Former president Shimon Peres starts every day with a small glass of fresh lemon juice. No sugar or water added, just a small bit of fresh lemon juice. “That prepares your body for the day,” the 91-year-old politician told the audience at TEDxJaffa, held in Jaffa’s Shimon Peres Center for Peace on October 23.
The event, held this year for the fourth time, gives innovative local leaders in technology, entertainment, and design (hence the name TED) approximately 15 minutes for a presentation in their area of expertise. The idea: find a dynamic person doing interesting work, and get them to talk about what they know – medicine, art, leadership, politics.
Organizers then host them all together on a single stage over the course of a day, and establish a space to celebrate new ideas, unique annals of cooperation, the wonder of the human body, or just a new way of looking at an old problem. TEDx events, which are independently organized but licensed by the TED organization, are held around the world. Israel has had TEDxTelAviv, TEDxIDC, TEDxJerusalem, TEDxRamallah, TEDxNazareth, and others. The talks are filmed and the most intriguing ones are uploaded to TED.com, where top videos have garnered more than 20 million views.
But of all of the 12 presentations throughout the day, Peres’s suggestion to start every day with a glass of lemon juice was the most practical. He had other words of advice, like eating at the same time every day, or maintaining a constant weight (his is 72 kilos, and if he’s half a kilo over, he says he just stops eating until he’s back at 72 kilos).
“In the evening, I make a list of the mistakes I made during the day and the people I insulted, and I look for ways to correct it,” Peres said in an interview with Guy Lerer, host of the Israeli show Tzinor Laila on Channel 10. “In the morning, I make a list of the dreams I have and try to realize them. If you want to be young, compare the number of your achievements with the number of your dreams. If you have more dreams than achievements, you’re young. If you have more achievements than dreams, then you’re old.”
Speakers at TEDxJaffa included Arab-Israeli politician Bashar Iraqi, neurologist Professor Tamir Ben-Hur, child empowerment activist Dr. Orly Katz, human evolution expert Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, dog trainer Noa Szefler, and the Ein Rafah mukhtar/single-track building bike enthusiast Alla Barhoom, among others. The British Council, the Peres Center for Peace, Virtuozo speaking coaches, and The Studio graphic design partnered with five volunteer organizers to host the event.
“The goal is spreading ideas, giving people who may or may not have a stage to talk on to share their ideas — and you have a captive audience of people who will interact with that idea,” explained TEDxJaffa organizer Lindsay Tauber. “In the four years we’ve been doing TEDxJaffa, each of our talks have reached between 5,000 and 4.5 million people [online]. Every talk had some viral aspect to it and there are people in certain places talking about it.”
The event’s success is measured by the number of people discussing those new ideas during the breaks and after party, Tauber said. “Every single person went away knowing things that they didn’t know when they came in the morning, be it a different way of thinking about humanity, or ways to laugh about being unmarried after age 30 in a country of yiddishe mamas, or incredible stem cell research that might save multiple sclerosis patients in the future,” she said.
Musician Yossi Sassi, formerly of the popular Israeli metal band Orphaned Land who is now a solo artist, stole the show with an insider look into how he invented his own stringed instrument. “I have a genuine problem – I play 19 different guitar types, sometimes more than one in the same song,” he told the audience. “From Armenia to Bolivia, if you have strings, I will find you and I will use you.” But what Sassi really wanted was an instrument that was both an electric guitar and an acoustic bouzouki, a traditional Greek stringed instrument, with two separate necks that would allow him to seamlessly switch back and forth during a single song.
Guitar experts told him the project was hopeless. You can’t have an electric and an acoustic instrument in the same body, they told him. “They will compete for shared resources so neither instrument will sound good,” the guitar experts said, in a sentence eerily applicable to political situations.
It took the help of a piano builder and over 100 prototypes before Sassi succeeded in building his vision, the Bouzoukitara. “This guitar is an embodiment of my musical journey,” Sassi explained. “It is east and west, electric and acoustic, roots combined with contemporary music. One day I accidentally plugged the wrong cable into the wrong jack and I got this ethereal Middle Eastern-flavored sound,” he said, strumming the strings.
“This is how a guitar sounds through a bouzouki. These two souls, these two different cultures, now share one body. Now one can resonate through the other and produce sounds that were not possible before.”