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ROI Wrap Up

Guest post by Heshy Fried of Frum Satire

roi_fun

No longer actively involved in ROI, I agreed to let Heshy be my eyes and ears at the recent ROI Summit in Ramat Gan/Tel Aviv, an annual gathering of 120 young Jewish leaders and innovators from around the world. He came back with a veritable magnum opus describing his time there in his very own, inimitable way. Here are his more or less unedited impressions:

I came to ROI expecting nothing but to network, eat some great food and enjoy that rare opportunity to sleep in an air conditioned room in Israel. What I got was much more, yes the food was great (I heard they were fattening us up so they could kill us and steal our ideas) I networked so much that I couldn’t even speak the term after the 4 day conference and my roommate and I had a disagreement about how I liked to wake up and feel like I was in a Siberian prison.

The ROI Summit is a 5 day conference that brings together 120 of the brightest young Jewish innovators from around the world. Prior to attending the conference I had no idea what exactly I was supposed to do, why I was an innovator, even though friend Matthue Roth an ROI alum (G-dcast, MyJewishLearning.com) had convinced me and the director of ROI that I was the essence of ROI. All I knew, was that I got a free trip to Israel and that I had to attend this “summit” which I hoped wasn’t like those time share scams in Florida, or airport hotel meetings where they served continental breakfasts and you had to listen to diesel trucks running all night.

Within several hours of showing up in Ramat Gan, Israel where the ROI Summit was to be held this year, I realized it was much more than an opportunity to eat well, and get laid, it was a networking, skills building, idea sharing festival. Young Jews from 29 countries of all different sizes, races, colors, back rounds, religious affiliations and sexual orientations, got together to promote their projects and help others with their projects.

The people who attended were either very innovative, weren’t doing anything innovative but had innovative writing and spinning skills, and people who weren’t innovative at all but came from a country with low representation at ROI.

The ROI Summit featured 8 different tracks to chose from, Arts and Culture, Bridge Building, Environmentalism, Jewish Education, Networks of Purpose, New Media, Service and Visions of Israel. Since I was a blogger I naturally chose New Media, about halfway through the Summit I regretted that choice and wished I had picked Arts and Culture, because I am really a writer who uses new media to get the message across. There’s only so much talk about how cool and revolutionary Twitter is that one can handle.

Track sessions were designed so that members of the same track could get together away from the network chatter and discuss ideas and innovations, to either get their projects off the ground or help improve already existing projects. But, I didn’t feel like I got a whole lot out of my track session, like I mentioned above I wished I had been part of the Arts and Culture track, mainly because most of the concepts discussed in the New Media track sessions were related to social networking and Twitter. Wait, scratch that. It was pretty much dominated by Twitter, as if Twitter was like, the next Messiah or something.

Not once was there talk of social book marking sites like Digg, Delicious, Reditt or Sphinn. I didn’t hear any talk of improving search engine rankings, using your statistics to improve your ability to market and any other social media tools besides Facebook and Twitter. One would think that a bunch of folks who chose the New Media track would already be very familiar with popular New Media tools like Blogs, Facebook and Twitter and would want to learn of the more obscure or technical means to market your organization or product. Instead there was a lot of talk about community, which is fine, but in the end I think many of us wanted to know how to drive traffic and build a following. Luckily, being in Israel allowed me to meet David Abitbol (ck) again, and he filled me in on some cool stuff and volunteered to redo my blog. Score!

The other problems with my track, and I am not sure if this occurred in any other tracks, was that the conversation was dominated by 2 or 3 people the entire time. In fact, there were several people that didn’t speak up much of the time and I spoke to two of them who told me that they felt odd speaking up when it seemed that 2 people were running the show. I felt that the track facilitator, who was a very smart fellow and realized that these track members weren’t talking, should have tried to quiet down the dominators. Instead he would try to get the quiet ones to talk, which didn’t work so well. Then again if you have shy people in the group, they may not necessarily feel comfortable to talk in groups and be more at home in the one on one networking style which took place much of the time.

The most productive sessions for me at ROI were the professional workshops, run by experts on a variety of subjects, from getting the Media to pay attention, to advanced video editing. Each ROIer attended two workshops of his or her choice, I chose the Advanced Social Media class given by Jewish Social Media mogul Leah Jones and a course on pitching articles to journalists given by three folks from the Headline Media Group, including John Elkins a reporter from CNN.

The workshop run by Headline Media was amazing and everyone gained a lot. I myself have been having loads of trouble pitching articles and dealing with print media, mainly because journalists, editors and staff writers never get back to me. I have on three occasions been asked by editors to write a column only to never hear from them again, so I had a load of questions, as did everyone else. We were taught how to call journalist, by actually calling them and making 30 second pitches, when to call them, between 10-12am is best, and how to keep them interested. We even got to try out TV interviews, and were taught how to sit what to say and what exactly a sound bite was.

The Advanced Social Media workshop was basically what my track session should have been. It was full of information that I mostly knew already, social bookmarking, tagging, photo sharing, video sharing and different ways to search dominated the discussion. It was more of a basic social media class, and how to use all of the sites. I gained some information, but I was very curious to see what she had to say and so I sat in on it.

Although the sessions took up a bit of time, I think the main reason everyone came to ROI, besides the free trip to Israel, was to network. I wanted to meet people in similar situations who were looking to make their projects a full time job but had no funding. I wanted to meet artists who were dealing with acceptance from the Orthodox community. Chari Pere the cartoonist was the only one I met. I also wanted to share my ideas for blogging, get link backs and figure out what else I could do offline to grow my community.

ROI Staff did a phenomenal job with regards to forcing people to network. The games and activities and evening events definitely forced people to chat and network. From the get go we were out of our comfort zones and thrust into a sea of random people who were all eager to share their stories, their projects and their ideas with anyone who wanted to listen. One of the best networking sessions in my opinion was when we got to do an elevator pitch (90 seconds) of our project to 15 random people mostly from other tracks, it allowed us to meet and connect with people who we may not have talked with before, it also taught people what was important in a pitch and what could be left out.

The closing dinner was especially interesting because it was my first ever pimp VIP event, I even stepped outside of the event which was held at a very fancy hall on the beach in Tel Aviv, to take some pictures of what passersby may see, all the cyclists and joggers were glancing in to see what was going on.

120 of the who’s who in Israeli businesses, environmental groups, tech folks and media people were invited to attend. The list was long and the looks were random. I noticed several very interesting things, many of the VIP men were networking with the hottest girls of ROI (I suggested a girls of ROI calendar to raise funds) I was even talking to this one guy who abruptly stopped talking to me to “network” with this very pretty girl who just happened by as I was getting to something important. I was kind of pissed, but Israeli Machismo prevailed.

I didn’t much pay attention to the speeches, but I did notice that Sandy Cardin who kind of runs the show, looks like the type of guy who is the member of one of those Waspy country clubs that don’t let Jews or blacks become members. Being a quasi-Texan I introduced myself to both Sandy and Lynn Schusterman to just say that unlike many people I actually enjoyed wandering around “offensive” pictures at Oklahoma’s largest oil refinery in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

The hotel that ROI reserved for the event was probably the farthest thing from my airport motel fears. Kfar Maccabiah located in Ramat Gan was a bit fancier than I expected. Even though my roommate took the bed and I was left with the couch, it was still comfortable and I had my very own large flat screen HDTV, and bathroom – there were two bathrooms, and I was in the throes of a constant moral dilemma regarding whether or not I could take the shampoo and conditioner and then resell it. Do you know how much shampoo costs in Israel?

The hotel also featured some of the most lavish and unending food I could imagine. The opening dinner reminded me of a fancy wedding I attended in Long Island a few months back complete with a man carving prime rib. The breakfasts were so good that no one overslept, despite the lack of sleep we were able to get in. Just combine Ihop, Perkins and offerings of an Israeli Shuk and you don’t even come close to the amount of food served at breakfast.

It is quite unfortunate that we didn’t get to enjoy the grounds or the zoological park located next to the hotel. You see the folks at ROI didn’t let us sleep, or take breaks longer than half an hour, I think this was probably the biggest complaint of the Summit. They pack in these huge schedules, and in between activities gave us 30 minute “breaks” at which time we were expected to network, shower, change and take a nap.

I, as well as many others, wondered about the cost of the ROI Summit. Its not the cheapest thing to fly 80 people into Israel, put up 140 folks at a pimp hotel and throw a lavish VIP networking party on a pier in Tel Aviv. I heard that it cost somewhere in the range of $500,000. I am sure there were some real lefties offended by all the costs as we could have fed a small village in Africa for several years I am sure. I heard several reasons for the need to make the event so nice. Many of the people who work in the not-profit sector are underpaid and we want to show our appreciation (there were many for profit people present as well), the other reason was that the hotel was actually cheaper than anything else, and that last years summit in Jerusalem cost more than this years. I didn’t mind all the fancy stuff – my family never went on vacation and I grew up in one of those families that could never afford anything cool.

ROI is not perfect and I am sure many people had their own complaints. Here are a list of things that deserve a big What The Fuck???

Text Study: If I wanted to study Talmud, I would have went to yeshiva, I didn’t come to a Jewish innovation conference top study Jewish text, I wondered if this was their idea of subtle kiruv – or maybe Aish provided some funding? I also found it interesting that Bob Dylan made it to the Jewish text study session at ROI. I know that for many this was great, but seriously folks, 15 minutes devoted to text study was a poor excuse at making the Summit a little more about God

God-less: Maybe it was just my ignorant religious self, but it seemed that the ROI Summit is completely devoid of God talk, isn’t Judaism supposed to be God-centric, and if this was a Jewish conference, where the hell was God. What God has to do with New Media is beyond me, but it just seemed like there should be some God stuff.

Hatikva: I figured they would open up the Summit with Hatikva, oh, but that may have offended the many anti-Zionists at the Summit.

Sandwiches for poor kids: on the last day of the summit we went to park to make sandwiches for poor kids. It was a feel good activity and gave something back to the community, but then we had lunch from the same company that provides the food and pour lunch was much fancier and I felt a little odd eating this fancy sandwich when these poor kids could have gotten it, besides the sandwiches kind of sucked.

No Free time: I doubt that many people knew that Kfar Maccabiah had 5 pools, a water slide and a spa, and this was because the largest chunk of free time anyone had was 30 minutes, which was usually used to take a shower or do some post session networking. I would have taken out some of dumb pass the ball around games and let us sleep or enjoy the resort hotel they put us up in. I had to skip the open mic night just to catch up on sleep.

Concentrate on this object: Does every Jewish event have to have some sort of Hippie-bullshit exercise? I wear patchouli and like the Dead, but concentrating on objects in the room to bring us into some Kabbalistic realm? Give me a fucking break.

Yael Arad: Speeches should never last more than 30 minutes, Yael Arad is the first Israeli Olympian to receive a medal, but her story went on and on, with a bunch of tips similar in vein to those managerial books with tips for successful people. It was quite painful, and I could see people sneaking out left and right.

Minyan: We religious folks were definitely a minority, but at least ten yarmulkes dotted the ROI summit, but no prayer service was ever announced. it’s a Jewish event, I figured there would be random minyanim in the middle of speeches and dinner, but I davened solo in my room. What happened to all that talk about inclusivity?

What I got out of ROI:

I have a lot more face book friends, twitter followers and contacts in random countries I can stay by, but I got much more then a few internet friends. I got some good sound advice to help me take my project, which is a blog that tries to get orthodox Jews discussing controversial and normally hidden subjects with Jews from all other affiliations. For instance I had never thought Salons were alive and well in the United States, I never thought about bringing together all types of Jews for a Shabbat dinner to open dialogue and minds. I even started thinking of bringing orthodox Jews into meetings with Gays and Blacks so they could share their feelings which according to the comments section on my blog are quite backward.

I learned what a hash tag on Twitter is, that building a community on the web is as important as getting traffic and that there are loads of grants out there for people in my shoes. I learned how to deal with media and getting articles published or stories written about.

I also gained access to a great bunch of people, networks for life and great advice whenever I need it from the ROI community as a whole. I can now contact ROI alumni for advice and contacts.

I also found out that PresenTense was more then a magazine competing with New Voices, and about things like Limmud or CLI.

Overall it was a great experience and I want to give a big Yasher Koach to Lynn Schusterman and all of the people who made the 2009 ROI Summit possible.

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Publisher at Jewlicious
Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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12 Comments

  1. mike darnell

    7/17/2009 at 8:28 am

    Yay!
    Sounds like a half-a-million bucks well spent!

    Dilbert pretty much explains my opinion on this:
    http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2009-06-09

    I have a project I was hoping ROIcom could help me promote. I want to found a school for “Professional Judaism”. I can see the sign already:

    “The Bernie Maddof School for Schnorr”

    The truth is that ROIcom is just one of many lame Jewish organizations busily promoting nothing much while wasting resources that could make a difference had they been dedicated to places that really need them (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3730927,00.html).

    They are however not on par with the activities of the “Claims Conference”. These guys give the whole “Philanthropy” thing a whole new chilling twist – http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3550448,00.html

    Shabbat Shalom,
    Mike

  2. weisz

    7/17/2009 at 10:48 am

    It is such a shame to read from those who can’t tell a class act from any other. Roi is one of the most interesting new ideas we have had in in Israel in a long time. You have presented a false image of the conference and this is also a shame.

  3. mike darnell

    7/18/2009 at 2:34 am

    Dear Weisz,

    What are the facts?

    I realize getting a 250$ all-costs-paid trip to Israel is a perk well worth fighting to preserve, heck had I been invited I’d probably be full of praise too.
    BUT… the bottom line is that ROIcom’s “impact” boils down to nothing more than a bunch of self congrtualting tweets and blog posts. For this you need an organization and a lavish yearly conference?

    Mike

  4. p to the e

    7/18/2009 at 1:40 pm

    Mike, one of the main guys at Table to Table is an ROI alum. There are high level Birthright reps at every ROI summit. Birthright was always resistant to exposing trip participants to the work of Table to Table, not wanting them to think of Israel as a “poor” country. However, thanks to pressure put on Birthright specifically by people associated with ROI and others, Birthright has realized that the work done by Table to Table is a model that ought to be followed by all modern industrialized countries where the very nature of food distribution means that 25% of the food produced is methodically wasted. As a result over the past 2 years thousands of Birthright trip participants have volunteered to pick produce with Table to Table that would otherwise have been wasted. Consider yourself schooled, Mike.

    Now p to the e taketh, but she also giveth away. Pay attention Darnell and you’ll learn something about using your words productively.

    Heshy’s post made me think of an organization that talks a lot about the importance of new media, Web 2.0 and social networking, but in its own implementation, it is less than successful. ROI’s facebook group has 446 members, some of them staff and outsiders. They have only 88 wall posts and 9 discussion topics. In the land of twitter, there are no awe inspiring discussions or conversations related to Jewish innovation containing the #roicom hash tag. On the ROI Web site, most of the posts have little or no comments and the prominently displayed “Forums” button leads to an “under construction” page. I know Forums are a little 1999, but how difficult is it to build a forum? I can literally build one in 10 minutes and my skills are limited to basic HTML. Heshy also mentioned the importance of tagging images – none of at least the most recent images from the ROI summit are individually tagged or have any representative titles or descriptions.

    The point I am trying to make is that ROI is a great program. It unites a diverse group of motivated and creative Jews from around the world in a manner that is unprecedented in its scope and potential. There have been some amazing projects that have come out of ROI – to whatever extent ROI was involved in the execution of g-dcast for instance, that (and the Table to Table thing) alone would have justified all the expense. The only issue I have is that it seems to me, as an outsider looking in, that much of the potential of ROI is frittered away by its historical inability to create a vibrant and sustainable community of individuals who collaborate and bounce ideas off each other on a regular basis. I trust that ROI will take active steps in order to remedy this situation – it certainly has access to enough experts to do so according to Heshy’s piece.

    See Mike? Productive criticism – better content on the ROI Web site, better use of available technology to create a real and viable online community. Getting ROI participants to talk for a few days is good. Getting them to talk on a regular basis is even better!

    I’d continue some more about ROICom’s impact, but it’s a pretty transparent organization. You can look up the members and Google them and see what impact they have had on the Jewish world. Go ahead Mike. I dare you. Now I have to go to the gym. Bye!

  5. mike darnell

    7/18/2009 at 1:59 pm

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some great people attend. They’d probably do great things regardless of ROIcom.

    I like the fact that you asked me to look up ROIcom staff:
    As far as I can tell the Head Honcho, RABBI YONATAN GORDIS, decided life in Israel was too tough and left for the green fields of Canada.

    A great man once called “Yordim” – נפולת של נמושות
    I’ll leave you to discover who that man was and what that means.

    Enjoy the Gym.
    Mike

  6. p to the e

    7/18/2009 at 4:18 pm

    Yes Mike. Many great people attend. I dare say that within the list of ROI alums can be found the bulk of the vanguard of international Jewish innovation. Literally! Go ahead Mike. Google them. Would these people have done the cool things they did without ROI? I imagine so. Most were chosen specifically due to things they had already done. But ask pretty much any of them and they will tell you that ROI has enriched their efforts by making them more effective and by exposing them to an international community of like minded individuals. Despite the failures that I mentioned in my pre-gym comment, there still remains significant informal contact between ROI alumni, which leads inevitably to collaboration.

    And yes, I am aware of Rabin’s 1976 comment that yordim are the fall-outs of weaklings. But I thought Israeli society had evolved a bit since then. Everyone is entitled to make whatever personal decisions they like and even you have to admit that harping on Rabbi Gordis’ status as a yored is weak to the extreme. It’s one that has absolutely no bearing on the current topic. We can get into the whole Israel/Diaspora debate if you wish, but that wouldn’t be germane to the discussion at hand.

    What would be germane is a discussion on the real impact ROI has made on the modern Jewish landscape. Over the past 4 years they have spent upwards of $3.5 million trying to encourage young Jewish innovators around the world. This effort takes place in an environment where much lip service is paid to young Jewish innovation, but very little is actually done. ROI has done a bit more than produce “a bunch of self congrtualting tweets and blog posts.”

    Look into it Mike. Do some research before you shoot off at the mouth. Why am I assuming that you haven’t already done your research? Because so far, all your critiques are focused on the readily apparent. It’s easy to criticize a conference for being lavish, not so easy to come up with alternative venues in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem capable of housing 120 participants and staff with modern conference facilities that cost less than Kfar Maccabiah.

    I’m sure you’re a smart guy. Now can we have an intelligent conversation?

  7. themiddle

    7/18/2009 at 5:04 pm

    Ouch Mike, P is schooling you.

  8. ck

    7/19/2009 at 12:39 am

    I know you mean well Mike, but ya know, one of the things ROI supports is, well, pretty much anything tachlis.org has ever done. That was a good session we did on Web 2.0 skills in Jerusalem? Or that tweetUp? Good for the Jews right? Good for Jerusalem? I know you know they were good because you attended both. ROI alums were in attendance, helped publicize and even helped organize both. So there’s another thing that ROI has done that you missed. And that one was right under your nose. Again, I know you mean well. Further criticism however might merit a little more research.

  9. Pingback: I’m Moving up in the world | Frum Satire | Jewish Comedy

  10. Susanne

    7/22/2009 at 1:00 pm

    Great post Heshy! As one of the few other Orthos invited to ROI this year, I was sometimes taken aback by how little Jewy stuff went on. Although, I was also amazed and so very proud to see how many secular Jews cared so passionately for the Jewish people, Jewish life and Israel. It goes to show that synagogue membership is no longer the definition of an active and engaged Jew.

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