Beyond Conference offers Jersey City a taste of Israel

Beyond Conference offers Jersey City a taste of Israel

Israeli consulate and Mana Contemporary are cosponsors

Nimrod Elmish, here showing off his cardboard bicycle, will speak at the Beyond Conference.

Nimrod Elmish is going back to Jersey City.

Twenty years ago, he lived there while he worked as a foreman for Moishe’s Moving, one of the myriad of Israelis who financed their post-Army world trips in the New York City moving business.

Today Mr. Elmish is a symbol of Israeli innovation. He is CEO of Cardboard Technologies, which uses recycled cardboard, plastic, and tires to create sturdy and cheap bicycles.

On Tuesday, he will be speaking at Mana Contemporary, a million-square-foot arts hub in Jersey City. And as it happens – not that Mr. Elmish knew this when he accepted the invitation – Mana Contemporary is a brother company to Moishe’s Moving, named for its founder and owner, Moishe Mana.

Mr. Elmish is a featured speaker at the Beyond Conference, a free event that promises to “inspire and engage with speakers at the cutting edge of their fields” while “creating a unique opportunity to spark and expand the conversation about Israel.” The conference is a collaboration between the Mana Contemporary and the Israeli consulate in New York.

Beyond follows the popular model of the TED conferences – speakers offering inspirational talks of business successes, presented to a popular audience. This is a popular, not a professional, conference.

Speakers include leaders and innovators in business, technology, the arts, and cooking, among them Barry Salzberg, the CEO of Deloitte, the international accounting firm; Miki Haimovich, who launched Israel’s Meatless Monday movement; and Robyn Shapiro from Manhattan’s Lowline project. Lunchtime will feature an Israeli culinary showcase.

The Mana’s roots are in the moving business, a field Moishe Mana entered with only a borrowed van. His one-man-with-one-van operation grew, thanks to the cheap but reliable labor supplied by other young Israelis. Undeterred by the threats and bullets of incumbent moving firms with Mafia ties, he continued to grow the business, until it today boasts not only a fleet of red Moishe’s trucks but storage facilities as well. Expanding into art storage proved the seed for the much more ambitious Mana Contemporary, which not only offers art storage and ancillary services for collectors, but studios for artists, exhibition galleries, a Middle Eastern Center for Arts (with an audacious acronymn), and more.

There is another aspect to the Mana Contemporary, one significant for the future of Jersey City: Its planned role as a hub for gentrification. Mr. Mana has bought up other properties near the former tobacco factory which houses Mana Contemporary. Not only have artists priced out of Manhattan rented studios closer to the Contemporary, they have relocated their homes there as well.

Cardboard Technologies is an example of a company that has the synergies of geography at its core. It is largely a partnership between Mr. Elmish and inventor Izhar Gafni. (Mr. Gafni already had invented a machine to peel pomegranates.) The two grew up together at Bror Hayil, a kibbutz in southern Israel. The company’s facilities are further north. It soon will open a factory near Caesarea.

The factory will not itself assemble bicycles (or wheelchairs – a product for which the company has found demand in Japan). Instead, said Mr. Elmish, it will produce assembly lines that it will pack up in cargo containers and ship around the world.

Talking about Israeli cooking, music, and cardboard recycling projects reflects a long-time strategy of Ido Aharoni, Israel’s consul general in New York. He has long focused on the need to rebrand Israel, and move the conversation “beyond the conflict.” The consulate expects hundreds of people to attend. (Transportation is available from Manhattan.)

Not all of the talks will focus on Israel. Robyn Shapiro is the director of community for the Lowline, an effort to build an underground park in an abandoned trolley station beneath Delancey Street in Manhattan. A fiber optics system will bring light from above ground to grow trees and grass beneath street level. The project has been endorsed by elected officials, and representatives are negotiating with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which owns the site.

The Mana Contemporary sees the Beyond conference as an extension of its own mission.

“It’s not just painting a painting or dancing a dance. We’re interested in creativity,” said Eugene Lemay, the Mana’s director.

What: Beyond Conference

When: Tuesday, March 10, 9:30 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Where: Mana Contemporary, 888 Newark Avenue, Jersey City

Who: Speakers from the worlds of business, technology, and the arts

Admission: Free


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