Israeli Bars Get Smart as Academia Finds an Unlikely Late-night Home

A new trend is marrying lectures on anything from quantum physics, linguistics, and high tech with the big city's rowdy nightlife.

Neta Halperin
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Neta Halperin

On the face of it, there doesn't seem to be much a connection between a sleazy, smoky bar and a stuffy lecture on quantum physics or dark matter. But, at least in Tel Aviv, these two strange worlds are coming together.

The result: Some of the big city's best bars are hosting lectures led by those considered as these establishments' outsiders, drawn out of the labs and research institutes into nightlife stardom.

A lecture in a Tel Aviv bar.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Even the organizers are taken aback every time by the popularity of these classes, and with the rate the phenomenon has been growing, those who don't seek an education on their night on the town will be soon considered a dying breed.

These events initiated by Weizmann Institute of Science lecturers, who were looking for ways to broaden their student base.

"We saw that the institute was teeming with listeners coming in to hear lectures, Weizmann Institute spokesman Yivsam Azgad told Haaretz, adding that those lectures "usually preached to the choir."

"We were thinking about how to get to the general public, who might find science lectures interesting but just doesn't know it. If we arrived at where they were, they might listen." Azgad added.

At first, the Weizmann Institute official offered the project to the city of Rehovot – where the world-renowned science research establishment is located – and after that initial attempt proved to be a success, he thought he'd try on the professional courts of Tel Aviv.

"They were very skeptical at first," he said, since "bar owners were reluctant to give away their establishment on Thursday nights. There were those who told me 'you don't know bars in Tel Aviv, they're loud, people drink and make out, how would the lecturer feel?'"

Only that it turned out that the skeptics were in the minority, with the project now taking place in 40 bars, including some of the biggest and most successful in the city, with another 50-venue project in the works.

"Now we're at a place where lecturers are offended for not being invited to teach," Azgad said.

In the wake of this success, a number of variations of the idea began popping up. One new venture, "User Interface on a Beer" is a series of lectures taking place in bars and geared at programmers and internet professionals.

Lior Yair, one of the project's organizers, explained that "most of the conferences dealing with these issues are very cold. Meeting in a bar and talking about things we're interested in seemed like a very natural idea and a good ice breaker."

The most recent venture in the field is project Wize, the brainchild of five friends who wanted to turn bar lectures into a weekly affair.

"We felt that between the mass parties and just having a beer something was missing," Guy Katzovich, a high-tech worker said, adding that while the group was "just forming, our goal is to change Israel's youth culture, as simple as that."

When asked whether there was a romantic aspect to introduction to linguistics and the evolution of aquatic life, Yair said: "I never that of that. But I guess that, along with alcohol and mingling, there's a romantic side as well."

"When push comes to shove, it's a place to find cute geeks and high-tech workers," he added.

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