Reflections on the Israeli Presidential Conference 2013 (18.-20.6.13)

The annual Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem is an event of diplomatic, economic and social importance. Influential, talented, innovative and otherwise attractive individuals flock every year to Israel to attend the Conference. They all are carefully chosen representatives of the various professional sectors of global society; be it from the economical, political, entertainment or another social field. High-ranked diplomats and politicians, scientists, businessmen, artists, CEO’s, soldiers and religious figures appear year after year in the official speakers’ listing and the general audience. Although the majority is still made up of Jewish and Israeli participants, many international guests are invited. The Conference offers an extraordinary international meeting opportunity. Undoubtedly, any visit from abroad is also a significant statement of support for the State of Israel.

One Event, Many Interests

Isr Presidential Conference

Working means taking part. Preparing a panel room at the Conference

The Presidential Conference, taking place under the auspices of the President of Israel, H.E. Shimon Peres, is on the one hand an annual news highlight in the Jewish and general media; speeches and sessions can be viewed in real time by everyone on the event’s website. On the other hand, average individuals, especially outside Israel, who haven’t somehow proved themselves to the point that they were chosen to participate, barely know about the Conference. The lack of promotion is part of the management strategy, probably to preserve the elitist character of the meeting and its participants.

Living in Israel, if you are not invited, there another way to get a free entrance to the – working as a steward. This option is open for those who not necessarily seek a small talk with artist or a diplomat, but prefer to earn some money to pay a monthly dorm rent or a trip to the Golan Heights. For these and more reasons I have joined the hundreds of young stewards from all over Israel. It’s my second year at the Conference, where I try to improve my English and public relation skills at the information stand, as a ticketholder or an escort for panel speakers. Many things can be told about this whole battalion of stewards. Wearing suits and smiling modestly, they watch every step of the prominent figures. Behind their backs they brag wildly about the outfits and look up the different names in Google on their smart phones.

The Ingredients of Glory

While passing through the auditoriums, mingling with the Very Important ladies and gentlemen during break time and attending panels, I eventually had some time to spend a thought on the meaning of greatness and glory.
What decides upon who is great and who deserves glory and honor?
What are those factors, based on which some are granted honor, and others are regarded as great by the public?
In view of my hands-on experience with prominent figures on various occasions, allow me to note down some of my observations on what I call the “Ingredients of Glory”.

In his inaugural speech in 2009, President Barack Obama made it clear that at least to him, “greatness is never a given, it must be earned”. While we can dispute whether greatness is a product of hard work or a naturally brilliant mind, I dare to claim that the “good name”, the origin of the honor someone holds in the eyes of others, must be derived from the subject him- or herself, or relying on external interests.
Influence is probably the first and crucial factor to earn public respect which is close to admiration, awe and even fear. You can measure the influence of a person both on the symbolical and the practical levels. Let’s take Mr William (Bill) Clinton, who attended the opening plenary of the Conference on June 18, and later on celebrated President Peres’ 90th birthday, together with numerous diplomats and politicians. There has been a huge symbolic importance in inviting former President Clinton, a known and appreciated figure , despite not being a president anymore. And while the invited Prince of Monaco might not help us win the next war against terrorists, the symbolic gesture of well-wishing has an immense power and meaning. When talking about influence, it becomes obvious that it is a key factor that is common to every other “ingredient” defining glory.

When I talk about influence and impact, it is obvious that something must give you the power to impact on society. What about Productivity? Creation and entertainment, development and teaching are the peaks of human productivity. Barbra Streisand, Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone were the most impressive among this year’s invitees from the entertainment branch. There was no lack in businessmen and women as well – Martin Wolf, Weili Dai and Ronnie Chan, only to mention a few. The number of renowned professors invited, and the various panels dealing with medicine, biology, education made it seem that in fact, knowledge was an important focus of this Conference.

However, can quantitative erudition guarantee emotional intelligence, morality and objectivity? A person known for his excellence in sciences sadly disproved a necessary connection. Prof. Stephen Hawking’s boycott of the Conference due to pressure from anti-Israel activists might not appeal his greatness as a scientist, but it definitely leads to question of his moral integrity.

Impression and Representation are close to what I said about influence. There are a variety of things which can impress today’s society, as a stunning-looking and successful model can have as much positive (or negative) impression as an ambassador or a prominent army general. The standards for it are set by the society which decides to be or not be impressed. Representatives are also messengers of the society, and develop a status of honor first of all because they stand for the group or society who sent them.

While speaking much about production and development, a more spiritual factor comes to mind, which may determine a person’s reputation, and this is an Opinion. Ayaan Hirsi-Ali today is a politician and author, but there was a time when she fled from Somalia and Saudi-Arabia, to escape a radical and oppressive regime which denied her rights. She decided to speak out against the oppression. The courage of standing up against an evil fascinates us. Same for Natan Sharansky: Before he became the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, he spent 9 years in prison for his political beliefs and Jewish activism. This experience, combined with decades of political activity in Israel, turned him both into a symbol of courage and a man of worldwide influence. Both Hirsi-Ali and Sharansky took part in the conference, with Sharansky debating in panels and Hirsi-Ali holding an emotional speech in front of President Peres and were received with admiration.
Last but not least I would like to mention special Interests, which are up to calculations. I’m talking about donors, partners. Here, the benefit decides on the nature of treatment, how much honor a person will receive in return for benefit, so that honor becomes a means of exchange.

Greatness Is a Given

There exist so many aspects and calculations which lead us as a society to grant special attention to an individual or a group. While some names are famous on a worldwide scale for many years, others appear overnight, and many people rise and fall in the fields of their accomplishments. Not every sort of success leads to significant attention, and not every type of attention is justified by an achievement. Being famous today is dynamic, and this has both its good and bad sides.

The Israeli Presidential Conference is only a model which represents on a small scale the different thinking and acting concepts in our society . Many individuals with a truly great heart and important accomplishments live out there, unnamed and unrecognized, far away from conferences of any kind.
But the intention of my reflection is to disclose that none of us can truly own the title of “the Honored” or ” the Great”, as each human soul is unlimited in its potential. We all are made in the “image of G-d”, and there is nothing out there to stop us from discovering the meaning of it with the help of all our talents. A competitive environment and the demonstration of influence, wealth and knowledge may increase jealousy and even reservation among ones, but it is able to raise the level of motivation and the striving for excellence in others.
Meaningful personalities of today and yesterday must encourage us to pursue our personal talents and abilities and reach out for our own limits of achievement in the face of tomorrow, while remaining modest, reasonable and respectful of each others’ potential.

Just a few words to my first blog entry: My name’s Chaya, and TOI just gave me the chance to give birth to my new blog. It’s like jumping in at the deep end. I will never know how my career as a new Jewish blogger will go on and where it will end. If I consider this online “diary” to be my baby, I can already imagine that it will need to pass many important phases during its existence. You know, like every good Jewish boy – the brit, the first tooth, the khalake and so on…
Anyways, the article I choose to start with was a reflection on my work at the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, 2013. For this and other entries to come, I beg your pardon in advance, in case you might feel odd with some English expressions, choice of words and syntax order. English is not my native language and I will to my best to spare you the odds. Bahatzlacha.