NEW ORLEANS – In a city all about the beauty of the old, perhaps the most beautiful thing about the 2010 General Assembly is the vitality of the new – specifically, the youthful attendees and their near-incessant chatter which percolated just below the crusty surface of the Older World of Jewish institutional life.

It’s an interesting contrast. After all, New Orleans itself is known more for its past than for its present – its decadent architectural flourishes, the recent sorrows and horrors of Katrina, and the nostalgic yearnings expressed in its jazz.

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But there’s an element of the new at the General Assembly, and it’s not just in the funky, bathing-suit-material silver bags of swag being given out to participants – though watching older men in suits carrying these bags can be quite amusing.

“Who stole Lady Gaga’s bathing suit?” one GA participant said, looking at her gift bag quizzically.

More than 700 high school and college students were at the General Assembly, out of 4,000 participants in total. Their presence was evident from the pile of their apparently hastily overpacked backpacks and duffel bags strewn in the front hall of the hotel.

And over 700 students, of course, meant over 1,400 thumbs eager to communicate with fellow electronic communicators. And so, the scene was set for a semiunderground burst of chatter on Twitter throughout the sessions.

Twitter though far from a new phenomenon, in many ways exemplifies the differences between the older and younger leadership within the Jewish community.

Those older participants without smartphones or BlackBerry devices were, in effect, barely aware this chatter was transpiring in the first place.

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And through a lack of awareness, they were missing out on an entire conversation – an ongoing session of sorts which served as perhaps the clearest barometer of engagement and involvement on the part of younger participants.

Or, as was quoted from William Gibson and retweeted often by the GA’s participants, “The future is already here; it is just not evenly distributed.”

Why, some tweeting participants wondered, wasn’t the entire GA streamed live, to maximize involvement? This, of course, would neatly obviate the over $600 fee for participants – and what, then, of the hundreds of mugs, pens and M&Ms given out at participants’ booths? Others speculated on the nature of the future of Jewish community and communal involvement.

One frequent retweet read: “Dear #NOLAGA and #JewishFutures Remember that what many of you are talking about as “the future” is actually the present for some of us!” Of course, it wasn’t all serious.

Jokes about the cast of Shalom Sesame as a warm-up act for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – “Can’t Believe all the security for #shalomsesame” – ricocheted around wireless communication devices midday Monday.

And the existence of such rapidfire communication also may necessitate a slightly better degree of behavior, perhaps even on the part of old-school journalists, lest they get called to the curb.

“One of the journalist is making suuuch a mess here in the press zone, he wants to go live on tv now and everyone is yelling at him,” one woman tweeted prior to the Netanyahu speech.

“Haaretz journalist next to me says he’s a big macher in Israel news and thinks he can do whatever he wants,” another woman tweeted back in reply.

Though the implicit message of the frequency of tweets conveyed a high level of interest, at least one participant said it explicitly during speeches by the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee officials: “Ok I want to graduate NOW and work for one of these amazing orgs NOW ugh I am so proud that this is my future.”

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