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 23andMe.com 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!