Tuesday, May 29, 2007

He'll Be Comin' 'Round
the Mountain

(by Simon)
It sounded a tiny bit like something from Lost, which will give you an idea of the level at which my mind routinely functions.

Thanks to a kind referral from a Jewy friend whose respect means the world to me, I was invited to join a select group of other Semites to talk about issues of identity, culture, religion and other pressing matters at a sublime hilltop resort. The event, known as the Reboot Summit, had been happening for six years or so, and was a cornerstone of the Reboot organization's efforts to draw secular Jews back into a conversation with one another about Jewishness in its many facets and manifestations. All my expenses would be paid.

I asked them to repeat that last part and then agreed enthusiastically.

Prior to my departure, I was the subject of the kind of massive document dump one might expect from the Bush administration on the Friday of a long weekend, most of it appearing in an unwieldy cardboard box. Articles about Israel, about how secular Jews practice holidays, about cultural markers and Sandy Koufax spilled out of that carton, a veritable avalanche of introspection. Then came a document at once concise and weighty: the "facebook" informed me that the other attendees of this event were about as close to a definition of the intelligentsia as you're likely to find: filmmakers, journalists, heads of innovative nonprofits, activists, academics, authors, musicians, visual artists. There were scions of families I knew only as brands.

Why had they included me, a smart-aleck scribbler from the Valley? Simply because my blog had "Jew" in the title? I became convinced that I was welcome not for my ostensible insights so much as my penchant for a well-placed Hitler joke.

I was not far wrong, I believe, but more about that in a moment.

This Jewy gathering went down in a most un-Jewy place: the glorious, mountainous confines of Wasatch, Utah. Just outside of Park City, this majestic place is home to some ski runs that would be declared "awesome" by someone who liked to ski. I, on the other hand, would say they're "vertiginous," but I mean that with a great deal of respect. More importantly, this Shangri-La in the Land of Microfilm boasts the Stein Eriksen Lodge, an enchanted place of civilized repose with stunning mountain vistas, a spa with shvitz and a landscaper who suffers from the now-arcane disorder known as Tulipomania.

But man, those tulips. I mean, look at them:


Still, meeting this insanely accomplished, frighteningly smart, appealingly funny and certifiably HOT bunch of Jews was the most beautiful thing of all.

The Summit marked my first experience with so-called Open Space methodology, wherein people who are keen to discuss a particular subject present their idea to the larger group, then smaller groups convene to bat around said issues and — where appropriate — formulate "action plans." Then everyone meets up again for reports on these conversations.

We talked about defining Jewishness, about religious belief, about geopolitics, sexuality and creativity. We even talked about the International Jewish Media Conspiracy — as both an anti-Semitic fantasy and an ironic description of our cultural penchant for writing and performance — and decided, rather glumly, that Jewish conspiracies are impossible. We can't even agree about lunch.

All told, it was a lot like graduate school, only better, more amusing and totally haimisch.

We even heard "the world's greatest Jewish joke," and though the jury's still out on the joke's ultimate stature, it did make me laugh. I will tell it to you, but only if I see you in a bar. In point of fact, the Summit helped me recognize how central jokes are to my sense of Jewish identity, and how the personality I'd formed as the youngest sibling dropping wisecracks around the dinner table was an irreducible component of my self-definition. And as soon as I sat in the giant circle of Rebooters, I thought: Oh yes, I know how to work this room.

There were also lovely, very inclusive Shabbat and Havdallah services conducted by Amichai Lau-Lavie (about whom we've kvelled before), discussions of who thought who was hot and even a talent show. In case you're wondering about the talent show, I sang "Alison," accompanied by the extremely gifted David Green on guitar; thanks to the superhot and angelic-sounding Jen Cohen for the pic.

OK, it was like graduate school crossed with Jewish summer camp.

It was stimulating, hilarious, infuriating, exhausting and exhilarating, with tons of equally impassioned chatter going on during the breaks, meals, shvitzes and evening drink-a-thons. I got about nine hours of sleep all weekend, but I just didn't care.

Reboot's strict "off the record" policy forbids me from going into detail about the intensely involving jaw-wagging in which I was immersed; suffice to say that my brain was full to bursting with ideas, concerns, conflicts and questions.

A lot of these will, I'm certain, find their way into this blog — and as my memory catches up with the headlong rush of experiences I had in Jew-tah, I'll tell you more. But for now I just want to express my gratitude to my Reboot mishpuchah. You'll never be rid of me now.

1 comment:

Mollie said...

sandy koufax: very hot jew