Drinking it in

Listening to a lecture with a beer in hand is becoming the de rigueur night out.

Yoram Schweitzer (photo credit: ELAD SAMORLI)
Yoram Schweitzer
(photo credit: ELAD SAMORLI)
A lecturer, young professionals and people looking for a drink walk into a bar. This isn’t the beginning of a joke but rather a pretty accurate description of a trend among Generation Y that is sweeping the country.
On a recent evening in a hip pub in Tel Aviv, the above-mentioned congregated in the early evening to hear a lecture as part of a series of events organized by Wize, a nonprofit group founded three years ago by friends who were looking for a value-added night out.
Since then, the organization has grown enormously and comprises branches across the country that provide free, diverse and frequent lectures to all who are interested.
“The aim is that people receive information and knowledge without having to pay for it,” says Liron Ben-Eliahu, Wize’s marketing director. “Our lectures are very diverse – they vary from technology to science, brain science, teaching and education.”
“In the past year, the number of our branches has doubled, so we can see that we’re here to stay,” she adds. “We saw that there was a demand on the part of the audience, so we began to have more lectures.”
The fashionable line of lectures (in Hebrew) works as follows. The audience arrives about an hour before the lecture starts – after hearing about it on social media and in the group’s newsletter – for some drinking and mingling. They take in a brief lecture on any number of topics and then have time for a Q&A session with the lecturer, usually a top figure in his or her field.
The concept has become widely popular, with Wize and other similar organizations pulling in packed audiences around the country on a weekly basis, as well as having a very strong social media presence. While Wize’s target audience is young people, from about the age of 20 to 30, the trend is spreading to older age groups as well.
The lecture I attended was about the threat of global jihad and was presented by international terrorism expert Yoram Schweitzer, head of the Institute for National Security Studies’ Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict. He spoke about the rift in the Islamist terrorism network, about the alliance among the different organizations and of Islamic State’s successes in Syria and Iraq.
Schweitzer had the full attention of his audience, who were riveted to his explanations of these hot-button issues, and a large number of hands flew up during the question period. The crowd asked him about the phenomenon of Western volunteers in terrorist organizations and the influence they have when they return home; about the efficiency of targeted killings – “depends who you hurt”; about ISIS becoming a state-like entity; and about terrorist attacks.
“It was nice,” says Amos Rosenthal, who attended the event with a friend. “I was told that there was a lecture and beer, so I came. There was beer, and there was a lecture.”
He was particularly pleased with the informal atmosphere of the evening. “It’s actually nicer. People are more open and ask more questions,” he says.
Another happy customer was Shai Ben-Harosh, a long-time fan of the organization.
“I’ve been going to Wize’s events for a long, long time, years already. They’re great. They always bring really interesting lecturers,” he says. The enterprise is very welcome, he added, “especially when it’s free and for making information accessible.”
Schweitzer, too, was quite pleased with the evening. As a mentor to a group of young interns at the INSS, he sees “great importance in cultivating a young generation of researchers,” and, “to a great extent, this project [Wize lectures] is an extension of this idea.”
As for the impressive turnout, “The fact that a lot of people come to a pub, it might be part of fashion… and perhaps this venture has been accepted,” he adds.
Other lecturers are also apparently in favor of the informal meetings. Liran Antebi, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University and research fellow at the INSS, has lectured on the role of robots in war.
“From a ‘super nerd,’ you turn into a rock star. All eyes are on you,” she says.
“It’s very, very cool.”
While at 33 Antebi is not much older than most of her audience, she says that older researchers have also come on board.
“At first there was some skepticism,” she notes. Now, however, “I have a list of people over 70 who are waiting to give a lecture, from the most senior researchers in the institute.”
The INSS is just one of many bodies that Wize cooperates with. Other collaborations include the Science Ministry, the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Taub Institute. A special roster of lectures, “Teachers at the Bar,” is funded by the Trump Foundation and aims to promote science teachers.
As an NGO, Wize is operated by a large group of volunteers. One of them is 26-year-old Aviv Amgar, who, after being one of the founders of the Haifa branch, now runs the one in Tel Aviv.
“I started coming to events, and I really loved the concept, both of the lectures and of upgrading the nightlife,” he says.
“At the moment, we’re something like seven volunteers [at the Tel Aviv branch], and we divide ourselves up for all types of missions.”
He is responsible for the content, logistics, marketing, photography and bookings.
“There’s a lot of bureaucracy and planning,” he explains. “We really organize a year ahead.”
While Wize’s enterprise wasn’t well received by bar owners at first, it seems that they, too, have come to realize the growing trend and the financial potential it encompasses. Itamar Ami, one of the owners of the Dizzy Frishdon bar on Dizengoff Street where the event was held, is very much in favor of the concept.
“For us it’s great,” he says, “The bar is exposed to more and more clients who come less for the nightlife.” These clients are generally the type of people the bar would like to see inside – “a quality crowd at the right age.”
As well as the new customers, curious passersby also often step inside. “People walk around looking for a place to have a beer,” he says, “and catch a corner.”
Business aside, Ami also enjoys the cooperation on a personal level.
“I’ve been exposed to a lot of lectures here,” he notes.
A favorite lecture of his, in a field close to his heart, was by the Interdisciplinary Center’s entrepreneurship center.
“The concept works well because it shakes up the routine a little,” he says.
So while educational nights out probably won’t be completely replacing the more average after-work drinks, it seems that there is a real market for the concept, and the endeavor appears to contradict the often-heard argument about the youth of today. In the words of lecturer Antebi, this type of activity puts to shame theories about youngsters not being curious or interested anymore.
“You see the good side of young people,” she says. “You see the spark in their eyes; you hear the questions at the end.”