Itâ€™s a funny thing about sarcasm and writers / artists: Often itâ€™s only on paper. Meaning, razor edged wit is a weapon of choice, but watch that creative communicator in off-duty moments and 8 times out of 10 you will find somebody crying at Kodak commercials.
Yesterday: On my way to the ROI Summit in Kfar Maccabia (loved that it was called K-Mac on their program posters), I hit some traffic on the highway just past Modiâ€™in junction. Across the road, the Shalit family support march was making its way towards Latrun. Streams of people wearing white and holding Israeli flags were walking in quiet solidarity with the shared hope of Giladâ€™s imminent return home, after 1,000+ days in Hamas captivity.
And thereâ€™s me in my car, with zero warning except years of exasperated experience with my leaky tear ducts, wiping at runny mascara. Not, mind you, over poor Gilad, which is indeed in itself a good enough reason to cry and no, smart ass in the back, not over the traffic. I know these tears. They mean: Look at how the Jews fight for one of their own. How much we value life. How peaceful and dignified these solidarity events of ours are, despite the variety of opinions on what should or shouldnâ€™t be done to secure Shalitâ€™s release. Despite the very contentious political message of the march, we really know how to come together in a crisis. How soft and hard we are at the same time.
I call these the tears of Bilam, the prophet-proxy of wicked King Balak hired to curse the Jewish people, who ends up seeing their encampment and writing a beautiful poem. No matter how hard I try to be cynical about this crazy country, snarky about our various splinter groups, and satirical about our oft-debated role as Jews in the world, I end up instead being inspired, overly sentimental, and surprised by the things we do and the things we wonâ€™t.
It makes me wonder, every time, how beautiful life could be if the world would just leave us the hell aloneâ€¦and then wonder again if that is true at all, or if we simply do our very best work in crisis. Would we perhaps implode or dissolve if things were copacetic and groovy?
All of these thoughts were the perfect way to go into ROI, a conference chock full of Jewish future, where I headed straight to the peer led session on Art and Satire in the Age of Internet.
The forum was facilitated by Esther K, who at ROI is something of a rock star (there were also actual Jewish rock stars at ROI , but I am getting ahead of myself.) The panelists were Chari, a rising-star cartoonist with a conscience who is taking Cleantech by storm; Andres, an IT professional with actual Agency funding to spread truth in times of PR crisis, at which he and his team are amazingly adept; Shai, a talented Tunisian / Canadian / Israeli hip-hop artist interested in telling the whole truth and in eradicating all forms of racism; and Eli, a wickedly funny comic illustrator for the Forward who tackles Jewish issues through a funhouse mirror and whose self deprecating presentation was like watching A Serious Man.
The upshot? The Jewish gift for communicating via humor and art has never been more important, or as consequential, as it is now, and has never been as easily published or as widely accessible as now. The status update generation of young Jews is doing good by us. Chattering (chatting?) class? Perhaps. But since chatter is where the battle lines have been drawn for the hearts and minds of the international community, itâ€™s a relief that we have a highly skilled front line.
Afterwards I sat in on a brainstorming session filled with community leaders and innovators from the East Coast, mostly New Yorkers. A room full of very cool and very busy Gen Y and X-ers â€“ artists, business people, Jewish organizers – told Lisa Eisen (the other fast-walking tiny blonde, not my sister in law), the Schusterman Foundationâ€™s National Director, what was on their minds. In a nutshell: How what was often standing between them and the fulfillment of their various initiatives was simply someone fulltime to connect them to others in â€œthe networkâ€ with complimentary skill sets, and also to bigger, older, richer players to mentor and/or help out with funding. Essentially, these ROI-ers were asking for a 24/7, well connected COO to tighten up their loosely associated operations. There was even a grassroots nomination in this regardâ€¦
Three things that ran through my mind:
Thing one: Israelis can be overly-direct, overly-informal, presumptuous. But boy, can your average upwardly mobile Gen-X Israeli network out of his or her own league. Some of that confidence is part of the culture of informality and approachability, the same kind that allows people to yell at Knesset members in the supermarket. Part of that permission to â€œbreak rankâ€ is nurtured in the army, and is a well-documented ingredient in Israelâ€™s entrepreneurial success. I donâ€™t suggest that young American Jews start losing the good manners it took their mothers so many years to instill, but taking a page out of Israelâ€™s Chutzpah manual on occasion might help with those approaches to the corner office crewâ€¦
Thing two: Successful 45 â€“ 60 year olds, listen up! If some young person trying to do an amazing thing for the Jewish people / the environment / Israel / global humanity calls you for legitimate help or advice, please consider tithing your time as you do your income. Take the damn meeting. And 35-45 year olds? Encourage this culture by being a good bridge. Senior Associates have an open door to the Partnerâ€™s office. Use it to help out a struggling young brother or sister.
Thing three: 25-35 year old â€œsocial entrepreneursâ€ listen up, as well: Philanthropists do not bite. (Actually, I worked in the International Relations Department at the Israel Museum when I was in my early 20â€™s and in fact did almost get bitten by oneâ€¦but that is another story altogether. ) I have it on good authority from higher ups that your funders want you realistic and honest and are much more approachable than you might think. Put something coherent together, donâ€™t use â€œlikeâ€ and â€œumâ€, and donâ€™t be scared of a long title or a panel of assistants with longer titles.
In any event, regarding the whole ROI Summit experience: I could be tempted by cynicism and show you this really funny cartoon of Eliâ€™s, but I felt the energy in those meeting rooms, and Golly, it was earnest, hopeful, determinedâ€¦beautiful.
These are folks who are not spending 100% of their energy and considerable talents chasing the brilliant careers they most undoubtedly will achieve. They are tithing their time, or indeed shaping whole careers around Jewish future, because they feel a calling.
These young leaders and emerging media stars really believe in personal responsibility and in their own ability to effect change in a broken world.
(â€¦No. *Not* crying now. Thanks for asking.)