Jerusalem Culture

I just came back from an event about Jerusalem’s potential to be a global cultural center sponsored by Presentense, an organization fostering innovation in the Jewish community and beyond.

I think that, actually, is the message of Jerusalem.  Going to the event tonight was significant for me because I realized that I’m getting so caught up in getting myself established professionally and meeting all sorts of personal goals, that I’m losing track of why I really came here.  I didn’t come to Jerusalem in order to just fall into the same work and habits as before.  So I tried something new this morning, a Torah lesson in a setting that is hard to find elsewhere.

What is it that is so special about this place?  That addresses the crux of the issue this evening’s panel addressed as well.  I most connected with the answers given by Itay Mautner, of the Jerusalem Foundation.  He said that Jerusalem needs to be true to itself – not to try to be New York or even Tel Aviv.  It needs to connect to its own unique character.

I think that is great advice, even more broadly speaking, and it reminds me of an Oscar Wilde quote that used to grace my Facebook page: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.

Many Jews, myself included, feel most at home in Israel, where they don’t have to feel like they need to pretend to be something that they are not, that it is a place where they can express their own unique character.  If you try to be something you are not, it won’t feel quite right, and others can see through it too.

I think the same holds true for Israel and it holds true for Jerusalem.  Israel is not like other countries, and Jerusalem is not like other cities.  It’s silly to pretend otherwise.

panel at presentense

The panel, from left, Eyal Sher, Lea Mauas, Itay Mautner

At the risk of what might sound like a ridiculous leap, I’m going to extend this argument to another area I am interested in – website marketing and search optimization.  The theme that presents itself over and over in my research on website optimization, is quality and authenticity. When a website pretends to be something that it isn’t, or to have link relationships with irrelevant sites, it might make the site more popular initially, but it doesn’t take long before human users and search engines realize the fakery, and it gets punished thusly.

Israel needs to remain true to her character, and so too Jerusalem.  So too its residents.  In trying to be like the other, we can lose ourselves.

The other thing that I really connected with that Mautner said was that he attended the Grammy Awards, and despite being among the top-notch Hollywood professional artists, he said he was unimpressed.  It was so big, so grand, so polished, that the “culture,” the feeling, was gone.

Real artists, he said, can’t perform the same thing over and over on demand.

So can Jerusalem be a world-class cultural center?  By international standards of what “culture” is, I hope not.  Can it do more to express its thousands of years of historical significance and to be the forefront of modern Jewish expression?  Absolutely.

Aliyah Milestone: The event was in Hebrew and I understood 95%!


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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