. This would be the first time I had stayed in a proper Israeli hotel and I was looking forward to the food.
I met some other ROI-ers while sitting around talking to a guy trying to promote Zionism through Israeli cinema but was having trouble because most Israeli films are anti-Israel and produced by left wingers, his trouble and I agreed with him, was that right wing film makers are called propagandists, but left film makers are cinema, and I thought everyone on this conference was going to be super left wing. I told him that the most left wing people were those folks in Tikkun Olam, and that he should talk about his project with them.
I later went swimming with my roommate for the conference who was non-other then Ari Teman, a comedian from the New York area, who I have been hearing about for some time. There are 5 pools on the grounds by the way. I should mention that the room is actually two rooms, with two large flat screen TVâ€™s and two bathrooms with one having a shower and a bathtub. It felt good to get some conditioner in my hair after many days without it.
Then it was time for dinner, I had a hard time finding the place, but I did meet this really cool chick who was just as excited about the food as I was. Actually I think she is one of the first religious girls I have ever met that would be a good wing woman at a kiddush. She was a vulture when it came to the food, just like myself. Her plate was piled high and I wondered to myself how she kept her figure, turns out she was non-other than Seth Galena of Bangitout.comâ€™s fame, wife, that was super cool Jewish Geography. We sat down and went to work, soon more folks joined at our table, one of whom was an ex-Lubavitcher, who admitted that there is really no such thing as an ex-Lubbie, we had some good conversation centered around the organization Footsteps, Rubashkins and Gimmel Tammuz.
For dinner they had a lot of salads and some meats, noteworthy salads and dishes included, bean sprouts and greens salad, tomato and pine nuts, roasted colored peppers, and this interesting mini- artichokes dish. For pasta they had this sweet potato ravioli, gnocchi in pesto, and lo-mien, they had grilled chicken, very good fillet of salmon with teriyaki sauce and a man carving some very good but dry beef. I must compliment the designers of the food setup because it flowed quite nicely and I didnâ€™t feel the need to knock anyone over to grab the last piece of something, fact is I didnâ€™t hurt anyone in my eating process for once.
After meeting a bunch of people, non-of whom I remember, we were ushered into a conference room with big screens and little remote controls on the seats, we all sat down. I sat next to a guy from University of Michigan, but what he does escapes me. The two guys in front of me were making fun of everything and I really wished I was sitting next to them. I almost felt like I was at a singles event, except the possibility of getting laid was actually higher at this event then a run of the mill singles event.
There were some speeches, about how lucky we were and how we were so innovative and all that opening speech crap. Then they thanked all the staff and then we got to the fun part of the session, we were to use our remotes to answer a series of questions pertaining to ideology, and general makeup of the group of ROI participants. Questions like how many men and women were in the audience, 55% women by the way were replaced by how comfortable would you feel being married by a woman rabbi? I wasnâ€™t sure about that one, but most of audience would be comfortable. How about Obama being good for the Jews and Good for Israel or bad for both or good for one ort the either. Most thought heâ€™s good for both or bad for both.
The questions got slightly controversial, the question that asked people if they thought Jerusalem should be divided got a surprising 46% of people saying, no it should stay under Israeli rule. By the way, 41% pof the conference is Israeli, 46% from North America, with 10% from Europe, Latin America and lower amounts in the other categories. I noticed about 10 yarmulkes, and maybe 5 women with their hair covered, with two women wearing classic fall situations, and one full on tichel. There are 3 people at the conference that speak 5 or more languages and it seems that most people consider themselves liberal, by conference standards I would probably be considered conservative or moderate by the way.
After that we had ice breakers, finding our page sharers in this little year book thing and making nice, then sitting on the floor in groups that everyone shared the same ancestry, so Hungarians, Liberians, Polish, Russian, etcâ€¦all sat in circles and schmoozed. I wonder if I was the only one being entertained by the sad fact that half the women in the place wearing rather short skirts and had to do some fancy awkward leg work to keep from flashing everyone in the room, I tried not to look but there was plenty of peripheral up-skirt shots and if I would have had my glasses on I may have had to leave the room until everyone sat down. I wondered if the women who wore pants were secretly rejoicing at not having to show the 45% of men their undies.
After all of the ice breakers, we went back outside for more food, I could already tell it was a Jewish event, non-stop eating and playing Jewish Geography. The desert was much better looking then it tasted, but most people wouldnâ€™t admit that because when you throw a bunch of liberals together no one wants to offend anyone God forbid (unless you state something too right wing for them â€“ they will say it offends them â€“ got to love the tolerant crazies who only tolerate the crazy toleration people)
I talked to some random folks. I saw fellow blogger Susanne Goldstone and we chatted about sheitles and the Haredi riots of recent note. Then I started chatting with a girl from DC that runs social programs for young adults at an old shul in Washington DC, interesting stuff actually and we had a good chat and even played some Jewish Geography. Then this other girl from Israel joined in and things got interesting.
Seems that the two girls found it offensive that they had to ask gender questions, they thought of it as they wanted it to be separatist and pigeonhole the two groups. I didnâ€™t want to get in a heated discussion so I kept my views to myself, but was curious why they were â€œoffended.â€ Now, I may have misunderstood the girls but I said that men and women think differently and they wanted to see where the demographics of the group were, we can all agree that men and women think and act differently than each other right? But these crazed liberals werenâ€™t having it, shit Iâ€™m not anti-feminism one bit, I think the institution is great â€“ unless they tell women that dressing like sluts is being proud, but these women were trying to tell me that men and women think alike, donâ€™t know about you but I never sit down to pee, rarely do I even pee in a toilet, I prefer car doors, alleyways and trees to tell the truth. I guess I just donâ€™t understand women.
Then we got to talking about the green line and how offensive it was and how the Israelis have to open up Jerusalem and how the settlements are so offensive and then I politely left the conversation and went to my room to vent into this post. Oh and I am looking forward to breakfast, and meeting several people whom I was told to meet.
Iâ€™m not going to lie, I am having a ball and it’s only the first night. Stay tuned for more.
By the way for all who donâ€™t know, I will be performing in Jerusalem on Sunday July 5thâ€¦.
My roommate and I slept right through the alarm and woke up just in time to realize that we had missed out on the lavish morning food offerings. Like all Jewish events, this one revolves around food and endless talking.
New Media Track Session Number 2 started at 10 A.M. There would be a total of 4 track sessions which allowed the members of one track to sit with the track leader and talk about the issues facing their project development and general ideas, strategy and philosophy. Even though I chose the New Media track, I have been wondering whether I should have chosen Arts instead — for, after all, I am a very misunderstood writer and performance artist. So what, I happen to have a successful blog? Everyone has a blog these days.
Today we discussed new technology and the changing face of the web, fascinating conversation really. We started by watching a video on YouTube video of an internet prediction from 1968 which featured a woman shopping for her outfits while her husband paid for them in the next room. It wasnâ€™t too far off. We then watched the rather chilling Epic 2015, a YouTube video about Google’s takeover of the world. Google buys the New York Times, MSN fails, we are all one sharing community — scary stuff, if you ask me.
We then discussed citizen journalism and what will happen to paid content if everything was available for free. Would we have micro-payments like iTunes? Or would everyone just become one big social networking and information bubble? Customized search engines — someone mentioned that you may even be able to upload your own news into Google and get paid based on popularity. But what does this say for trained and well-thought-out journalistic pieces? As a blogger, it’s all about creating good content. The more content that gets produced, the more is out there, both good and bad. Sifting through it becomes harder, but once youâ€™ve found it — it becomes a sought-after gem.
Mobile media was also a big part of the discussion, since many folks in third-world nations have access to the web on cell phones they have skipped from nothing and gone to mobile media. They are uploading content via cell phone and this creates a whole new arena of web user generated content. Attention spans are shortening as a result of mobile technology and the ability to connect anywhere has technology heading to new areas never thought of before. One person from Israel mentioned that there is a company called “Ways” that has developed an iPhone application that has created a social community of Israeli drivers — I wonder if they are as crazy with their iPhones as they are with their cars — that communicates on the road. Traffic warnings, routes and danger zones are all available at any location. The iPhone was just made legal in Israel, but there are already some 80,000 Israelis with iPhones. Will the computer become obsolete when everyone has an iPhone?
Some folks made mention of TV when it came out — how everyone went nuts over TV, but after a while it was merely a background appliance. Will Internet and new media be the same? I doubt it; it seems that everyone is connected all the time. One look at Twitter can tell anyone that. As for me, I am against being connected all the time, for I value the good old fashioned computer and phone-less conversation.
Heshy Fried, better known as Frum Satire, is one of 120 participants in the Schusterman Foundation’s initiative ROI 120, a conference of 120 of the top young Jewish minds in the world. In this daily roundup — his second — he’s going to tell us how it is, lay down the law, and let us in on the secrets of the Jews that control the world — or, at least, the Jews of tomorrow who will control the world of tomorrow.
I couldnâ€™t sleep last night. It may have been the excitement, or maybe it was the fact that my roommate took the good bed and I had the couch. I donâ€™t mind couches much, especially ones with big flatscreen TVs facing them and nice comforters that stay cold in summer, but there was this flashing smoke detector light giving me fuzzy green visions every time I was about to fall into a blissful sleep.
All of this was on my mind as I struggled to arise and hang up the automatic wakeup call that was incoming at 7 A.M. Breakfast wasnâ€™t until 8 anyway, and they hadnâ€™t announced that there would be minyan — which I was disappointed about. It seemed to me and one other person that Jewish events of this sort focus on Jewy things but leave God or concepts of God out of the picture – and really, whatâ€™s a Jewish event without random breakaway minyanim in the middle of lunch?
I slept until 7:40 and then peeled myself off the couch, donned tefillin, spoke to the Lord like a deranged drunkard and hobbled off to breakfast. Today we didnâ€™t have to dress in business casual, because we were doing an outdoor â€œactivity.â€ So what was that, like a singles event kind of thing? I was curious.
Breakfast was complete overkill. Even as a food lover and official pig at formal and non-formal food eating events, I couldnâ€™t take in what lay before me. First of all there were a bunch of Asian businessmen, but Asian businessmen aside there was a long table with really pimp looking deserts and this colorful array of salads and fruits and veggies, cheeses were lined up like soldiers and smoked fishes, caviar and baskets of bread. Granola with fruit and yogurt, and one of those chefs with the really tall hats making eggs to order, next to the egg station was a mini-IHOP situation with waffles, pancakes and French toast, complete with sugar-filled artificial maple syrup. Do maple trees even grow in the Middle East?
The dining room situation was set up well as another chance to network. You had to sit down, and I, being the loner I am, would sit alone and wait to see who would sit down, you really couldnâ€™t lose, either it was someone who you had met already that found you interesting, someone really cute or someone completely random whom you would pitch your idea to with a red onion sticking out of your mouth while you tried not to drool your fake orange juice all over your name tag. Talking with your mouth full is one thing; networking with your mouth full is a completely different ball game.
After breakfast, I hobbled out of the dining room once again, this time from overstuffing myself rather then from lack of sleep. The one problem I began to foresee was that this hotelâ€™s kitchen staff was very intolerant of people who donâ€™t eat cilantro as every single thing was made out of it or used it as a garnish.
We went to this conference room to talk about what we would be doing for the day and to remind us to drink a lot of water, so that the health insurance they provided us would not have to be used in the case of fainting ROIers.
We then got bracelets, I an orange one, and we went outside to play a bunch of networking games. I flocked immediately to the shade of a big tree as we learned what stupid games we would play. The games were stupid, but they actually facilitated networking. One game we played was a sort of tag game. I would spin around three times and my partner would run away, but in catching her I could only walk with my feet touching one another like someone would do to measure something.
There was a lot of coeducational touching, and I wondered if anyone felt uncomfortable with that, they did acknowledge that issue — but I wondered if this would be similar to shaking a member of the opposite sexes hand for business purposes, even though this was a little more than just hand shaking, this fell into the lines of non-sexual hand-holding. A bit taboo, if you ask me.
We then all ran around in circles and laughed quite a bit doing it. I was completely spaced out at this point. Then it was time to form groups of similar colors and sit on the grass and play another game of which I completely forgot, it wasnâ€™t too important. The real important stuff came when it was time for pitching our projects and what we were doing at ROI to people in our track.
I am part of the New Media track. We all stood in a circle with Jason Schwirtz, the facilitator of our track, and we each got 90 seconds to pitch our idea. Prior to coming to the event I had not rehearsed anything, and some of the people sounded as if they practiced in front of mirror 50 times as to what exactly they would say. I kind of flowed with it like I normally do.
Fact is, until last night, I had no idea what I was here for. I run a big blog, but is that reason enough to be a young Jewish innovator? My general overture is that I trying to open dialogue between the secular and religious Jewish communities through writing comedy and humor about the community and its issues.
After learning about the many projects in the New Media track, including one person who builds social networking communities, another who is trying to create the biggest culture event in Israel and another who works in the wine and food communities, we switched it up a bit. We all went according to our bracelet colors to pitch to and listen to other pitches from people in different tracks, like Tikun Olam, Jewish Education and Environmentalism. I heard about a project to modernize old Yiddish music in Germany with electronic music, and of someone who is trying to promote Zionism via Israeli cinema, which he says is dominated by left wingers and someone else who is involved in trying to get Israel into trash separation and recycling through a project he has started in Ashkelon. To say fascinating would be an understatement — it was amazing to finally understand what the whole ROI thing was about.
It was also good for me because I have a very short attention span, so 90 seconds per person was great. We then played team building games like hitting a beach ball without letting it touch the ground, building a chain of people whose hands and feet were all touching, then standing up by helping each other to the ground. It kind of felt like summer camp, except it was way hotter.
We then had a challenge in which we were supposed to tie a knot on a long rope without one part touching the other, impossible to explain on paper really, but me and two other guys were just pissed because we were hungry and these people thought they had a chance to complete the challenge. Team work sucks when it eats into your lunch hour. Maybe I am too much of a cynic for ROI type of events.