August 27, 2008
In the J-blogosphere, everybody knows your screen name
In a crowded hall in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood on Aug. 20, they were tossing around terms like "cross platforms," "H.D.L." "revenue streams" "microblogger" and "Twitter."
Welcome to the Jewish world of blogging: the J-Blogosphere.
While some bloggers know each other by name -- having actually met in the "real" world -- many only know each other by their handles or their opinions. This may have been the biggest draw of Jerusalem's First International Jewish Blogging Conference, hosted by N'efesh B'nefesh, the organization that helps North American and British Jews make aliyah, or move to Israel.
The five-hour conference allowed some 250 Jewish bloggers to finally meet, as another 1200 watched via live webcast. Panel discussions included topics such as "Taking J-blogging to the Next Level" and "Building Israel One Post at a Time."
"I didn't know there were non-Jewish bloggers," joked Likud leader and blogger Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, who made a last-minute appearance to speak to the bloggers. As leader of Israel's opposition party, he encouraged the bloggers to use their words to encourage others to make aliyah and to support Israel.
"All of you who are listening -- come to Israel. This is your land, and this is your city, and it's going to remain our city," he said.
Zavi Apfelbaum, foreign ministry director of brand management, delivered the keynote address, "Branding Israel -- From Vision to Reality," explaining how brand management differs from "hasbara" -- pro-Israel advocacy.
"Branding is not a replacement for advocacy, it is not campaign and spin, it is a long-term, never-ending process about encapsulating the good and the bad," she said. "But what should we do about it?" one blogger called out from the audience, to widespread applause.
While many bloggers start out just to keep in touch with family and friends, others clearly want to promote the Israel experience, among them The Aliyah Survival Blog, Kumah, Life in Israel and In the Land of Milk and Honey. Some do it through diary-like postings, sometimes about a specific subject, such as life in Samaria (muquata.blogspot.com) or guns and self-defense in Israel (doubletapping.com).
Others use humor, such as WhatWarZone? ("Tackling only the most important issues in the Middle East, for example, why Israelis say 'ehhhhhh' so much. Oh, yes, and to discuss why Israel is hilarious. 'So, ehhhh, buckle your belt seats, nu?!'")
But Israel is not the only topic of the J-blogosphere. Dating, humor, feminism, hiking and nature are subjects of Jewish blogs. By far the most popular is religion, with Torah sites such as Hirhurim.com (Thoughts and Torah and Other Musings, "Consult your rabbi before following any practices here") and politics, which often crosses from the J-Blogosphere into the non-J-Blogosphere.
So what was accomplished here?
"For me, it's served as an opportunity to connect with other people who are as passionate (and sometimes confused) about Jewish life as I am," said Esther Kustanowitz, creator of MyUrbanKvetch.com and an occasional contributor to The Jewish Journal. "We serve as a virtual talmudic academy, although admittedly, sometimes a bit less reverential than the classic model, as we discuss Jewish life's resonance and share innovative and creative ideas for the Jewish future."