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December 14, 2012 2:38 am
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Jerusalem Conference Puts Politics Aside for Technology, Entertainment and Design

avatar by Judy Lash Balint / JNS.org

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Michal Ansky, a food journalist and television presenter, speaks at the Dec. 10 TEDx conference in Jerusalem. Photo: Judy Lash Balint.

JERUSALEM—Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Israelis and Europeans gathered for a daylong conference in Jerusalem on Dec. 10 with no discussion of politics, religion or the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Jerusalem played host to its second TEDx event during Hanukkah as 500 people filled the art deco auditorium of the YMCA building to listen to a diverse array of speakers in the signature style of the popular TED conferences: “ideas worth spreading.”

Started as a four-day conference in California in the late 1980s, the annual TED  (technology, entertainment and design) event in the U.S. features a steep registration fee and world-renowned speakers like Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson and Al Gore.

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In recent years, TED organizers started granting licenses to allow local independent groups to organize events called TEDx incorporating the TED format, where speakers present well-crafted talks or performances with an 18-minute limit.

Jerusalem TEDx organizers chose a lineup of local and international presenters “with original and exceptional ideas who feel connected to Jerusalem,” booked the politically neutral YMCA facility, and charged a relatively reasonable $50 registration fee.

Five of the 16 presenters were Arabs; two speakers were from abroad. Most of the Israeli Jewish presenters chose to deliver their talks in English, while the Arabs spoke in Arabic, as the mixed audience fumbled with the simultaneous translation equipment.

Only two of the presentations dealt directly with Jerusalem. Haneen Magadlh, a young social worker who works in eastern Jerusalem spoke about her relationship with a young Arab cancer patient, while Yakir Segev, a co-founder of the Ein Prat Young Leadership Academy and a member of the Jerusalem City Council addressed the topic “Jerusalem and me: how changing the city can change the world, and how it changed me.”

For some audience members, the lack of specific Jerusalem content was surprising. Lisa Barkan is a community organizer and coordinator of the Jerusalem Village project that helps young newcomers build community and networks in Jerusalem. Barkan reflected that the TEDx Jerusalem program seemed to be “more about using Jerusalem as a global platform. It’s about bringing ideas from the outside to us in Jerusalem.”

“It definitely helps put Jerusalem on the global map,” she acknowledged.

Saul Singer, co-author of the best-selling Start Up Nation, was attending his first TEDx conference. “This is such a natural place for something like this,” Singer told JNS.org.

“The basic story behind the Start Up Nation is creative energy and there’s so much of that here,” he said. “It’s almost endless what there is to offer.”

One of the goals of TEDx Jerusalem organizers is to put Jerusalem on the map as an innovative, happening city. Beto Maya, a member of the production team, says the event steers clear of politics and religion, and tries to connect people via creative ideas. “The multiplicity of cultures in Jerusalem makes us a micro-cosmos of Israeli society so it’s an ideal place for hosting something like this.”

Many Jerusalem attendees are fans of TED and were excited to have the conference on their doorstep. Ruth Cohen, a London native who is currently a project manager at Tower Vision Ltd, an Israeli start-up that builds cellular towers in India, is a longtime TED devotee who appreciated the diversity of Jerusalem TEDx presenters. “It’s important to have dialogue,” she noted.

While the last TEDx Jerusalem was a small event held at Hebrew University in 2010, the 2012 conference was a full-blown production that included artistic performance by several renowned Israeli arts groups interspersed with the short talks.

The Mayumana performance art ensemble offered an inspired energetic piece that incorporated dance, visual art and music. Members of the Jerusalem-based Vertigo Dance Company opened the conference and Itamar Mendes-Flohr, a Jerusalem-born lighting design, artist and cinematographer showed how to paint with light and shadow.

Shaena Cantor, an advisor with the Yeshiva University One Year Programs, found the TEDx mix “refreshing.”

Yael Feinblum, a Jerusalem high-tech worker came to get inspired by “ideas not related to high tech.” Feinblum’s favorite presenter was Dr. Amir Amedi, a brain researcher who taught the audience how to “see” with their brain, a technique he’s developed to benefit the blind.

More than 1,600 TED talks are available on-line and have been viewed more than a billion times.

Sponsor/partners of Jerusalem TEDx included the Schusterman-Israel Foundation; Leichtag Foundation; New Spirit Organization; ROI Community and Israel’s Mifal Hapayis national lottery.

More than 1,000 people applied to attend Jerusalem TEDx with 500 turned away for lack of space, leading organizers to promise to make TEDx Jerusalem an annual event.

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