Posted by Orit Arfa
I was definitely a minority at the Nefesh B’Nefesh International Bloggers Convention that took place on September 13 in Jerusalem: single, non-observant, disillusioned with Zionism—and sleeveless.
Among the 250 participants from across Israel, I noticed most women wore head coverings and long skirts, and most of the men wore kippahs, some beards. Naturally, given that it was organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh, most participants—except for those watching the webcast from abroad—were olim (immigrants to Israel), new and old. The major theme was “Defending Israel Online” and the star speaker was Ron Dermer, Senior Adviser to PM Netanyahu, who spoke about how blogs and social media can be better used for Israel advocacy. I haven’t been much of an Israel defender lately. Actually, through this blog, I’ve been expressing my recent disconnection to Israel and attempts to conquer Hollywood. What can I say, I’ve become a heathen.
So I don’t know how well the audience received my brief talk on the panel entitled “Social Media and the Future of the Jewish Community.” My fellow panelists included David Kelsey of Jewcy.com, columnist/writer Yonasan (Jonathan) Rosenbaum, and Tova Serkin, Chief Business Officer of JGooders. My talk was the most self-indulgent (like my blogs). I spoke about Facebook, mostly, and how it accelerated my reentry into the Los Angeles Jewish scene when I moved back to Los Angeles from Israel about a year ago, considering that I’m not a fan of synagogues. Facebook was like my Chabad House. Through it, I created a virtual Jewish community. As a former singles columnist for the Jewish Journal, I also touched upon the revolution social media has done for Jewish dating, practically decimating the blind-dating industry by letting all of us look up our potential mates online—which is filled with its own hazards.
I felt like the community rebel, even no one made me feel this way—at least at the convention. The blog “Shiloh Musings” put me in my place, with its post-convention musings:
The panels were disproportionately Left and secular to the largely religious Right audience of JBloggers. That’s insulting. Ironically, it reminds me of the Likud, which gets most of its support/votes from the religiously tradional/religious and Right, though its policies when in power are extremely Left.
Benji Lovitt’s stand-up was great, but Orit Arfa was in a sense funnier. I had to control myself from laughing when looking at my fellow bloggers as she spoke. The grimaces and shock over her admittedly self-centered use of the media and podium were a sight to behold. We were anthropologists observing another species.
Still, the convention was overall fun, informative, and useful, although I hope that next year they encourage a more diverse range of participants. Given the topic of defending Israel, the convention had its form of natural selection, although a few workshop dealt with topics neutral to politics or religion, like how to use twitter for distribution, how to be a better blogger, and how to monetize a blog (as the shallow, materialistic Angeleno I’ve become, maybe it’s only appropriate I focus on this last theme. Heh. Next year they might want to make a workshop on self-editing.)
Stephen Levitt of WebAds, a Jewish internet advertising company that co-organized the convention, gave a workshop on how to encourage advertising on blog sites, while acknowledging that “blogging for 95% of people who blog is not about making money off the blog.”
The value of a blog for advertisers is determined mostly by the number of the blog’s unique visitors, which isn’t always easy to measure, although Google analytics is generally used at the standard counter. The blog should also be active, with many visitors—new and old—commenting on the posts and interacting with each other. But beware too many regulars.
“You can have five people on your blog making 50 comments a day,” he said. “You can have a lot of page views, yet there are a 100 readers going back and forth.”
Blogs are best suited for niche advertising, where advertisers relate specifically the general theme of the blog, whether it’s parenting, finance, or Jewish education.
Financial adviser Zach Miller is more pessimistic about the financial power of the blog. “Blogging makes you poor. No ifs, ands, or butts,” he said in his talk.
Blogging, however, can be one of the most effective tools for content marketing, which he defined as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience, with the object of driving profitable consumer action.”
Miller himself closed many accounts by luring customers with the expertise he shared on his blog.
So while sitting for an hour sharing a new insight or idea may not make anyone rich directly, using a blog as an intelligent teaser for one’s business can ultimately pay off handsomely.
Most bloggers, however, are just like me, using blogs as means of therapy and venting. It may not make money, but it still saves money. It’s way cheaper than a shrink!
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September 13, 2009 | 9:10 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
I’m currently sitting in a session on “The Business of Blogging” taking place in Jerusalem at the Nefesh B’Nefesh Second International Jewish Bloggers Convention.
Stay tuned for summaries of the sessions or check out www.jbloggers.com and catch some of the convention live on-line!
September 11, 2009 | 7:59 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
I was interviewed yesterday on an Israeli late night news talk show, “M’Hayom L’Machar” (From Today to Tomorrow), as one of the bloggers participating in the Second Annual Jewish Convention taking place this Sunday. They asked me what I thought of this controversial Israeli commercial meant to reel in assimilated Jews through a year abroad program in Israel. Watch the video below; the narration goes like this:
More than fifty percent of Jewish youth abroad assimilate and get lost to us. Do you know a Jewish youth abroad? Call Project Masa and together we’ll strengthen they’re connection to Israel: A year in Israel; a lifetime of love.
I think this commercial is very sad—and not necessarily because of its statistics. It’s exactly the reason why Jewish youth assimilate: too much Jewish guilt. This commercial only piles it on. It may work for concerned Jewish parents, but not for the youth. For Jewish youth to stay in the fold, they need to know fun and enriching a connection to Jewish life can be, not how overbearing it can get.
An even better “Lost” campaign, perhaps, would be to compare Israel to the television show of the same name and invite Jewish youth to partake in the experiment of Jewish survival, with all the drama, intrigue, and attractive people that we find on this little Jewish “island.”
September 10, 2009 | 9:49 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Don’t be alarmed if you see three puffs of smoke coming from the Federation building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. tomorrow. Our sources say that the committee that will select the next president of the Jewish Federation will meet tonight—either at Fed headquarters or at the home of another board member—and make the final decision.
As we reported here yesterday, the Final Four are
Minneapolis Federation Executive Director Joshua Fogelson, Council Member Jack Weiss, JTN CEO Jay Sanderson, and former William Morris Agency COO Irv Weintraub.
(For those who miss the reference, the College of Cardinals releases white smoke from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel when they choose a new Pope. The AP photo at right, by Pier Paolo Cito, depicts the smoke following the April 19, 2005 of Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger of Germany).
I feel I need to keep repeating here why this appointment is the source of much discussion and speculation among a relatively small but influential subset of LA Jewry. The Fed Pres controls a $50-plus million campaign and has the putative position of being the head of local organized Jewry. It can be a powerful bully pulpit and financial lever. Of course, the fact that I need to keep explaining that means the position and the organization aren’t quite as meaningful or relevant as they once were, or maybe could be again.
(And the fact that we get many more clicks on my “How to Make Challah” video than we do on our Fed-prez coverage makes me think Jews may not have their priorities straight… or maybe they do).
That said, who will get the nod? There’s fresh money on a latecomer to the race, Irv Weintraub. The fact that he survived the big cut means the committee saw something that helped them overlook how much time and money they had spent on the formal search process (at least $250,000 according to our reporter Brad Greenberg, though others think it may approach $500,000). Weintraub was the COO of a large company, comes from the entertainment Industry, and was already involved in Federation as a volunteer lay leader—and thus has close peer relationships with the very people making the decision.
On the down side, as Nikki Finke and Sharon Waxman make clear on their blogs, Weintraub’s reputation in Hollywood is decidedly mixed. He is mensch to some, and evil incarnate to others (hey, that range should prepare him for leadership in the Jewish community). His experience as COO, while technically in “Hollywood,” had more to do with “making sure the lights stayed on” as one source told me, than it did with connecting with talent.
I don’t know him, but my questions for him are the same as for any of the candidates:
Does he have a game-changing vision of the role Federation must play? Can he communicate a compelling new vision and execute it? Does he have what it takes to set the agenda and lead? Does he have a plan for involving the next generation of Jewish funders and activists?
He can still be competent and take care of the place lacking all these traits—somebody from the agency world should surely know how to service the relative handful of older, wealthy funders who give the majority of the campaign funds. But to “make the Federation relevant,” as outgoing chair Stanley Gold promised, means to infuse it with passion, activism and innovative ideas, so I hope, if Weintraub’s the One, he has those abilities.
On the other hand, Joshua Fogelson, Jay Sanderson and Jack Weiss—while they have to be a bit perplexed how the rules of the game suddenly shifted at the finish line—must still have plenty of support going in to the conclave, otherwise they wouldn’t have been subjected to the grueling final round of interviews, meetings and presentations.
As one source said, “Who knows? It’s all so secretive and opaque.”
Secretive and opaque? Hey—maybe THAT’S part of the problem.
**PRES SHABBAT UPDATE** Over the course of the day numerous sources have confirmed the committee could not reach a decision and punted, I mean, delayed a final decision until some time next week.
September 9, 2009 | 6:32 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
You’ll never believe it. I was walking down an alleyway in the Old City of Jerusalem with my mother, when, all of a sudden an Arab burst out of a corner, grabbed me from behind, and put a dagger near my forehead, threatening to kidnap me if I didn’t give him the cobblestone on which I was standing. He said it belonged to the Palestinians.
Quickly, I performed a backhanded wax-on/wax-off (from the Karate Kid) until the dagger flew out of his hand, only to scrape a layer of skin at the edge of my hairline. He bolted.
You’re right not to believe this story, but I’m trying to think of some heroic tale to explain this dorky gauze patch on my forehead.
The true story, however, is very unsexy. In fact, it’s very modest.
I had just rented a car and drove to attend a Torah class at a religious Breslev yeshiva where I was scheduled to interview the English translator of a popular religious marital guide, Garden of Peace, which teaches men to treat women like royalty—NEVER to criticize them and ALWAYS to make them feel number one. The author cautions women not to read it lest they use it as a weapon. What can I say? I’m a bad Jewish girl.
Maybe that’s why I forgot my sweater at home, meant to protect me not only from the Jerusalem chill—but from the stones. The yeshiva was located at the edge of Mea She’arim, Jerusalem Ultra-Orthodox (haredi) neighborhood, notorious for tossing stones at women in immodest dress.
I wore a pink dress revealing my décolleté. I drove frantically along narrow, one-way Israeli roads, taxis honking at every slow turn, to find a clothing shop to buy a shawl. No luck. So I risked a few bare steps where we found some shawls handy at the yeshiva.
Only now I left my laptop in the car. New to this Mazda hatchback, I struggled to open the trunk until, BAM! The door whacked me in the head.
Through the car’s mirror I noticed a big patch of red. Blood. It wasn’t dripping, but a piece of skin had been shaved off, dangling below the wound. Having just landed from Los Angeles two days earlier, I needed this hole in the head like, well, a hole in the head.
Why me? Why now? The problem with questions like these is that your brain (no matter how busted) tries to find an answer.
I thought of the the other popular religious book this rabbi translated, Garden of Emuna, which teaches people that every difficulty in life—illness, financial troubles, marriage problems—happens not only for a reason—but for the best, for the intention of soul correction.
Is God whacking me in the head before Yom Kippur as a kaparah—an atonement—for some sin I committed? For my problems with haredi dress preference? For my vanity? For by general bad-Jewish-girlness?
I ran back to the yeshiva and looked for a bathroom, a dirty little closet with cracked tiles and no mirror above the sink.
I spotted a man with short, dirty blonde hair and a black kippah.
“Where’s a bathroom with a mirror,” I asked, frantic. “I need a mirror.”
I forgot. I’m a woman—a vain, unvirtuous one. He froze and turned his eyes away.
“I got hurt!” I clarified in Hebrew, hugging the shawl around my upper body. “I hit my forehead.” He paused to give himself permission to look, which he did for two seconds before directing me to the side of the building where a door opened to a book warehouse. A few religious young men appeared to be working.
I don’t think they were used to raving, outspoken women. I was on the verge of tears. “I hurt myself! I need a mirror to see how bad it is!”
“It’s not so bad,” said one dark man with a beard and frizzy payos. “Just put a bandaid.”
“And where am I supposed to get this bandaid?” He looked and shrugged at his friend, as if to say, “I don’t know.”
“I need a mirror!” I insisted. I wanted to add: “Do you not believe in mirrors?” but I held my tongue; that’s mean. Still, the bad Jewish girl in me got angry, and I wanted to go even further: “You claim yourselves to represent the ideal of Jewish practice, yet you can’t help your fellow man—probably because she is a woman?! No wonder people don’t like ultra-Orthodox Jews. This is a hilul hashem (desecration of God’s name)!” I made a bloody mental note to bring up this treatment to the rabbi.
Finally, they directed me to the mirror of a motorcycle parked over some broken pavement. I looked. At least the blood didn’t move.
I ran back to my mother, crying like a baby. She was waiting in the women’s section that didn’t have a mechitzah (divider to separate the men and women), but a veritable wall with a thin slit in the center.
My mother and a very nice American lady named Bracha came out to help me. We found out there was a health clinic literally a five minute walk away. There, a very sweet, plump nurse in her 60s with a yellow bob that I think was natural (the hair, not the color) immediately cleaned my wound and told me that I needed a tetanus shot (which I needed like another hole in the head). The doctor on duty, a younger woman with blonde-grayish hair referred me, in her Russian accent, to a plastic surgeon at another branch a ten minute cab ride away.
Fortunately, I had continued paying my monthly Israeli national insurance dues, so I was covered. (An argument, one might say, for national health care. Then again, the receptionists at the entrance, who might as well have been filing their nails, told me the plastic surgeon wasn’t on duty, and I persisted to another floor to find out that indeed he was.)
The plastic surgeon, a round man in his 50s whose kippah consisted of a round, shiny bald spot, told me, matter-of-factly, that if I wanted to save my forehead from a serious dent, I needed two stitches. He cared, but didn’t really show it. In a matter of six minutes, he lay me on the table, and while I held my mother’s hand, he shot me with some local anesthesia, and sewed me up. Afterward, I got my tetanus shot. His quick treatment redeemed this experience.
Now when I walk around Jerusalem with gauze over my head wound, people look at me funny. I tell myself that they’re looking at me because they think I’m pretty (so much for vanity control)—and that it’s just a hole in the head (well, maybe two holes)—and that maybe my story isn’t so unsexy after all.
September 9, 2009 | 5:41 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
As I wrote on the first blog of this series, making aliyah (immigration to Israel) is like getting married to the Jewish state. Yesterday, on September 8, 2009, over two hundred Americans who traveled on the Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight to Israel signed the ketubbah (Jewish marriage contract) and got “married” to Israel underneath an imaginary chuppah at the old Ben Gurion airport terminal.
It was a moving, leibadik ceremony, filled with the tears of joy from the new arrivals and their families and friends. For some olim, it was an inter-generational affair, and they’re simply joining sons or daughters who already tied the knot, kids now in tow. I looked for star-struck Zionist lovers kissing the ground, but couldn’t find any. Maybe they were embarrassed. The intense attraction, however, was palpable.
As I got off the buses arriving from the tarmac, trying to live the ceremony through the olim, I immediately heard the roars of all the guests as a Jewish band greeted us with happy Jewish and Israeli music. I admit even I got teary-eyed.
As we walked down the outside aisle to meet the groom, cute, female Israeli soldiers handed us small Israeli flags with the coy smiles of flower girls dropping rose petals. Guests carrying welcome signs—young and old—cheered from both sides. Near the band, men and women danced in separate circles as if it were a bona-fide religious wedding. Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) broadcast the ceremony live on their homepage.
NBN took over the entire hall of the baggage claim area of the old Ben Gurion airport (now replaced by a much larger, more organized, more hi-techy airport). Tables of coffee, fruit, sodas and cakes were set up near the rows of chairs where the olim and their guests got ready for speeches by NBN and Jewish Agency leaders, and the guest of honor, Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni (see below for a video of her speech).
“You belong to us, and we belong to you,” said one of the leaders.
Very inspiring messages, but I could tell the olim were getting impatient. All they wanted was to do was rip off Zion’s clothes. But everyone sat politely as the dignitaries added a formality to the ceremony, like rabbis saying the seven traditional wedding blessings underneath the chuppah. Only the ceremony ended without any real closure. Someone should have broken a glass to commemorate the destruction of the Temple.
In contrast, my aliyah in 1999 was like a cheap Vegas ceremony. I had to stand in the long line at passport control just like everyone else, fight for my luggage like everyone else, and hail a taxi in the sticky heat just like everyone else. It was really unromantic. Then, in Israel, I had to face the glum faces of immigration officials at interior ministry offices to get the marriage finalized.
NBN staffers, using nifty PC tables, filled out all the immigration paperwork in advance on the plane so that we didn’t have to go through passport control. They got their new passports and ID cards presented to them on arrival. We had the entire terminal and baggage carousels to ourselves. The new Israeli citizens got free “just married” taxi rides to their destinations.
For some olim, this was a double “wedding.” The flight carried 81 singles, two of whom came to reunite with their other true loves. Jolene Ilkay, 23, from San Diego, whom I’ll profile as part this blog, reunited with her Israeli boyfriend Dor, and I’ve never seen two people so in love and happy. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other, as if their touch also sublimated their Zionist love.
One of the most tear-jerking parts of the ceremony was the public proposal of Zach Taylor, 23, to his girlfriend, Nechama Dina Simon, 21. He made aliyah two years ago from Valley Glen, California, and she was joining him from St. Louis, Missouri. After Livni herself presented Nechama with her “Oleh Certificate”, Taylor got down on one knee and proposed to a very excited, slightly embarrassed Nechama. How could she say no?
All this leads me to wonder if the success of a marriage is influenced by the success of a wedding. If my wedding to Israel were like this, happier and less haphazard, would I have stuck it out longer, recalling the former, joyous commitment I made in the presence of witnesses? Or did Israel simply not fill its obligations of the ketubbah, taking from me more than it gave? This NBN wedding ceremony made all the new Israelis feel wanted; the love, mutual. So far, according to statistics, NBN’s retention rate is 98 percent.
I still wonder if Israel and I will get back together. And if we do, I want to make my vows in a more formal way, like this. And maybe, what I need to ease my success here is a real marriage or romance—the kind of love I saw in the eyes of Jolene and Nechama. Life here probably would have been so much easier and joyful had I had, on a consistent basis, a real, human shoulder to cry on when Jews got blown up; a broad torso to hug when I landed that job; and lips to kiss when—well—I felt like kissing someone.
Until then, I remain a Zionist divorcee, and I admit, I still have feelings for my ex. But this time, I’ll play hard to get. I want to see how much Israel really wants me back, and what he intends to do to get me into his embrace again, because after nine years living here during Israel’s most trying times, I’ve already proven my love.
Stay tuned for more blogging direct from the Second Annual Jewish Bloggers Convention. Register at www.jbloggers.org.
September 8, 2009 | 6:13 pm
Posted by Tom Tugend
A declaration by convicted murderer Buford Furrow, Jr., expressing his remorse and renouncing his racist beliefs, has been met with skepticism and indignation by the families victimized by his rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center 10 years ago, and the killing of a Filipino-American letter carrier.
Furrow burst into the JCC in Granada Hills on Aug. 10, 1999, spraying bullets and wounding three children, a 16-year old camp counselor and an adult staff member.
When arrested, Furrow told investigators that he had targeted the JCC as “a wakeup call to America to kill Jews” and that he had fatally shot mailman Joseph Ileto because he was a non-white federal employee.
In a letter from prison earlier this month to Kevin Modesti, a Los Angeles Daily News reporter, Furrow wrote, “I feel deep remorse for my crime. About 5 years ago, I threw away my racist books, literature, etc. and took up a new leaf. I now publicly renounce all bias toward anyone based on race, creed, color, sexual orientation, etc. and am a much happier person. I feel a life based on hate is no life at all.
“Those people I hurt and the man I killed that day in 1999 will probably never forgive me, but I am truely (sic) sorry and deeply regret the pain I caused… I can’t change the past, but I can damn sure change the future, and my future will never include Neo-Nazi activity again. That is all I can do.”
David Finkelstein, whose then 16-year old daughter Mindy was shot twice, told The Journal that he was appalled that Furrow’s apology was spread across the front page of the Daily News and picked up by wire services and other media.
“I mean this was a man who shot people,” Finkelstein said. “Why is it news what he says 10 years later? Why give him a stage?”
Nancy Parris Moskowitz, when then served as president of the North Valley center, was immediately notified of the shooting by her stepson Adam, a camp counselor, and arrived on the scene minutes later.
“I’m somewhat ambivalent about that person – I don’t want to even use his name – but I think the new publicity gives him a credence he doesn’t deserve,” she told The Journal.
“Even if he is truly remorseful, it doesn’t change anything. It’s between him and his God. I don’t want to hear anything from him or about him.”
Other families of JCC victims said they did not wish to comment or reopen old wounds, but Alan Stepakoff, whose then six-year old son Josh was shot in the left thigh and lower back, told the Daily News he wanted to make three points.
“One is, this doesn’t change what he did. The second point is we are glad he has renounced his hateful beliefs. The third point is I’m not fully convinced of his sincerity,”
Ismael Ileto, brother of the slain letter carrier, summed up his feelings by saying, “You can’t do something and then write a remorseful letter and now everything is ok.”
Furrow pleaded guilty to charges of murder and other crimes and in 2001 was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
He wrote from his cell in the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. after authorities had turned down reporter Modesti’s request for an interview.
September 8, 2009 | 4:18 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
A late addition to the three-way race to become the next president of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation might be a former exec at the William Morris Agency.
Two sources confirmed to The Jewish Journal that Irv Weintraub, WMA’s former Chief Operating Officer, is Number 4 on the short list to replace John Fishel.
“He has industry connections,” said someone familiar with the process. “He ran a big corporation, and he’s been very involved in Federation as a lay leader.”
This past June, Weintraub left William Morris in the wake of its merger with Endeavor.
Prior to that, in an interview with The Journal’s Danielle Berrin, Weintraub discussed his own views of Hollywood, the Jewish community and Israel:
JJ: What does it actually mean to be a Jew in Hollywood?
IW: When I have reached out to people in the Jewish community in Hollywood and talked to them about Jewish causes, they’ve been very receptive. If you were to look at the giving record in [The Jewish] Federation, you would not see some of the most prominent Jews in Hollywood on the list of the most prominent temples today like you did 30 and 40 years ago. I think there are myriad causes that people feel are very important today and may not have existed then.
JJ: Why do you think Hollywood is less inclined to ‘give Jewish’ nowadays?
IW: We have one thing that’s not happening now that happened then, which was the memory of the Holocaust. We are 50-plus years removed. The urgency that existed then doesn’t exist today. The Federation campaign did better with Lou Wasserman—people didn’t tell him no. There isn’t that iconic person like Lou who is willing to be identified publicly with their Judaism.
JJ: How would you characterize Hollywood’s attitude toward Israel?
IW: There are many in Hollywood who don’t want to be identified with the complexities that surround the state of Israel. It’s more difficult for them to say ‘I support what Israel is doing,’ if you look at press that’s come around with regard to the Palestinian situation.
JJ: Why doesn’t it bother you?
IW: I have a better understanding of what’s going on. I think the portrayal at times—in papers in the U.S. and around the world—can be viewed as anti-Semitic. Only with knowledge can you respond to that.
Weintraub is a Wexner Fellow who also became an active supporter of Aipac, attending the group’s national conference in June in Washington D.C.
“The ability to go on the hill and sit with a member of Congress and either thank them for what they do with support for American-Israel relations or, more importantly, meet someone who’s uninformed and help educate them on the issues—that’s a very powerful thing, and to be able to do that as an ordinary citizen is very special,” Weintraub to The Journal at the time.
While one source familiar with the selection process said Weintraub “put his name” into the search process later than other candidates and said it was “too late” for serious consideration, another source said he was still “an interesting possibility.”
For more stories on Irv Weintraub:
William Morris Endeavor ousting some of its top Jews
Is Larry David upset about the William Morris-Endeavor merger?
Why do people think Jews run Hollywood?
Q&A with showbiz power broker Irv Weintraub: Why doesn’t Hollywood give Jewish?
Big AIPAC turnout signals newfound voice for Angelenos