Guest post by Heshy Fried of Frum Satire

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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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About the author

ck

Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

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