Monday, December 3, 2018

Recap: Jewish New Media Summit 2018

Hanging with Motti Seligson of Chabad and Howard Feldman of his own awesomeness and ChaiFM.
I was privileged to be invited to the 2018 Jewish New Media Summit this past week in Israel. I left on Thursday, November 22nd, got to Israel in time for Shabbat the next day, slept all of Shabbat, and then got to conferencing on Sunday, November 25th through Wednesday, November 28th. Here's a quick recap of each day:

  • Day One: The opening night began in Zedekiah's Cave with some yummy-looking food I mostly couldn't eat (gluten, sigh). The weird thing about this venue was that, well, we're the media and influencers and bloggers and there was no cellular or wi-fi available. Nothing like throwing a bunch of media folk in a cave without the ability to relay what's going on to the rest of the world. We listened to Michael Oren go on and on about how amazing Donald Trump is and then got a stellar comedic presentation by Avi Liberman. The evening ended with a truly bizarre performance by Voca People (so much talent, way too much shtick). Bedtime? Roughly 10 something p.m.
  • Day Two: The first full day of the conference was filled with back-to-back speakers and presentations starting at 8 a.m. Again, in a space with not great wi-fi. This day was probably one of the most informative, mostly thanks to a talk gave by journalist Matti Friedman, which I'll talk more about in a bit. Then, we packed up and moved on to dinner, followed by a special viewing of the new light show at David's Tower, which was absolutely incredible. While everyone took a mini tour and got their drink on, I went down to the Kotel for an incredibly moving evening before hitting the sack around 1 a.m.
  • Day Three: I was supposed to go on an Old City tour, but I ended up in Tel Aviv touring some pretty exceptional places, including Start-Up Nation Central HQ. Then, we got a private, delicious tour of the Carmel Market, where there are shockingly plenty of kosher places, including the most delicious hummus place I've ever been to in my life. The new trend? Hamshuka! Stay tuned for more on that tour in another post. The evening ended at a club where there was no food for me to eat, so I cut out early because, well, it wasn't my cup of tea. 
  • Day Four: The day started at President Ruvi's house, which was pretty awesome, because the President of Israel is basically like the grandfather you always wanted. We then went on to the Knesset, where we got a beautiful tour of Chagall Hall and then got a huge surprise: Bibi, who was supposed to show up the first day, showed up at Knesset! The best part? He answered our questions like a truly real, honest, transparent person. Then? I as he left, I asked him if he'd take a photo with me, to which he said "No," followed by a quick, "Okay, quickly." Brilliant!
So most of my takeaways come from Days Two and Day Three, a lot of this based on what Matti Friedman had to say followed by tropes that continued over the next few days. The three major takeaways for me were these: 
  1. The conflict narrative was crafted, and journalists place facts into that narrative and make them fit. Whether the facts are positive or negative, they fit into the narrative by the will of the press. The problem? The press fancy themselves activists these days. The world doesn't need activists, it needs facts and an honest narrative seated in history. As Matti Friedman says, if a reporter is sent to cover what is meant to be a major protest and only three people are there, the journalist has to fit the facts into the narrative, so the lede will read: "A small, but vocal group of protestors ..." I'm going to be uploading some of his talk a bit later, so stay tuned. 
  2. Diaspora Jews, especially liberals and younger Jews, have more exclamation points than question marks, and more information than knowledge. Israel's primary focus right now is to help Diaspora Jewry turn its exclamation points into question marks and to turn information into knowledge. Questions and knowledge are the key to truth, and they're two areas that need so much more work.
  3. Anti-Zionism has become the proxy for antiSemitism. It's safer and more people can get away with it because the assumption is that anti-Zionism is about the state and not the people who run the state. But it's merely become a socially acceptable substitute for antiSemitism. Can you be anti-Zionistic without being antiSemitic, you'll ask? As there are plenty of Jews who are anti-Zionism. But think back to America and Europe leading up to World War II. There were plenty of Jews born of a higher class who sought to hide their Jewishness and even berate the shtetl-dwelling Jew as lesser and "bad for the Jews." So, it's basically that, but all over again. And in that case, no matter how upper crust and wealthy and removed from the shtetl you were, once Hitler rose to power, you were on the level with every other Jew on the planet. Perhaps Jews who are anti-Zionistic are trying to self preserve under the guise of nobility and human rights, but as history has shown, Jews who battle other Jews never succeed. 
Hanging out at Start-Up Nation Central HQ!

Here are some of the additional takeaways/interesting tidbits that have stuck with me: 
  • There are more journalists stationed in Israel to cover the "conflict" than there are stationed in the whole of Africa or China or India. This is pretty shocking/appalling/disgusting, consider the following reality.
  • The truth of the matter is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is small peanuts and a blip on the radar of the larger problem. Matti Friedman explained this masterfully: If magically, tomorrow, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved and there was peace or not peace, two states, or one, Arabs and Muslims would still be killing each other. The Syrian war wouldn't magically end. Hamas and ISIS wouldn't just disappear. People make the "conflict" out to be so much bigger than it is, and this is the biggest part of the problem and the biggest missing piece of the narrative.
  • The diaspora is a necessity. There is no longer a push for every Jew to pick up and make Aliyah. As a result of this, Israel sees itself playing a much more pressing role in Diaspora safety, Israel education, and so on. 
  • Israel is concerned about the rate of ignorance of world Jewry about its own Jewishness, Israel, and the Hebrew language. At the same time, Israelis are growing more and more ignorant about Diaspora Jewry, and as such are beginning “reverse birthright” experiences. 
The Israeli Knesset (parliament) 
The interesting thing about all of these takeaways is that, while true, I can't begin to see how sweeping change can occur. It's not an overnight thing, but we live in a world where people see the facts that they want to see and they fit them into the narrative they've been given. So, those who believe Arab Muslims are an abused minority in Israel will continue to find the facts that fit that narrative within their own personal echo chamber, and it doesn't matter how many people speak out and say "Hey! We have full rights in Israel and love it here!" it's not going to change a single mind. 

Additionally, I think that the narrative is too deeply implanted. Israel is a mere 70 years old, but the narrative of a conflict as old as time itself, which just isn't true, is more sexy than talking about something that started up in the 1960s and is complicated because it involves the larger Arab world, Russia, America, and Europe. 

How does re-education begin? That's my question. It can't come from Israel. It can't come from Jews. People who have bought into the narrative of their echo chamber can't hear the facts and information and turn them into knowledge if they're coming from people like me. So how does it start? Who is responsible? 

As we get closer and closer to 100 years out from the blossoming of Nazism and World War II and the subsequent rise of anti-Zionism as a proxy for anti-Semitism, I grow afraid and weary. When little boys walking down the street are getting beat up for being Jewish and anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise at alarming rates, I wonder who will step up and re-educate and re-inform the masses so history doesn't repeat itself. 

Find the Chaviva!
Overall, the best part of the entire experience was the connections and re-connections I got to make. Also, I've got bucketloads of pictures up on Instagram and Facebook, and lots of live Tweets from the conference itself. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Ask Chaviva Anything: Of Chanukah, Immigration, and Genetics

I realized I have a TON of "Ask Chaviva Anything" questions that went unanswered over the past few years, so I thought, now is a great time to hit some of them. Hopefully the people who asked are still reading. If not? My apologies!

Do u & ur family ever go totally crazy for Chanukah and put up lots of blue and white lites and inflatable lighted decorations and stuff like that? Holiday lites in winter time remind me of a magical winter wonder land!

Nope! We do the basics: A few Chanukiyot and maybe a little sign. In fact, this year, while we were at Target, Asher picked up a little Chanukah sign so I bought it. I'll probably hang it on the front door. But beyond that? No decorations. Most Jews don't actually go nuts for the decorations. I do, however, Love holiday lights. 

When I was a kid, our one Christmas tradition was driving around and looking at all the holiday lights. I think it's still relevant, and okay, to do this now with my kids. We call them "thank you" lights (Thanks Daniel Tiger!) and teach the kids that it's how our neighbors show their thankfulness and friendliness. So, this year, for the first time, my plan is to go out one night with Asher to a neighbored where there are lots of lights, and give him a piece of my childhood as I never have before. 

Do you ever find yourself upset still at how hard it was for your husband to immigrate to the USA?

Yes, 100 percent yes. I think about it a lot. When we have little argument for I'm stressed or I'm wondering what I'm doing here in this part of my life, I think about it. It still makes me cry, actually. We have very different memories about how everything happened, which is also hard. But I became a much stronger person as a result of it, and it definitely has helped inform how I vote based on immigration issues, too. 

Is there a DNA test for Jewish ancestry? If so which is best? I am a carrier of Tay-Sachs and have a sister who died from the disease. I have been asked by doctors if I am Ashkenazi Jewish, but I don't know for sure. (There is an abnormally high rate of Tay-Sachs among the Cajuns in south-central Louisiana.)

We did and were very happy with the results. In fact, Mr. T found out that he's 99.9 percent Ashkenazi Jew (we knew this, but having the proof is pretty epic) and I discovered what I already knew: I'm French, German, English, and Scottish with zero Ashkenazi Jewry in my DNA. If you click this link and buy, you'll get 10% off your purchase of a kit, too!

Want to ask me something? Click here: Ask away!

Friday, November 30, 2018

I visited Israel: And This is How It Felt

Israel Startup HQ in Tel Aviv
Here's me at Startup HQ in Tel Aviv. 

I wrote this while sitting on the plane in Israel during boarding. These are the days I miss, when words just spill out of me like the overflowing havdalah cup on Saturday nights. It doesn't always happen like this, but when it does, I know I'm getting close to being back to my happy place. 

When I made aliyah back in 2012, I had two — count 'em two — solid jobs. I was pretty sure that neither would let me go, because both were Jewish organizations and I was, after all, moving to Israel. Then, just a few months after arriving in Israel and meeting Mr. T, I was let go without much ceremony. It was heartbreaking. I got married, I got pregnant, and I was jobless. I picked up some freelance content writing work through connections, I applied for several full-time jobs in the tech sector doing stuff I didn’t want to do, and I turned down a few jobs because I couldn’t handle the soul-sucking possibilities.

I spent the second half of my time in Israel underemployed and mostly broke. It was incredibly depressing and demoralizing. My English was great and a definite plus, but my Hebrew wasn’t good enough to make it in most workplaces.

For the longest time, my biggest worry about returning to Israel has been the financial one. Everyone says where there’s a will, there’s a way, but I refuse to live in poverty, constantly in the red, wondering how I’m going to buy groceries. I’ve done it in Israel. I’ve done it in the U.S. I refuse to do it again — and I refuse to live on credit.

During my trip this past week to Israel, I was supposed to spend a day touring the Old City and Har Ha’Bayit. I found out last minute that I can’t visit Har Ha’Bayit without visiting the mikvah first, and then our rabbi said it was a blanket “no” for visiting anyway. There were three other tracks, and I opted for the one that seemed least attractive: a high-tech day in startup nation in Tel Aviv. Some of the people I’d really connected with on the trip were heading on that track, so I said okay, and we were off.

We met with some really fascinating people (and one guy who wasn’t so fascinating) and I ended up realizing that, since leaving Israel, I’ve acquired quite a bit of experience in fields that could — and should — make me marketable in Israel now.

Not only did I spend nearly two years working for a hardware IoT startup that I took to market, but I’ve also been working in inbound marketing and all it entails as a copywriter and editor. My English is 100, and with the right time and patience, my Hebrew can get back to where it was.

As the tour guide said when I told him my recent experience, he said that people would be doing backflips to hire me. Now’s the time to come back, he said.

My ultimate dream is that Tesla opens an office in Israel and Mr. T can put in for an easy transfer and that my job, in which the entire company is remote, will let me work from Israel as long as is humanly possible. I’m just thinking about all of the potential business my company could acquire in Israel.

My wheels are spinning, and I’m considering carefully and thoughtfully what a return to Israel looks like. It’s so funny that I arrived and spent two or three days thinking to myself that a return to Israel with my three monkeys and husband in tow was an impossibility. And then, at some point, the magic of Israel, of the place, the people, it all hit me hard and I can think of nothing other than a quick return.

So, we’ll see how/where things go. Mr. T would drop everything tomorrow to move back. I, on the other hand, am much more practical and have to consider all the variables — financial chief among them.

And now? Time to buckle up for wheels up on my way back to the U.S. L’hitraot Yisrael (see ya Israel).

Here is something I wrote while visiting the Kotel (aka the Western Wall, and please don't call it the "wailing wall"), I wrote this in a moment of overwhelming emotion in which I felt like my breath had been knocked out of me and my heart leapt out of my chest. I was crying, overwhelmed, more so than I've ever been at the Kotel. I don't know what or why, but something was happening. 

Pigeons pining for our prayers
Pecking away at souls they know are there
Digging deeper into walls of stone
Finding comfort in this place we long to call home. 
Heartsick and the breath stolen
From my breast I can’t breath,
I can’t speak, can't see,
Because all there is is stone.

Want to ask me something? Click here: Ask away!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Reviving a Bygone Era: Poetry

Once upon a time, I wrote a lot of poetry. For ages, I was convinced I was going to be a poet. I went into university as an English major set on the idea of being an intellectually advanced poetry-composing artist. My dreams were swept under the rug after a visit to my dentist. Yes, during that visit I saw an English diploma hanging on her wall, and, after asking her about it, I decided that I absolutely was not going to go down the path of a wasted degree (but honestly, a necessarily evil, they're all pretty much wasted these days).

I did my best to continue writing, doing slam poetry, trying to keep my mind nimble, but somewhere along the line (during my first marriage) I fell out of love with it. I miss poetry, I miss being able to sit down and the words just flowing like they were already out there in existence and I was merely recording them (think: the Oral Torah) for future generations.

On that note, here's an oldie but a goodie that I once penned in the days when I was generically Missouri born and Nebraska grown Amanda Edwards, shortly before my Reform conversion.


I fill the shoes of a Jew, and the
wind that floats by your face may be a piece of
me.  but I am no longer in a ghetto.  for now,
they say.  I am in the shul, next to you where you ponder
how history has repeated itself.  I feel like
repetition, with your fingerprint on my history.

northern Africa, Poland, Germany … history moves like
water in its cycle.  changing, but always coming
back to it’s primary form.

and you walk past me as if you can smell it on me,
like fresh matzo or kosher wine.

perhaps I have the nose, the nose that seems to run,
everyone thinks, in centuries of g-d’s chosen.
or maybe you smell on me gelt, centuries
of money lenders and bankers. used and tossed
aside as needed and beckoned upon by kings and
other gentiles. you know it’s christianity’s history
that swore Jews to the money trade.

but it is merely the badge I wear on my arm,
this g-d forsaken yellow badge.  the chutzpah
of the goy who invented such a symbol, a mark
of some kind of chaye.  centuries after it was
created it is stapled to the skin of everyone who
was promised the holy land, who cherishes the
Sabbath and lives respectfully for and of life.

i didn’t kill your g-d.  Jesus was a liberal Jew.
do you notice that for centuries my community
has wanted nothing more than to live in peace?
and we are created and destroyed by being moved,
expelled, killed, murdered, our precious objects
of Passover and holy days stolen and ruined.
my halakah has been forked by your history.

museums are the resting place for my history, my
blood, my memories are kept in plastic boxes
with little cards and dates that mean nothing but to
say this is when a branch broke, a leaf fell, a vine
was ripped from it’s place and made to forget.

my torah, your book, my Talmud, your prayer,
your weapon, my words. my death, your hand.

my mother tells me I am merely a luftmensh, blind
to what will happen to my people someday. she
says to me, ‘my little bubbala, you know that
history has murdered a memory, soon the memory
will be murdered as well.’  we are all g-d’s chosen.

fershtay? do you understand? there is no rachmones
for anything my history has done for your present.

but history has learned nothing of itself, and I remember
everything of it, as it is in my blood, my eyes, my nose,
my fingers.  i breathe and sigh history’s mistakes everyday.

so let us lomir redn mamaloshn.
12 million voices, half murdered.
ashes to ashes, dust to dust, dirt to shmutzik.
you or I, it makes no difference.

little key:
shmutzik: dirt
shul: school
matzo: the bread made during Passover
gelt: money
gentiles: non-Jews
chutzpah: nerve, gall
chaye: beast
halakah: path (in Judaism)
Torah/Talmud: key Jewish books
luftmensh: someone with their head in the clouds
bubbala: darling
fershtay: do you understand?
rachmones: compassion
lomir redn mamaloshn: literally, “let’s talk Yiddish” or “get to the point”

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Israel: Everything is the same.

step out to cough, smoke
step out to breath, garbage strewn.
are they happy? no.