ROI Roundup: Saying “Shalom” to Israel (for now)

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.

frum satire on ROI 120If 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 wasn’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.

I’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 didn’t get to use the spa, health club, five pools and big screen HDTV in my room. I didn’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 wasn’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.

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