Yesterday’s Gone, Yesterday’s Gone: Facing Tomorrow One More Time

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I have been thinking about tomorrow, and not just because they told me not to stop. Actually, as historian Niall Ferguson noted at Jerusalem’s recent Presidential Conference (already discussed heavily on these pages), I have been thinking about tomorrowS… given the plurality of possibility the future contains. (Ferguson is a total rock star, as historians go. Very Colin Firth.)

Having been lately not only at that conference, but also, all too briefly, at the extremely cool and inspiring ROI Summit, I have compiled the following top ten list, my best shot at Imitatio dei. (Stop whining. What is Google for, if not to decipher the pretentious Latin phrasings of bloggers?)

Without further ado:

Top Ten Things I Already Love About Tomorrow(s)
(This is going to be a little long. Get coffee.)

1. Generation Z (comes after Y, rhymes with “me”) lives not only in a post-fax, post-VHS world, but also in a post-denominational one. Despite being highly individualistic (President Peres noted that today’s youth advocated not for Freedom of Expression but Freedom of Self Expression), I join those who believe that some type of united, ideological, identified, even passionate Jewish Peoplehood is truly possible via “doing Jewish” – with an emphasis on ethical behavior, social activism, Israel engagement, and the like. Lots and lots of Jewish orgs mandated with saving the Jewish tomorrow are betting the kibbutz on it, so I hope we are right.

2. It is possible to grow old and still be relevant. Nay – highly relevant. The Prez is the best (and oldest) example; he alluded to his fountain of youth strategy when long-way-around-answering a question on economics in a blogger’s session at the conference. Instead of eating three times a day, he said, read three times a day. Focus on the mind, and your mind will be vibrant. Another example: Yossi Vardi. Israel’s Godfather of hi-tech is also a funnier, more effective interviewer and moderator than Leno, Letterman, and Conan put together. At 68, he is probably just as, if not more, relevant than the insanely wealthy fetus called Zuckerberg (….Yes, I just aged myself crankily.) Stanley Fischer correctly called him our national treasure. More on the panel Vardi moderated further down this list.

3. I’m still not done talking about the brain. Well…Peres isn’t. And as a psychology major, philosophy buff, and skeptical fan of spiritual evolution, I am happy to keep talking about it. Want to know what’s in store for tomorrow’s scientists? Inner Space. Figure out why we do what we do, and then – only then – can we convert negative impulses into constructive ones. We are influenced by a bundle of cells miraculously organized to drive us to hate, love, act noble, and rot in front of the damn TV. Holding up a mirror to our minds will advance humanity beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, because most of us essentially want to do good.

4. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales echoed this sentiment: the internet is a kinder, gentler, more generous place now than it was in the 90’s not because we have grown more benevolent, but because our platforms have gotten better at more accurately creating a natural social environment, so that we can behave the way we do IRL. Wales is irritated with divisive media outlets when he knows how helpful people actually are and how diverse groups can work together. Wales is a totally great guy – humble and on the level.

5. More on virtual relationships and back to cool old people: I need to tell you that Dr. Ruth had us rolling in the aisles. No, not like that! I mean with laughter. She has a lot to say about erections (I think that is truly her favorite word) but also much wisdom on human relationships. She thinks cyber romance is a human catastrophe, hand holding and friendship the foundations of the world. Tomorrow: Go back to primarily human relationships, says Dr. Ruth. Can we all say Amen? Can you at least tweet Amen?

6. Let us talk about another tomorrow-y subject: cloning. Because I would like to clone (UK Chief Rabbi) Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, asap. To my mind, there is no better advocate for a human, committed, dignified, unapologetic, cosmopolitan Judaism. LR Sacks had an interesting take on the new anti-Semitism – comparing it to a virus that lives on by continuously adapting its strain, which is does by latching onto the prevailing philosophy in every generation. During the middle ages, it took a religious guise; when science was king, in the early 20th century, anti-Semitism grew scientific with Nazi racial science. Today, in our humanitarian age, it takes the form of a twisted kind of human rights advocacy. You heard it folks – unequivocally: anti-Zionism IS today’s anti-Semitism, expressed in a language modified to appease the modern ear…and must be combatted as such. I can go on. But this is getting long and we’re only 60% through.

7. Neither Lord Rabbi Sacks, nor Natan Sharansky, could answer my question: How do you explain, in our enlightened, egalitarian times, the Jewish trilogy – Nation, Land, Torah (Religion) – to ourselves, and to others? How can we accept that we are both a nation and a place? Both a people and a religion? Isn’t this too weird, too particular, too MUCH? Sharansky told us that he has written several books developing the essential element in this linkage between Nation and Land, but agrees that it is a hard thing to try to sell to those who don’t feel it in their gut. Rabbi Sacks told us, simply, when I asked about selling it to other Jews: The impossible will take a little longer.

8. Back to Vardi’s panel: It was on fathers and sons. One pair: Molecular biologist Howard Cedar and his son Joseph, recently awarded Best Screenplay at Cannes for the truly excellent Footnote. One interesting…um…footnote… from this enormously entertaining and enlightening session, in which the dialogue between science and art, and empathy vs. methodological response, were explored – - something the younger Cedar said: Progress requires rebellion. No matter how valuable and desired continuity, offspring will always, to a certain extent, buck the parameters of the parent generation in order to evolve, in order to create its own contribution. With the caveat that it is actually evolution and not simply rebellion for its own sake, I think this view of tomorrow(s) is actually a positive one, improving on the design of the human spirit with each successive tweak, while still rooted in the same spiritual DNA. Wow. I’m getting tired.

9. Israeli men are Adonises. This is the view of one Sarah Silverman, who referred to American Jewish men as “human sneezes.” The Adonis line drew huge crowd response, and I hope got her a hookup with a swarthy, cut-abbed Jewish boy who will rid her of the notion that being Jewish is completely individual, without any communal or generational significance. Sometimes you just need to sleep on that idea.

10. How do you make Jewish identity sexy? Matisyahu: You just need to BE sexy… you’re Jewish. I think that kind of confidence would do much for the human sneezes and sneezettes. It may be the thing Silverman identifies as Olympian in Sabras – the unapologetic knowledge of who you are. Peres said that the greatest thing the Jews gave to the world is dissatisfaction (love that!!!) but I think it has become, rather than dissatisfaction with a problem in need of solving, dissatisfaction with the self. Introspection is good; constant apology for existing feeds those who wish you didn’t. Silverman says we need better PR out of Israel . I say we need better self esteem in the Diaspora.

Good night. My clock says tomorrow is almost here.

3 Comments

  1. Liz Nord

    6/26/2011 at 7:16 am

    Great post! My takeaways from the conference were similar. I hope next year they add some more of us youngsters on the panel discussions in addition to the “cool old people.”

  2. sarke

    6/27/2011 at 12:17 am

    Liz – I love learning from the people who have accomplished so much. Joe Cedar, for example, is 42 – but so accomplished, his age was irrelevant. Ferguson is 48 -not exactly Gen Y, but not ancient…and has written books that I can’t even lift. I agree that the requirement should be quality and not quantity of years. What I’d hate to see is more sexy young and less substance – if young must be a real reason other than simply “promise”. I thought the balance was almost right in that regard for this particular conference, which is about looking at tomorrow, perhaps by those who have already seen yesterday and didnt like it and worked to change it. (I think.)

  3. Pingback: Friday Links « Victacular

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