Fear and Kvetching in Jerusalem
A few months ago I was invited to participate in the ROI (“Return on Investment”) Global Summit for Young Jewish Innovators, held in Jerusalem between July 1 and 5. By some miracle my invitation was not nullified after I posted … Read More
A certain mystique surrounded the Global Summit. I learned from the ROI website that the trip was funded by the Schusterman Family Foundation, which is partly responsible for the Taglit-Birthright Israel program. Otherwise, though, the site seemed alternately vague (ROI’s participants are “forging new frontiers in … contributing to the evolution of Jewish identity”) and psychedelic (ROI’s goal is to “create a hub in time and space in Jerusalem—THE hub of time and space—for intensive engagement and collaboration…forming a dynamic, eclectic, and international pod of leaders.”)
This struck me as shadowy and exhilarating. Perhaps I would observe the inner mechanics of that Jew World Order I keep reading about online. (Fun Factoid: Did you know that Hillary Clinton is a genocidal lizard from outer space?) Anyway, I could hardly turn down a free ticket halfway around the world. Especially if it meant I were joining the Illuminati.
When I learned that I was signed up for the “Content Delivery” track, however, I panicked and called ROI staff member (and Jewlicious head honcho) David Abitbol. “Listen, you Jew bastard,” I said, “I’m an objective journalist. I can’t distribute pro-Israel press releases to my media contacts whenever the IDF bulldozes some goddamned hippy, as much as I enjoy the thought of crushed, bloodied vegans. Are you trying to ruin my career?”
“No, it’s not like that,” Abitbol said. “Think of ROI as a networking and brainstorming session for twenty- to thirty-year-old Jews like you who’ve excelled in their fields. You’ll make some great contacts. Trust me. Just do it.”
“Okay, you Jew bastard,” I said. “Let’s skull-fuck this bitch.”
When I arrive at the Jerusalem hotel, I’m infuriated to discover that the editors of the ROI attendee profile booklet have changed one of my answers. The question: “What keeps you up at night?” Their answer: “Attitudes Toward Intermarriage.” My answer: “The Orthodox screaming at me for dating a shiksa; she doesn’t eat pork so get off my back and let me finish what Hitler started, you frummer-than-thou motherfuckers.”
The woman in charge of registration forces me to sign a waiver stipulating that if terrorists kill me during the conference, my family can’t sue the ROI organizers. Furthermore if I engage in “illegal drug use or excessive alcohol consumption” I’ll get sent back to the U.S. on my own dime.
“Could you please define ‘excessive’?” I ask.
Appropriately the first ROI event is a wine tasting at 9:00 on the hotel veranda. Unfortunately the wine is kosher, which means I’ll probably get diabetes long before I get drunk.
Over the next hour I meet the other 119 future Jewish leaders. I’m hoping for a diabolical cabal of global power players sacrificing human children to Moloch, demon lord of the Phoenicians, but the ROI attendees are considerably less exciting. There are a few creative types, such as members of Israeli rock bands the Carsitters and missFlag, the Hasidic author of Never Mind the Goldbergs, and African-American rapper Yitz “Y-Love” Jordan, who converted to Orthodoxy a few years ago and now lays down his Babylon-disrespecting rhymes in Aramaic. (Later in the week, I drunkenly tell Jordan that he should change his stage name to “Blackisyahu.” To his infinite credit, he does not cap my ass like an O.G. Maccabee.)
However, the vast majority of the ROI participants are from the Jewish foundational world: youth leadership directors of JCC and AIPAC chapters, Hillel directors, organizations that train Jewish college kids to defend Israel on their campuses in order to “empower them to make a change.”
While these people are nice, I don’t know how to speak their language. They speak of “community with a big ‘C,’” “incubating pilot programs” and “changing the world.” Every third word is “empowerment,” as if American Jewish youth are the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers—merely waiting to be activated!—and these archaic foundations are Zordon of Zion. (“It’s continuity time!”)
There are also plenty of hippies: activists for “gender equality and social justice,” organic-lifestyle “ecological farmers” who believe that “feeling the earth here is really special,” the LGBT Coordinator of the International Union of Socialist Youth. The activists are not amused when I recount how I once accidentally urinated on the Israeli embassy when I lived in Washington, D.C. (It’s a long story, but basically I was very drunk.) They are also not amused by the story of when I urinated on a Tel Aviv beach while waving around my U.S. passport and screaming, “You can’t arrest me—I paid for this sand.” (Again, I was very drunk.)
“Why are so many of your stories about pissing on things?” asks another attendee. I have no good reply.
We’re forced to wake up at 6:30 a.m., which is not easy when your internal clock hovers somewhere over the Atlantic. (Or when your internal clock actually hovers around 6:30 a.m.)
Yoni Gordis, director of the Center for Leadership Initiatives, explains that our first day will involve hours upon hours of community service, adding that the Hebrew word for “service” is the same as “punishment for white collar crime.” We will be gardening, which is exactly what I enjoy doing before the sun fully rises. A middle-aged female hippie tells us that “developing a community garden is definitely an empowering experience,” because “you can feel healthy in it” and “make a difference.” (Kill me. Kill me now. Kill me hard.)
My group is taken to the Jerusalem Bird Sanctuary, a mosquito-ridden swamp that smells like animal shit and is equally pleasant to walk around in. A conservationist explains that preventing development here was a “victory” for environmentalists. We’re then forced to pull thorny plants from the ground without any gloves; I wind up with more pricks in me than the starlets of Campus Gang Bang #16.
For some reason I’m the only one unhappy with this situation; the other ROI participants are enjoying themselves. A girl from Chicago even swears that she doesn’t see the trillions of mosquitoes sucking harder than the starlets of Campus Gang Bang #16.
At the end of the torture session, the conservationist thanks us for our help.
“Nooooooooooo,” the hippies say in union. “Thank youuuuu.”
This is a sign of collective mental illness. Our people escaped slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago; there is no good reason to replace the Pharaohs with the pigeons.
We’re given two hours to shower for a fancy dinner at the Jerusalem Museum. However, the woman at the hotel’s front desk fails to effectively communicate to me when my laundry will be done—and since she’s Israeli, she blames me instead of apologizing—so I’m forced to wear dirty jeans and a short-sleeved shirt instead of my dress clothes, which is humiliating until the fourth glass of (halfway decent) wine takes away the shame, as alcohol tends to do for people with zero dignity.
A lady with quite a bit of dignity (and money!), Lynn Schusterman, who funded the ROI conference, addresses us before the dinner, praising our “infectious energy and enthusiastic vision.” She seems like a nice person; I briefly meet her later in the evening and thank her for all the free shit.
However, I leave the dinner early with my homosexual friend Jamie Kirchick of the New Republic. We find a downtown bar and knock back a couple Israeli beers. (You’ll get a drink faster in the Negev desert than an Israeli pub; apparently nobody in the Jewish nation’s service industry expects a tip.)
“I don’t understand Christians,” I say, drunk enough to wonder if I’m going to wind up experimenting with my sexuality tonight. “They decide that the Old Testament is invalid when it comes to pork and shellfish—because Jesus says that what comes out of your mouth matters more than what goes in—but they rail against your brand of degeneracy, which is also forbidden in the Old Testament.”
“What comes out matters more than what goes in?” Jamie asks. “So Jesus would be down with cock-sucking?”
What would Jesus suck? The Holy Land is filled with mysteries. Jamie invites me to a Jerusalem gay bar—which would only be more out of place in Disneyland—but I must save my energy (and my anal integrity) for tomorrow's ROI events.
I wake up with more energy than I expected but lose consciousness again thanks to the ROI-mandated 9:00 a.m. Talmud study. “You are about to take part in a 2,000-year-old tradition of studying text,” Gordis says, distributing a reading about the holiness of the Holy of Holies, which is apparently very holy.
I can’t face debating the Oral Law before I’ve digested breakfast, so I stagger to the men’s room and nap on the cold, bacteria-ridden floor. When I drag myself back to the conference room, the rest of the ROI attendees are enthusiastically discussing the passage: “So like, what is our holy of holies?” “Life is the journey.” “It’s like the audacity of hope, which is a phrase Barack Obama uses.” “We are so lucky to meet in a city where we can forge our own destinies.” “You can’t go into the Holy of Holies physically but you can go there spiritually.” Why is nobody else kvetching? What the fuck is wrong with these happy people?
Next we break into our tracks: Content Delivery, Community Service, Environmental Activism, Youth Programming and Israel Advocacy. Dave Abitbol leads the Content Delivery session, during which we mostly discuss how the blogosphere and YouTube have impacted Old Media.
“It always helps to look at pornography to see where the next tech boom will come from,” Abitbol explains to our group of twenty.
“It always just helps to look at pornography,” I contribute.
One track member complains about the lack of cultural literary in the Information Age: “A lot of American Jews don’t even know what Hamas is.”
“Isn’t that what you eat with pita and falafel?” I jest to no one’s amusement.
Jeremy Kossen, the CEO of JewTube.com, informs the group that he had a baby six months ago.
“Mazel tov, man,” I say privately after the group session. “The kid didn’t have any birth defects or Down’s syndrome or anything, did it?”
“No.” He stares at me in disgust. “Did you really just ask me that?”
We take an awesome tour of the Old City walls at twilight, get our daven on at the Western Wall, then go to a bar to enjoy performances from our fellow ROI attendees in the Carsitters and missFlag. On the way back to the hotel, my roommate Tomer Altman of Oy-Bay.org complains that his back hurts from walking all day long. I’m happy to finally meet someone who is capable of complaining about something.
“Man…” says 26-year-old Tomer. “It’s not easy becoming decrepit.”
“It’s the Jewish male curse,” I say. “We’re so adorable when we’re young and then wind up looking like the lovechildren of George Costanza and Rob Reiner.”
Speaking of which, Israelis are gorgeous. I’ve made it approximately 60 hours without masturbating in the Holy City, which is not easy when the local female population is comprised of olive-skinned goddesses armed with AK-47s, which for some reason makes them a thousand times hotter. (Why do I desperately want to make love to these women who could kill me in 500 different ways?)
You know, if Jewish American Princesses weren’t so reflexively horrified by the Second Amendment and skin cancer—and if Jewish American nebbishes looked anything like our IDF counterparts—perhaps the American intermarriage rate wouldn’t be quite so devastating.