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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Getting down off the soapbox and mingling with the crowd

If you passed someone on the street holding forth from atop a soap box on your way to the office, and stood listening to him/her for a few moments, you could be forgiven for not stopping to listen on subsequent days if what you'd heard was not compelling. 

But if you make a point of building time into your daily commute to stand and listen to to this soap box orator day after day - or even go a few blocks out of your way to do so - that would indicate that there is something there that makes you want to come back for more.

But how big a fan would you have to be to invite someone that you only know from hearing a semi-regular, 10 minute harangue, to speak to your colleagues, friends and family?

I have to admit that it is endlessly flattering to have people from all over the world come to my small corner of the Web in order to 'hear' the random things that fall out of my head on any given morning.  Seriously, it never grows old.  And even more flattering is that many of the people who don't agree with me seem to come back again and again in order to voice their disagreement. 

But what blows me away is that occasionally I'll get an invitation to give a live presentation here in Israel or abroad, based solely on my 'status' as a blogger... and I can't help thinking; what the heck are these people smoking?  For all they know I might be an ax murderer or a raving lunatic ... or worse; a religious settler!

Well, it's happened again, and I couldn't possibly be more flattered... or shocked. 

I've been invited to speak in the UK at this year's Limmud Conference which is scheduled to take place (IY"H) during the last week of December at Warwick University (located on the border of Coventry and Warwickshire). 

I have to admit that having spent no more than a day or two in the UK, I was unfamiliar with Limmud.  However, after receiving the invitation I went to their site to see what it was all about, and found that the list of speakers from previous Limmud Conferences was simply astounding.  Seriously, world renowned Rabbis, political figures, scientists, artists, writers, musicians... it was a veritable 'Who's Who' of Western Society. 

So as I sat there looking at this invitation, I had to figure out if perhaps...

a) ... someone was playing a practical joke on me;

b) ... whoever arranged for my invitation to speak wasn't carefully supervised and had made a rash decision for which they will likely to be sacked.

c) ... the vetting process for potential speakers had taken a sudden turn for the worse.

Just to be on the safe side I dashed off an email to the woman who had sent the invitation just to make sure it wasn't a joke.  I should point out that this is far harder than it sounds, because you have to walk a very fine line between sounding genuinely interested (grateful, even), and not wanting to walk face-first into a pie.

In the end it turns out that the invitation to the conference was not only quite genuine, but they want me to give four sessions! Woot!

So now that I've accepted the invitation all I have to do is:

1. Convince Zahava to join me for a week (during the winter) in the UK.

2.  Let my office know I'll be taking some time off.

3.  Come up with some compelling topics (I'll be asking for your help on this one, don't worry!).

The best part (for me, anyway) is that I get to step down off this virtual soap box for a moment and actually meet some real live people.  It'll be nice to finally meet some of the UK treppenwitz readers.  I hope I can live up to my billing.

Updates to follow...

Posted by David Bogner on June 30, 2009 | Permalink


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and to think I knew you when........will you still associate with us little folks?? ;)

kol Hakoavod Lecha!

Posted by: Hadassah | Jun 30, 2009 2:58:40 PM

Talk about celebrity status!

Posted by: tnspr569 | Jun 30, 2009 3:48:21 PM

You will be marvelous, because you are not a stuffed shirt. (The walking competition has loosened the stuffing a bit, I am sure.) Just do what rabbis do: let THEM choose the topics -- and then talk about something entirely different. It has worked for rabbis near and dear to our hearts for years. Good luck convincing Zahava. (These things never happen on a sun-drenched beach in the tropics, do they? Let us know if you need a place to store Gilly when he's not at school.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jun 30, 2009 4:02:53 PM

Limmud is very informal and has a surprising range of seminars.

I'm sure you'll be a great success.

Warwick University is one of the UK's top ten colleges. It's in Coventry, in the west Midlands, and the home of Lady Godiva. Generally speaking it's not very cold in that part of the UK in December.

I might drive up to attend one of your seminars, but couldn't manage the whole shtick at the moment.

Posted by: chairwomanwoman | Jun 30, 2009 4:37:10 PM

You're joking, no? First time ever that you've heard about Limmud?
So, when will you be speaking at the German Limmud festival? :)

Posted by: a. | Jun 30, 2009 4:46:31 PM

Most of the people who attend Limmud assume that settlements are the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that if they were dismantled, the confict would cease. They tend to be pro-Israel but mainstream left of centre. The majority are either non-observant formally Orthodox, Masorti (disproportionately high numbers) and Reform/Liberal. There are also many students and young people--the number of resultant engagements/marriages following each year of Limmud is legendary. They tend to assume that settlers are militant gun-toting recent US olim with far right perspectives who wouldn't hesitate to take a pot-shot at passing Palestinians.

They will be ready to have their prejudices confirmed. On the other hand they very much warm to having them overturned. Rabbi Menachem Froman, a peace activist settler has been very well received. They are very interested in Rabbi Riskin. They have virtually zilch knowledge of the actual legal position as to who owns what land in the territories as argued by the Israeli government. They have very little knowledge of what "a settlement" is really like, what the whole range of its relationships with Palestinians are, and what the Palestinian "refugee camps" and villages are actually like. Most believe that the Palestinians live in great poverty and are in constant danger and under harassment. Many believe that the settlements' sewage systems pollute Palestinian villages/camps, and take "their water". They believe that Palestinians are not allowed to travel on the same roads as settlers. They have been told this repeatedly by their newspapers--they tend to be Guardian and Independent readers, although they are critical of their coverage of Israel. They tend to believe the BBC and even more the UK government when they state that settlements are illegal. They have never seen images of the more middle class of Palestinian homes on the West Bank. They have very little knowledge of the range of people living in a place like Efrat, and what "natural expansion" might mean in practical terms.

You can expect to be asked a lot of questions on what exactly you would do in the event of a proposed or actual peace agreement with the Palestinians, and what you have been led to believe by official sources will happen to Efrat if there is a peace settlement.

They have little knowledge of the reality of the evidence of Jewish life in ancient Israel as it can be found in the territories--such as the path of the shalosh regalim to Jerusalem.

They have very little idea of the life of Jewish religiously observant women in the territories. They have seen many documentaries in which militant US-origin settler-movement women in headscarves have berated viewers with their unquestioning view of their divine right to the whole land of Israel. They will never have seen a documentary which features the life of a woman like Zahava, including her role as an internet-based businesswoman.

They are also convinced that the checkpoints are unnecessary if they are not on the 1967 borders and have been put there and run so as deliberately to harass and humiliate Palestinians. They have read many articles and seen many TV documentaries which show them this.

A good series of four gets loads of participants--people at Limmud love them if they learn something new and get a chance to engage with engaging people.

Posted by: Judy | Jun 30, 2009 5:46:53 PM

"I dashed off an email to the woman who had sent the invitation just to make sure it wasn't a joke. I should point out that this is far harder than it sounds, because you have to walk a very fine line between sounding genuinely interested ...and not wanting to walk face-first into a pie..."

Well. That ability to walk fine lines is probably what got you the invite in the first place! ;o/

Sorry you won't be UK-bound in July; the missus has pried me out of the house (and the state, and the USA) to rattle around Western Europe for a few weeks with the Wry brood. Still, cheers! I'll be closer to you, so I'll wave in your general direction (cf. Monty Python).

Congrats, and I'm pulling for ya!

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 30, 2009 6:23:17 PM

Sounds like a great opportunity.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 30, 2009 7:41:49 PM

Don't they need a sub-blogger to go too?
I sooo have the travel bug.

Posted by: LeahGG | Jun 30, 2009 7:59:36 PM

Kol HaKavod Lecha!

Very cool indeed. Just remember, as has been pointed out already, that they will have very distinct preconceived notions of what a "Settler" is based on the - ahem - unbiased reporting of the Guardian. Just be yourself, you'll blow them away and hopefully change some of those notions!

Posted by: Jesse | Jun 30, 2009 8:02:49 PM

"and the home of Lady Godiva. " Does that mean you could bring back chocolate? I miss Godiva Chocolate.

Posted by: Max Power | Jun 30, 2009 9:16:57 PM

... and most important of all, don't forget that they drive on the left !!

Posted by: britac | Jun 30, 2009 9:40:12 PM

Congratulations! I agree, the UK in Winter isn't a great prospect. However, the Uni is in a nice rural setting and is close to some interesting places, including Stratford upon Avon, home of The Bard. You HAVE to take Zahava to a play whilst you are there. The RSC are amazing!
Coventry is a horrible place - don't bother going there, unless you want to see the cathedral that the Germans bombed with a brand new one parked beside it (the architecture is unique).
In my day, the university was called the University of Coventry AT Warwick.
Oh yes, Warwick castle is interesting - they even have dungeons!

Posted by: Noa | Jun 30, 2009 10:04:08 PM

I went to Limmud! Once, when I was a student in Birmingham--I went for free in exchange for babysitting six hours every day.

I second everything Judy said. I remember a lot of women in kippot and a session about Prince of Egypt, which had just come out. The presenter asked, "Has anyone here seen the movie?" and someone called out, "No, but I read the book."

Posted by: uberimma | Jul 1, 2009 6:06:50 AM

What an honor.

And I propose that some of your long-time commenters be invited as well. You know, to show them you have an ENTOURAGE and are not just any ol' dime-a-dozen blogger.

Just a suggestion.

Posted by: Baila | Jul 1, 2009 7:47:31 AM

Bottom line is if they are paying your travel and hotel expenses....

You go to England, my brother in law got a trip to Japan (all expenses paid). I'm feeling a bit left out.....LOL!

Posted by: rickismom | Jul 1, 2009 12:24:59 PM

Treppenwitz, I've been lurking here for quite some time now and thouroughly enjoy your blogg - don't always agree but that's the joy of reading here. Hearing (reading?) that you've been invited to Limmud Conference made me want to shout.."GO!!" It's the most fantastic experience - all things Jewish and from all points of view. Its an exciting joy to be there and I for one would love to come and hear you speak!! Its jewish pluralism at its best and definately not an expereince to be missed! Come for the full 5 days if you can - and even better bring the family as there is something for everyone.
Here's hoping we see you in December!

Posted by: Kath Vardi | Jul 1, 2009 6:16:16 PM

When I was in HS in the US,I met a boy from Coventry who told me all about the bombing during the war. His father had worked for Butter Tools in Coventry. Amazing what the memory can dredge up.

Posted by: ED | Jul 2, 2009 2:53:04 AM

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