Creative unity

TEDxJerusalem offers inspiration, but lacks Jerusalem focus.

TEDxJerusalem (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
‘I want you to sigh with me,” Shotei Hanevua guitarist Amit Carmeli told the crowd of 500 people at the first inaugural TEDxJerusalem conference on December 10. “Come on, sigh with me,” he said, encouraging the audience to completely let go and have their voice mingle with the universe.
“Unity is achieved only when uniqueness is alive. Unity is only able to happen thanks to your acceptance of letting go... every inhalation will be a love story, until the last exhalation.”
Rather than brushing off the New-Agey talk, Carmeli’s thoughts on the ability of voice and music to create harmony in a tumultuous world were met with enthusiastic sighing in the packed auditorium of the YMCA during Monday’s TEDxJerusalem event.
The beauty of a TED conference is that it enables people to publicly shine with all their quirkiness, and enables a large group of people to celebrate the peculiarities that make human beings interesting.
TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, achieved cult status after the first conference in 1984. The one-day conferences around the world feature a series of informative presentations, each less than 18 minutes long, by speakers who are experts in their fields. The goal is to create a physical space in which to share ideas and inspiration.
In addition to the official TED conferences in Long Beach and Palm Springs, California, and Edinburgh, Scotland, there are hundreds of independently organized TED events around the world.
In the region, there have been TEDx events in Ramallah, Gaza, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and smaller events in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood. There was also a Jerusalem event called TEDxHolyland for Israeli and Palestinian women focused on the conflict and women’s empowerment.
Organizer Beto Maya said the purpose of TEDxJerusalem was to unite people through dialogue and a network of ideas that is not connected to politics.
“This event is totally cut off from politics, religion or conflict. We’re trying to unite people based on creative ideas,” said Maya.
“We’re a group of people that really love TED,” added Maya. “We think that this is a platform that really helps create dialogue between people, especially in city that’s so confusing like Jerusalem.”
Some participants were dismayed that the format strayed so far away from the conflict or Jerusalem’s complexity, instead focusing on the well-worn themes of inspirational speakers such as overcoming challenges and refusing to give in to a society giving you an empathetic “No!” But there were also moments of beauty and inspiration sprinkled throughout the speeches. Marketing expert Liraz Lasry delved into how trends are created, explaining why people follow trends.
“Trends allow you to blend in with variations, for example, to still be part of a movement but to find uniqueness within that,” she said.
“Culinary entrepreneur” Michal Ansky, a judge on Israel’s MasterChef reality series and the founder of the Tel Aviv port farmer’s market offered up this pearl of wisdom: “There’s an old Arab saying: If you want to find a good husband, you better know how to chop parsley.” (The trick, she said, is that you’re not supposed to chop parsley, which destroys the herb’s delicate structure, but rather tear it by hand.) Haneen Magadlh, the director of the Attaa Center, a human rights organization in east Jerusalem, shared the heartbreaking story of volunteering with a young cancer patient as a teenager, and the importance of volunteering in general.
UK Reform Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand spoke about her theory of “polarity management” – maintaining a balance of difficult situations, such as allowing women to be ordained as rabbis, to ensure that the change doesn’t happen too quickly and cause damage.
“We need to embrace continuity in order not to fall into the downside of change,” she said. “Complexity requires us to seek out and embrace both sides of a problem, not to solve it.”
Speakers could address the audience in Hebrew, Arabic or English, though the vast majority of speakers chose English, even if it was not their native tongue.
The event attracted a large number of foreign students temporarily in Jerusalem and young, well-dressed social entrepreneurs from around the country, but most of the core Jerusalem activists were absent from the event.
None of the talks focused on the complicated city hosting the event, except for Jerusalem City Councillor Yakir Segev. Segev said he was shocked as a student at the Hebrew University to watch the weekly exodus of students who never stayed in the city for the weekend.
“This is the city we’ve prayed for for 2,000 years, that our grandparents prayed to arrive in, and now that we’re finally here, everyone is fleeing for the weekend,” he said. Acknowledging that the city is a difficult place to be, he nevertheless advocated grappling with those difficulties rather than leaving for an easier location “at the other end of Highway 1,” referring to Tel Aviv. “We’re actually fleeing from ourselves, we are fleeing from people who are different, we are fleeing from ‘the other.’” Maya hopes to turn TEDxJerusalem into a yearly event. Approximately 1,000 people applied to attend the event, but the YMCA hall only seats 500.
The conference certainly has room to grow for the coming year, to improve local advertising so more Jerusalemites know about it, and make it more Jerusalem-centered rather than a regurgitation of other TED events. Jerusalem is unique, and the city’s TED conference should reflect that.
In the last talk of the day, collage artist Chanoch Piven warned about being “blocked by adequacy.”
“When everything is OK, there’s no motivation to change anything,” he said.
TEDxJerusalem has the ability to create networks and encourage meaningful change in the city. Hopefully, the organizers will strive for that again next year. •