Recapping My Trip to Israel
After much ado, I finally made my way to Tel Aviv for the Blogference this past Saturday. Instead of being able to stay for 4 days, as originally intended, by new itinerary called for me to land on Sunday night, speak on Monday and fly home Monday night at midnight.
Funny thing about El Al Airlines security staff: they get a bit suspicious when you're only flying to Israel for one day.
Like, check your bags for an hour and then escort you to the gate suspicious.
Nonetheless, I made my flight (thankfully), and arrived safely in Tel Aviv around 5 PM Sunday night. There, a driver was waiting for me. The downside? He didn't speak English, which made for a quiet car ride to the hotel. The upside? He knew where there was candy hidden in the cab...
I checked into the Crowne Plaza hotel, which is one of several hotels along a promenade that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. It also provides complimentary cookies to its guests. (As my girlfriend has said, my retelling of the trip makes Israel sound like Candyland...)
Kfir Pravda picked me up from the hotel and we grabbed dinner on the beach, then drove down to the nightclub district, which is mostly comprised of converted warehouses that now offer booze.
There I met everyone else from the conference: the IDC faculty and staff, some local new media creators (including Blonde2.0), as well as my fellow presenters, including Douglas Sarine (Ask a Ninja), Andrew Baron and Joanne Colan (Rocketboom), Om Malik (GigaOm) and former MediaBistro honcho Garrett Graf.
We drank. We chatted. We grabbed dessert at a chocolate bar. (All right, so it really is Candyland...)
On Monday, we hopped in a van and drove to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya -- which, I was told, is former military property -- for the conference. The school is only a year old, so events like this go a long way toward establishing their relevance and future direction. Based upon the passion and instincts of Dr. Latar and his faculty, I think they're definitely on the right track.
While blogging this entry, I realized I had more to say about the individual sessions than I thought, so I'll save the specifics for future entries. For now, suffice it to say that the atmosphere was very PodCamp-like, with experts and audience members alike able to share ideas that pushed the conversations forward in unexpected ways.
After the conference, I met some folks with interesting business ideas -- like Abbey Content's Alan Abbey -- as well as some students who put Israeli web media into perspective for me: in a nutshell, blogging is considered an activity for Israeli youth. After someone completes his or her mandatory military service, the expected lifeplan moves from college to business to family -- there's no real time for a creative outlet, or anything else seen as needlessly frivolous.
I'd counter that that's an obstacle worth overcoming, for one specific reason: I had no idea what Israeli culture was like until I flew there myself. Otherwise, all I have to go by is what I see on the news. By that rationale, all I ever expected to see was a country in perpetual, daily conflict with an embedded enemy, rather than the complex, multifaceted and completely "normal" culture I observed.
For example: I had no idea that Israel had such a high population of Ethiopians. Apparently, Israel helped huge numbers of Ethiopians escape from Ethiopia a generation ago, when their own government couldn't (or wouldn't) provide for them. Now, second-generation Ethiopians are growing up knowing Israel as their home, which creates an interesting multicultural mix with its own problems and perks.
Personally, I'd love to see more social media created from Israel... or any other nation, for that matter. The more easily we can all communicate WITH each other, the more the rest of the world can learn ABOUT each other... and ourselves.
Thanks to everyone who helped make my trip to Israel possible. I'll have more insights about the actual Blogference sessions themselves over the coming days.
PS After the conference, I flew home -- again on El Al, though this time without the security snags -- and I must say, the food on El Al is among the best food I've ever had on any airline. My dinner en route to NYC was one of the best meals I've haad all year. This means either El Al has cornered the market on in-flight food or I need to start eating in better restaurants...
UPDATE: See my handheld highlights from the Ask a Ninja presentation!