Thursday, August 21, 2008

JBlogging Journal

Yom shishi, 20 Av 5768/21 August 2008, Sunday.

Well, THAT was a lot of fun!

Last night, about 200 JBloggers got together in Yerushalayim for the Nefesh b'Nefesh First Annual JBloggers' Convention. There was food, there was shmoozing, there was comedy, there was advice from some of the best in our "biz"... There was the ego-stroke of Bibi dropping by, to remind us of what we have sort of guessed, over the last few years: bloggers have grassroots power; and Jewish bloggers are useful to the folks in the hasbara (lit. "explanation," but best understood here as "positive sales spin") department. More on that later...

Let's see. What did I really love? I loved that everyone spoke into each other's chests for several seconds. Yes, the nature of name tags is that you greet the person with "Hi....... Bob," as you ascertain with a relatively quick glance the name of your fellow attendee. Normal body language at conferences of any kind. But at a blogger convention, where you may be speaking with someone whose name tag says something like "A Dwelling Place for God in the Lower Worlds" or "Two Jews Three Cats in the Political Litterbox," you tend to be staring at your conversation partner's chest for an inordinately long time. Plus, I think the whole "eye contact" thing is not such a stressed character trait in the world of virtual intercourse...

That's another thing. There were no stereotypical "blogger people" there. I mean, yes there were; but we were not all alike. There were older people, and mere teenagers, and Charedim (who chuckled adorably during some of the talks over notes they were passing on a Palm Pilot -- I bet these guys were very cute in day school), as well as happily secular folk. The Kipa Sruga crowd was well-represented, as one might expect. (Heh-LO-oh... Zionist, the Holy Land is ours, dammit, we have clear ideological reasons for being here, while everyone else leaves out the "ideology" or the "being here" part, et cetera.) There was more than one skin tone represented. Both genders. Sephardim and Ashkenazim. There were native Israelis and olim, from various (mostly Anglo) countries. Several kinds of headgear were on display (though I personally miss representation from the "Avacado Ladies"; but I appreciate that they could only be closet bloggers, as I believe they hold that the internet is ONLY evil. So I will cut them some slack for not showing up in full regalia).

No one could accuse us of being homogeneous. Though I have heard rumors that some people (who couldn't come anyway, because they had pressing engagements elsewhere) were trying to make us sound that way.

The only person who looked exactly as I had pictured him was Jameel at The Muqata. Jameel was very tall and forbidding, with dark, penetrating eyes (what you could see around his kaffeiyah), and a formidable physique (what you could see behind his Kalashnikov and his numerous ammo belts). He did bring along his bride (cleverly disguised in a full burqa and yellow smiley face mask), and photos of little Ahmed and Fatima (playing with child-sized rimonim outside the family bunker).
So at least one thing went the way I expected.

We learned very useful stuff from the panels. Trep said "Be nice." The Shrapnel Babe countered with "I am only doing this for myself." (I later found out that she did a TON of stuff for other people, like helping to take care of a sick little boy; so it was hard to see her as a real toughie). Gil told us to avoid the sin of being caught up in self-aggrandizement, while Bogner came off totally humble by sharing with us the overpowering joy that comes with watching the number of "hits" grow. Benji pointed out that his panel was the first he had ever seen which had an armed moderator. ("Welcome to Israel!") I think the most powerful piece of advice I walked away with came from Dave of Jewlicious. "I encourage you to get out of the house. Get away from your computer. Get a bicycle." Now this is JUST the perfect thing to say to people with studio tans, whose goal of changing the world, one post at a time, can best be achieved while staring at a 14-inch screen.

There is much more fun stuff to write about; but I want to get to what affected me most powerfully.

Zavi Apfelbaum, Director of Brand Management, Foreign Ministry, spoke to us, in the fragment of time left to her by Bibi. If her title doesn't make a lot of sense outside the world of marketing (and what does THAT have to do with the government???), think about hasbara again. The bad guys have been really remarkable at anti-Israel/anti-Jewish propoganda over the last couple of decades or more. And we have been really lousy at same for at least the same time period. She showed a short film that included a focus group concept, wherein people were asked to describe, in terms of a house, different countries. Italy was "warm" and filled with "food and wine" and "telling stories" and "loud talk and laughter." It was a colorful house, fun to be in, and painful to leave. When they were asked about Israel, they could not come up with anything without being led. When they finally began to describe Israel's "house," you would think that they were talking about Beirut, or Saudi Arabia. "Strict." "Unwelcoming." Prejudiced against blacks. "They wouldn't want us to come in." No women allowed out in public. No children. No joy. "What would leaving Israel's house feel like?" "I'd be happy to get out of there..."

This is SO not who and what we are! We are so many colors and flavors! Even the most "strict" religious households have such happiness and sharing, music and laughter. Great food -- hey, we can DO food! Being a woman in a Jewish home can be such a powerful and beautiful position. But they -- and this focus group was in America, which "supports us, because they know we are the good guys" -- don't get us. They don't see who we really are. The lies of the meraglim have permeated the world, and even our friends believe we can't make it here.

So the job is to get the word out. Israel is amazing. Jews in Israel are varied and in love with life and talented and interesting and fun and deep and spiritual.

I think the main reason for this conference was summed up by Yishai Fleisher. "Keep making aliyah, every day."

After 25 years of marriage, I am blessed still to have a mad crush on my husband. I will work very hard to have the same love for Israel, after she and I have lived together for 25 years, and more, b'ezrat Hashem. And I will not be afraid to speak about it, to whomever will listen.

Shouts out to Gavi and Bogner and the Goddess and Yishai and Ben and Baruch and Baila and Yaacov and Benji and Mush and Devra and Gidon and Paula and Rahel and RivkA and Danny and Chayyei Sarah and NafNaf and Shoshana and... well, this could get ridiculous!... to everyone, for making it such a lovely night.

Now, time to get out my bicycle, and see if I can make a difference.
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