'Who's speaking at the Salon tonight?'

What started out as an intimate gathering of 40 people in a private Tel Aviv apartment has grown into a sought-after event.

Salon speaker 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Salon speaker 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The conference halls in central Tel Aviv’s Beit Heseg and Beit Ben-Gurion are always packed with young, and not-so-young, English-speaking professionals when one of the Tel Aviv International Salon speaker events is in progress on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening.
The audience, composed of people from all over the world, and with varied cultural and professional backgrounds, reserve far ahead of time for this social networking session and speaker engagement that regularly features some of the top political, cultural, academic, business and diplomatic personalities in a candid “off the record” talk, with a Q&A session afterwards.
What started in March 2009 as an intimate gathering of 40 people in a private central Tel Aviv apartment has grown to audiences of between 150 and 200. They have had the opportunity to interact with such personalities as Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, former minorities minister Avishay Braverman, former Israel ambassador to Turkey Uri Bar-Ner, British Ambassador Tom Phillips and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
Some of the Salon’s more unusual guest speakers have included Meir Javedanfar, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s biographer and Iran expert, and a Jerusalem Post columnist, and Prof. Michael Bar-Zohar, historian and David Ben- Gurion’s official biographer.
One of the Salon’s enthusiastic attendees is Michael Brafman, 28, a marketing specialist from New Jersey who has been living in Tel Aviv for more than four years. He told Metro that he enjoys the Salon’s “good environment for collective minds” as well as the preliminary networking and social hour and the monthly speakers.
“The Salon is a unique opportunity to be involved,” he said. “This is what makes life more than just a spectator sport. The Salon is a very positive aspect of living in Tel Aviv.”
The Salon is organized by Jay Shultz, 34, an entrepreneur, antiquities collector and Zionist activist originally from the metro New York City area; Ariel Rodal-Spieler, 31, a diplomacy and Jewish policy expert from Canada; Inbal Baum, an attorney and marketing consultant from the US; and Terry Newman, originally from the UK and a director with the MCC Group, which specializes in building prefabricated mobile hospitals in use worldwide.
“People who come from the West are used to being involved in organizations dealing with political and Zionistic issues. We found there weren’t enough outlets available here for young professionals to be involved in – other than meeting one another at parties or at singles bars, etc.,” said Rodal-Spieler.
“We wanted something more stimulating – especially opportunities to meet and engage in debate with high-profile figures in an intimate ‘off the record’ atmosphere not found in press conferences and the like.”
She added that the events are “a combination of both networking and interaction with the invited speakers – both before, during, and after their speaking session.”
The Salon organizers, Rodal-Spieler, Baum, Shultz and Newman, feel that the Salon is helping make young English-speaking professionals more keenly aware and “connected” to the unique political, cultural and economic lifestyle that makes up not only Tel Aviv but the country as well.
“For young international professionals living in Tel Aviv, the Salon has become a window into the Israeli decision-making apparatus, as well as into the inner workings of the diplomatic community in Israel,” say Newman and Baum. “It offers them an opportunity to feel involved in what is happening in the country they have chosen to make home, and moreover, to feel that they have a platform to voice their opinions.”
“The Salon provides people with a unique opportunity to learn, debate and discuss Israeli and Jewish global politics, history, economics, social, cultural and environmental issues. While meeting one another at these events, people are able to build crucial business and social network contacts for a substantive and comfortable lifestyle in this incredible city of ours,” Shultz says.
A TYPICAL Tel Aviv International salon venue usually begins with a half-hour social and networking period which includes wine and other drinks as well as light snacks. This gives the attendees an opportunity to meet one another, exchange business cards and even make social and business appointments.
Guest speakers often join in these informal sessions, giving people an opportunity to meet them informally – something that might be difficult, if not impossible, elsewhere. The hour and a half speaking session and Q&A session which occur afterwards are strictly “off the record,” allowing the speakers to feel more comfortable and be more candid.
“The Q&A session, being off the record, allows speakers to really interact with the audience and feel comfortable that what they say will not wind up in the press,” Brafman said.
Although the Salon forums are aimed at Tel Aviv professionals between the ages of 22 and 40, other people attend as well, including members of the diplomatic community stationed in Tel Aviv, teachers and students studying abroad, and those simply looking for something intellectually and culturally stimulating.
Although it is held in English, an increasing number of native Israelis attend. Once one is included in the Salon’s mailing list, reservations are made by mail prior to attending. The entire cost of a Salon forum evening, including drinks and snacks, is NS 20.
Ambassadors and other members of the diplomatic community, other than being invited speakers, have also attended regularly, including those from Angola, Belgium, Thailand, the US, the UK and Nepal.
“We have a list of such people to whom we send invitations for these events,” Rodal-Spieler said, adding, “We don’t post notices on Facebook, but send out to individual e-mail addresses. It’s more personal that way.”
One of the Salon’s older attendees, and one of the most enthusiastic, is psychoanalyst and author Dr.
Nancy Hartevelt Korbin, who recently published a book on what motivates people to engage in suicide terrorism. She is also a relatively new immigrant to Israel, having made aliya from the US in October 2010.
“The Salon is a great way for young people to get a ‘lay of the land’ here in Israel and see personalities that might not be possible otherwise,” she said. “It’s amazing what Jay and his co-workers have been able to do to put this project together.”
Hartevelt Korbin is very impressed by the Q&A sessions after the guest speaker has finished.
“It is a good ‘engagement opportunity’ and a chance for people to make a change in Israel – for themselves and for the country, as well. The sessions fill a needed gap for people and gets them involved,” she said.
In addition to the monthly speakers and networking venues, the Salon sponsors field trips to places of interest. Recent ones included a visit to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, and a visit to the Knesset is planned.
“We also plan some cultural tours, including one to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art,” Shultz said.
MK Tzipi Livni, Kadima Party head and former foreign minister, was the most recent personality to address the forum on a special Sunday session.
Notable upcoming guest speakers include US Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
“We’re fully booked for several months with guest speakers – they are now coming to us to ask to speak to our forum,” Shultz noted.
For more information on the Tel Aviv International Salon, contact info@telavivinternationalsalon.com