Alison Laichter works for Entwine, an initiative of JDC (the largest Jewish humanitarian organization in the world), managing all west coast programs, and she founded the Jewish Meditation Center in NYC. She believes that truly sustainable tikkun olam, repairing the world, happens from the inside out.
When my friend and fellow ROIer Sarah Lefton asked if I wanted to go to Yes and Yes Yes (yxyy), I immediately said “yes!” Only later did I look it up and get excited about the gathering of “thinkers/futurists/nerds/weirdos, voracious consumers of and generators of ideas and information, creatives that like to engage in conversation about their creative pursuits & the concepts behind them, people comfortable with & excited about their own obsessive interest in their odd corner of the world, people on the path to self-actualization, self-awareness and all the goodies that lie therein.” I didn’t realize until we got to yxyy and the unconference started that my yxyy had actually begun when I said that first “yes.”
yxyy is sort of an alternative or complimentary conference to SXSW, but maybe a little more Burning Man meets Silicon Valley and held at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs. If you haven’t been to the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs—it’s basically a desert hipster paradise. Yxyy took over the entire hotel and conference sessions were often held in pools, sitting on rafts or floating around on pool noodles and holding a cocktail.
The unconference was incredibly unique, intentional, and so infused with positivity and openness that everyone felt the capacity to lead and create space for whatever they wanted to discuss and workshop. Each participant downloaded a special app and from the moment we arrived, we were able to upload session topics, descriptions, and pick places (mostly the pool) to hold them. Almost everything was spontaneous, organic, and totally worked.
Participant generated sessions included “Future of Money” to explore alternative currencies, “Brand and Marketing Discussion,” storyteller meet ups, dance classes, improv (with ROIer Esther Kustanowitz!), and “Hack your kids” for parents to talk about raising geeky kids and how everyone is balancing tech/family/life. Other sessions that I can’t stop thinking about included “What should I do with my life,” where session participants took turns sharing what’s going on in their professional and personal lives, and everyone offered advice on what to do next (nonbinding); “Imposter Syndrome” included an in-pool meet up to talk about how to get out of the mindspace that tells us we’re not good/smart/experienced/etc. enough to do whatever we’re already doing; and Ignite YxYY: “10 YaySayers share 5 minutes of interestingness.” And that long list doesn’t include many other professional (“Heinous self promotion event” and “Future of Fashion”), personal and social sessions (synchronized swimming, mandala coloring, “ask someone on a date,” sunrise runs, and dive-in movies).
The fun started with a quick welcome and introduction, along with fantastic SWAG from a few corporate sponsors, and then a “Super Secret Opening Night Game,” which was definitely the coolest ice-breaker I’ve ever experienced at any sort of conference. Let’s just say it involved making music, muppets, teams, and a group epiphany that was sweet and funny. After that, a few of us gathered to host a yxyy Shabbat moment (candles, wine, challah) and Jewish and non-Jewish attendees joined the Shabbat party. Another highlight was the Winter Wonderland Prom - with a band, bar, cupcakes, jellyfish puppets, glitter tattoos (I brought those), and everyone wearing ridiculous outfits, mostly in white. All of this silliness contributed to the “say yes!” atmosphere and community building.
Throughout yxyy, Sarah and I kept discussing how well this kind of unconference could work in the Jewish world. I'm always thinking about meaningful community building and ways to engage with young professionals in and out of the Jewish community. I think there's so much potential for creating spaces of positivity and trust, rooted in Jewish tradition and values, and with a good dose silliness. We’re still dreaming up some ideas, and I have a feeling yxyy is going to be a big influence in any future gathering that I'm working on, so stay tuned…
Thank you ROI for making it possible for me to participate in this creative and inspiring gathering, and giving me the opportunity to say yes!