Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Failed 2008 Jewish Bloggers Conference

The 2008 Jewish Bloggers Conference has ended. It was, for the most part, a failure. This is despite the fact that many parts of the event were, in a certain light, successful.

The conference was hosted by Nefesh B'Nefesh, an organization doing a wonderful job at encouraging and helping people make aliyah to Israel. It's aim was to bring together 20 to 30 bloggers in order to discuss how blogging can be used to help with Israeli hasbara ("public relations").

They ended up with 200 bloggers and press, as well as a brand manager from the Foreign Ministry and former prime minister Bibi Netanyahu as speakers. The broadcast went out to over 1,000 other bloggers and curious folks around the world. I had a good time meeting a few people I'd met before, and many others whom I had never met.

So how was this a failure?

1) A blogger is a person who uses a tool called a blog, much the way that a photographer is a person who uses a tool called a camera. Other than the tools we use, and a few cultural implications thereof, there is no more unifying relationship between bloggers than there is between photographers.

In particular, there is no common conviction that Israeli bloggers are doing hasbara, or should be doing hasbara, or even what hasbara is. Among the three or four key speakers, and the eight panelists, there was little consensus that there was common ground for hasbara. Several of them denied doing it, some were completely against it, and barely any even addressed the question.

To illustrate this, at on point during the Foreign Ministry's lecture on how Israel can present a multicultural side to the world, one fanatic in the audience began yelling "Israel is a Jewish country! Israel is a Jewish country!" loudly and repeatedly, until the speaker had to step down. It was the most egregious event of the evening, but fairly symbolic of the problem: what the heck were we all doing there talking about Israel and hasbara? Why weren't we talking about blogging tools, readership, and RSS feeds? Or at least a multiplicity of topics which included hasbara for those who were interested?

Why? Because Nefesh B'Nefesh hosted the event. And they had a mistaken impression of what it is that bloggers do. In this, they were no more or less misunderstanding of blogging than the companies to which I applied for blogging positions.

2) The conference ran relatively smoothly, but the speakers were not well coordinated. Most of them appeared not to have prepared whatsoever. Most of them didn't address the topic questions, and simply spent five minutes or so saying why they got into blogging and what their URL is. After the entire evening, nearly no information was gained. No hasbara was achieved. No new plans were formulated. No non-obvious blogging tips revealed. It was, essentially, a complete waste of time, were it not for the fact that 200 blogger had a chance to meet each other.

First panel

Various bloggers were supposed to answer the question as to how to increase readership. Some ignored the question, some said the questions was irrelevant, and the few tips that were given were all essentially "comment on other people's blogs".

David aka ck from Jewlicious revealed that he believes Jewlicious to be a kiruv effort.


The first panel was interrupted by an appearance by former prime minister Bibi Netanyahu. The last time I saw him up close, I offered him a piece of pizza which he declined. That was before he was prime minister.

He opened by looking at the nameplates in front of the panel of speakers. "Jewlicious?" he quipped. ck quipped back "Natanyahu?" which garnered a number of laughs. Bibi answered "Netanyahu is in the tanach! I don't think Jewlicious is!" He spoke, essentially, of wanting to bring Likud back to power.

When asked if he championed blogging when he was prime minister, he said no, because it was after his term (1999). But now Israel should have an anti-smear website, following Obama's lead.

When asked whether he supported direct representation in elections, he answered that Israel is too small for that, but that knesset members are currently too beholden to party lists than to voters. He favors the German election model.

When asked whether he monitors blogs (he has his own blog, by the way), he said yes.

He answered a question about Jewish rights to the land with a long speech about Jewish historical connection to the land until being evicted by the Arabs in the 8th or 9th century. And you should read his book for more details.

And lastly, he said that Arab propaganda turns the result of Arab aggression into the cause for the next Arab aggression.

Frum Satire

Frum Satire gave a short set of slightly amusing material: not embarrassing, but not especially memorable either. And then a waffle iron was raffled off to one lucky winner.

Zavi Apfelbaum, Brand Manager of the Foreign Ministry

Zavi spoke about Israel's image problem being the result of focusing too much on trying to prove we are right rather than trying to appear attractive. She said:

- branding is complementary to hasbara efforts
- branding incorporates both the bad and the good; example: The Big Apple
- If you don't define your brand, others will do it for you
- A brand engenders loyalty that will carry its fans through small periods of bad experiences

She spoke too long, too repetitively, and too simply for the audience. Long after we all got the idea and wanted her to move on, she was still trying to convince us that Israel has an image problem. She showed a video clip of how the average American knows nothing about day-to-day life in Israel, but again for far too long, when we were hoping that she would then present us with he solutions.

Unfortunately, she only barely got to solutions after the talk was officially over, and they weren't very clear solutions. They involved some combination of passion, ingenuity, and fusion, but ignored Israel's great assets of history and technology, for example.

Second panel

The second panel was supposed to answer how to use your blog as hasbara, but, as i mentioned, most of the panelists didn't feel like doing that. At best, simply presenting posts of the daily struggle for existence functions as a kind of hasbara that life goes on, outside of any external conflicts.

My Aliyah Idea

Lastly, Nefesh B'Nefesh introduced a new website for collecting ideas about aliyah, called .

You can see the list of panelists on the conference site. They served some nice food and desserts. Pictures here and here.



Anonymous said...

I was wondering who would be the first blogger with analysis....

I debated going because of the Nefesh B'Nefesh connection. I'm glad I went because I got to meet a few bloggers (including you) and because it reminded me why we blog...

I don't see it as a failure, because I never really saw a goal...if you can tell me that there was a stated goal that they failed at, then I will agree with you.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

That's just it. Nefesh B'Nefesh had a goal for the evening, which was utilizing bloggers for Israel hasbara. That failed. On the other hand, they collected lots of attention and lots of good will, which may turn out to be a long term success.

Meanwhile, the bloggers came just to mingle, and that was a success. On the other hand, they may have expected something interesting out of the presentations, but there wasn't anything.

Anonymous said...

Really insightful post, and spot-on. I wrote about the event as soon as I got home, but I probably should have waited until I calmed down. I just felt so EXHAUSTED from the whole thing, and I don't just mean physically. Here's the URL:

It was nice meeting you!

Anonymous said...

I think you're right on about the conference - I think there were good intentions but I think there should've been 2 conferences - one about blogging for hasbara and one about promoting blogs, because the way it was seemed fuzzy and out of focus with too many goals. I've been sending your post to people who asked what I thought about the conf. - you just summed it up so well - sorry I didn't get to talk to you, but on an unrelated note I keep meaning to write about your tips in the kitchen from a long long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Considering that this was the first time such a convention was held, there were bound to be problems with ideology and formatting. I guess this just gives us fuel for how to structure any such future conventions.

Rahel Jaskow said...

I was glad of the chance to mingle and catch up with friends. This was, after all, the first conference of its kind (as far as I know), so now the planners have a basis that they can learn from.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Lena: Assuming the risks are not overly great, it is far better to try and fail then not to try at all.

Though the primary goal failed, the minor successes of fostering blogger relationships worked. Sound and visuals mostly worked. The food was good. And NbN can learn from the mistakes of this event and produce a successful event next year.


Unknown said...

I enjoyed the conference - mostly for the networking opportunities and to see "who is out there." I will go back if they have another one, but would definitely appreciate more complex discussions. Possibly even a choice of sessions. Next time NBN will know to plan for a big crowd!

Anonymous said...

a lot of the things you mention in your analysis may be true; but a failure? hardly. with so many of us happily gathered for free food and networking, hearing our colleagues (for the first time!) speaking about what they love, even if they didn't follow the program to a T, and i heard that 1200 were online watching the proceedings (whether they were all bloggers, or just curious, who cares?)

We came, we saw, we had a good time, some of us learned a thing or two; i don't know about anyone else, but i am really glad i went. to me that makes the event a success. maybe that's simplistic, but hey, it works.

i wrote a bit about it as well (and borrowed some photos - hope that's okay!) my blog at Movin' On Up

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I don't see it as a failure, at least it wasn't for me.
Firstly, as Safranit said, I didn't know there was a goal to fail at.
Secondly, since I don't "Jewish" or "Israel" blog, it was an eye-opener for me to see and meet so many people who are blogging for Israel. I will admit that I was impressed, and have come home with a list of about 50 or more blogs that I want to check out over the next few weeks.
And lastly, since I came on Aliyah 30 years ago, I've hardly heard of Nefesh B'Nefesh - now at least I know who they are and what they do.
For anyone interested in reading a detailed report, come visit my post at

Jewish Philanthropy News and Views said...

It was a good beginning. The pluses most certainly outnumber the minuses. Sure there were problems, but overall I am glad NBN sponsored the event and hope they consider it successful.

This event was actually a positive example of if you build it, we will come.

For more,

Mindy Schaper said...

I understand why you are saying what you are, but I agree with the other bloggers that the event was pleasant. I don't think your claims are neccesarily unture, I just think that for a first time job, it was ok, and anyway, the best part was just meeting with the other bloggers and getting to know them, I wouldn't have such high expectations.

Also, about the unity of the bloggers- call me idealistic, but don't you think that should be something we want?

Anonymous said...

All I could think about was that squeaking door in the back of the room. It was so distracting...

- Karin

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Also, about the unity of the bloggers- call me idealistic, but don't you think that should be something we want?

Not really. Unity in defending each other and in respect, but not unity in purpose or agenda.

Mindy Schaper said...

I see.

I'm very into unity of the Jewish people in general, regardless of our different opinions or lifestyles. I don't think the two are a contradiction. One of the things that disturbs me the most personally is sinas chinam- and I'm not saying that as a cliche- it is horrifying to me.

Rafi G. said...

Yehuda - you make some good points, and I said some similar to others. I came out of it with little but a good time. I thought there was supposed to be a focus on taking blogging to the next level and increasing readership, but the big bloggers on the panels had little to say on the subject, and what they did say was nothing nobody else already knew (except Carl's answer to RivkA about cancer lists).
That was a shame.

You are right that NBN should have focused more around one theme/ideal and stuck to it and mode that the theme of the night, rather than it being so vague.

But I had a good time and enjoyed meeting a lot of people and seeng many I already knew...

Jack Steiner said...

Failure is a strong term. I suppose that if you focus solely upon using the conference as a way to grow your blog it might fall short a bit.

YMedad said...

Here I am thinking to myself that I am fairly tall, my voice is loud and I was on a panel and yet, not only do I not get mentioned, but since I specifically addressed the topics this blogger mentioned in my words, I am amazed. I don't mind being disputed or even disliked, but made to disappear?

Well, my post with suggestions for future improvement is here and the are more pics here

Since I got here, it means I trolled around, something anybody can do. And as for your definition of the goals of the Conference, methinks there were others.

The "one lucky winner" of the waffle maker.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

ymedad: Of all the panelists, you seemed the most prepared. Your three M's were on target, although could have used concrete examples, in my opinion. Of course, you weren't given much time to speak.


Anonymous said...

Well, you are right about the fact that most of the subjects that were supposed to be discussed faded in the political atmosphere. But this is a Nefesh B' Nefesh convention! Look, I also came for the tips and extra knowledge; but seeing everyone, mingle, chat was quite satisfying (and came all the from Zichron-Yaakov...). I took something from the sub content of the speakers. I tell you what though, someone had to say it out load. I am happy you raised this subject.

Esser Agaroth said...


I'm glad you pointed out that not everyone agrees on the role of blogger as PR point men for Israel.

Moshe's outburst egregious?

It sounds like it was only exciting part of the conference, certainly the most truthful.

Batya said...

Good summary.
I was also thinking of Hadassah's idea of choice of sessions. It didn't seem that the organizers were prepared for the great variety of bloggers.

In some ways it was good and some ways not, but "failed," I don't know.

I think the "Rebranding" session was very poorly done.