Zang-up idea in Silicon Valley: Talk series aims to bring Israelis, Americans together

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A little over a year ago, two Israelis living in Silicon Valley went to the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto to present an idea about how to bring different Jewish communities together for a special event.

The next day, totally unrelated, another Israeli living in the South Bay went to the same JCC with her own plan: creating events that would help connect local Israelis and Jewish Americans.

Notice a similarity?

So did Ronit Jacobs, the director of the Israeli Cultural Connection at the JCC, who quickly organized a meeting among the three women — Oshrat Romano, Lital Cohen and Inbal Avida.

The crowded lobby in the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto for the first Zang Talk, Jan. 24, 2012

And thus, Zang Talk was born. Its slogan is “lectures that bring the circles together,” and its aim is to strengthen and deepen the ties between the Israeli and Jewish American communities in Silicon Valley.

There have been two Zang Talk events so far, with the third scheduled for Nov. 18. Each event includes short lectures in English from four Jewish/Israeli speakers, each from a different domain and area of expertise.

“This is the beauty of Zang Talk,” Avida said. “Whatever your circle is in life, you normally interact with other people from that same circle. But here you have an opportunity to hear about subjects you wouldn’t normally hear about because we organize four lectures in one evening, and that allows you to meet and engage people from other fields as you are exposed to other circles.”

The name “Zang” was chosen because of Israel Zangwill, a British-born Jewish writer who used his writings in the late 1800s to advocate for causes ranging from women’s suffrage to Zionism. In 1908, he wrote “The Melting Pot,” a play about the virtues of assimilation in America that became a big hit in the United States.

Zang Talk organizers like the “melting pot” metaphor for their venture, as it implies a melding of Israeli and Jewish American Jewish cultures and ideas. As for the format of the talks, it’s somewhat similar to the popular TED Talks, in which speakers get 18 minutes to present their ideas.

“I wanted to be a part of a big creation and do something for my community and feel connected,” said Cohen, who came to the United States in 2011. “And to see and feel the Jewish community, my community, get stronger and stronger is an amazing feeling and makes me feel great.”

Zang Talk co-founders (from left) Lital Cohen, Oshrat Romano and Inbal Avida

The lineup of guest speakers for the first event in January 2012 included Tzvia Shelef, the executive director of the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival who worked in television and film in Israel and also coordinated the final scene of survivors in    “Schindler’s List.” Another speaker was Abe Askenazi, chief technology officer at Zero Motorcycles, who presented a model of his firm’s electric motorcycle.

At the Nov. 18 event, the speakers will be professor Daphne Koller talking about the online education revolution; international opera soprano Ronit Widmann-Levy; airport security expert Yotam Margalit; and Etay and Danielle Gafni, the father-daughter team that started Bankaroo, a free online service that helps teach kids about money.

“To have the opportunity to work with people so smart and talented is a blessing,” Cohen said.

After the first event, Romano returned to Israel, but three new members joined the team, and after the second event in May, another four stepped forward to volunteer.

Though most attendees at the first two events were Israelis, the Zang Talk team is working to increase the number of Jewish Americans in the audience. To that end, volunteers have been trying to spread the word at synagogues and throughout the community.

Organizers are also trying to get schools to participate; at the second event, for example, students from Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto decorated the stage with more than 150 framed paintings and a mobile.

Zang Talk has received guidance and some funding from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco, Bank Leumi and the Oshman Family JCC.


Zang Talk is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $17; discounts for online purchase, JCC members and seniors. or [email protected]