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Israelis meet in Toronto to learn about bitcoin

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Bitcoin, an online non-cash payment network, is in the news these days – big time – so what better way to attract technology enthusiasts to a meetup, than a program focusing on the new technology?

That was Ben Weinberg’s thinking, as he considered the program for the first ever “Toronto Israeli Tech Meetup,” and, as it turns out, he was right.

About 100 Israelis showed up at the law offices of Fasken, formerly Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, to hear Jeff Dennis and Oded Orgil discuss the technology, as well as to schmooze and make new contacts. Most, it turned out, didn’t know each other before they gathered for the program, Weinberg said.

They included entrepreneurs, developers and others who were curious about bitcoin, he added.

“We had people speaking Hebrew and English and we had speakers discussing blockchain technology, the tech behind bitcoin,” he said.

READ: ISRAEL BOOSTS VANCOUVER’S DRIVE TO BECOME HIGH-TECH HUB

Participants heard Dennis, the entrepreneur in residence at Fasken, and Orgil, the principal of Blockchain Investment Company and president of the Canada Israel Chamber of Commerce, discuss the cryptocurrency.

The two spoke for about 10 minutes and fielded questions for half an hour, showing how much interest there is in bitcoin technology, Weinberg said.

Weinberg, 23, is a tech guy himself who’s just starting out in the field. Largely self-taught in iOS development, he spent several months interning with an Israeli high-tech company last summer, through Onward Israel, a U.S.-based NGO that provides young people with internships, fellowships and educational opportunities in Israel.

He returned in the fall and, like others in the tech industry, attended meetups, where he invariably encountered one or two Israelis.

He looked into the meetup phenomenon and found that there were already Israeli-based meetups all over the world. One, in New Jersey, attracted 800 Israelis to one program. He even found a similar group in Vancouver, called the Vancouver Israeli Tech Club.

If Vancouver can support that sort of group, why not Toronto, he reasoned.

“Our tech base here is really strong and we have the largest population of Israelis here,” he said.

Some estimates put the numbers of Israelis, and Russian-born Israelis, in the Greater Toronto Area somewhere north of 60,000.

There was a natural constituency for an Israeli meetup, he speculated. Weinberg, a graduate of TanenbaumCHAT, put the word out through Facebook, Meetup.com and word of mouth. Initially, 200 people joined the online group and 124 expressed an interest in attending, but given that it was free of charge, he figured there’d be some no-shows. The 100 who attended made the program a real success, he said.

Weinberg, who visits family in Israel practically every summer, loved working in the country and hopes one day to work for an Israeli tech company.

Perhaps the networking he accomplished at the first Toronto meetup will lead to something. If not, he’s already got tentative plans for smaller get-togethers, held in pubs or restaurants with 15 to 20 people, to go along with the larger meetups. Although it’s not carved in stone, he’s considering a meetup in June that will focus on another hot-button technology issue: artificial intelligence.