In the “Great Sexpectations” episode of Sex and the City, Charlotte announces her unshakable intention to convert to Judaism in order to become eligible to marry Harry. At first Charlotte is reticent, but when she asks Harry why it’s so important that he marry a Jew, he answers, “because I want my children to be Jewish.” A deeply ingrained tribal urge to perpetuate Jewish existence, persists even when Jews are not particularly observant or religious, binding our people from one generation to the next.
This weekend over 1200 Jewish young professionals are heeding another tribal call to gather in the desert city of Las Vegas for the innaugural TribeFest event. Organized by Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), TribeFest is the first program of it’s kind. Akin to last week’s seventh annual Jewlicious Festival held in Long Beach, CA, TribeFest is featuring young hip Jewish performers, artists, and musicians. Unlike Jewlicious however, which operates beyond the old-school megalithic model, TribeFest is the Jewish Establishment’s attempt to address what’s perceived as a major issue facing the organized Jewish world. Existing leaders are aging, and there’s a shortage of passionate, capable, young new blood to accept the mantle of leadership.
TribeFest is not intended to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, decide how to make living Jewishly affordable, or determine how to stem the rate of intermarriage. According to Joe Berkofsky (JFNA spokesman), quoted in The Jewish Week, what TribeFest aims to accomplish is “to widen the tent to get more people to really reach out and get more young Jews involved not only in federations but also in Jewish life generally.”
When first introducing the TribeFest concept to directors of Federation’s regional young leadership programs, Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s CEO, shared “the measure of success of TribeFest will not be whether someone goes home and donates to their Federation. If a participant returns home from TribeFest and begins volunteering at their local JCC – that will be a success.” This is a complete shift in the traditional Federation mindset to which so many young adults express an aversion. This is a sincere attempt at building leadership for the future, regardless of which Jewish organization someone decides to become involved with.
As TribeFest approached I was contacted by critics. One was against the “elitist’” quality of the event and upset that Federations “chose Sin City for the conference.” JFNA polled hundreds of young Jews prior to selecting the venue, and guess what: Vegas is where they wanted to convene. With over 1200 registrants, I’d say JFNA chose wisely. Another dissenter, Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, insisted that the TribeFest program didn’t offer enough Jewish content; no Torah-specific programming. So he proactively volunteered his expertise and will be presenting a session called “The Kabbalah of Love” at TribeFest. The Eliezrie response is what organizers are hoping TribeFest participants will do upon their return home. Don’t like what you have in your own Jewish community? Offer a solution!
TribeFest hopes to reignite connections to Jewish community, and spark new Jewish connections where none existed before. Similar to the successful Birthright program which fosters a connection to Israel, TribeFest will highlight the vibrant cultural aspects of Jewish life, while raising political, religious and Jewish secular issues and awareness.
Whether gay, straight, religious, secular, focused on saving the planet, or just looking for your soul mate, TribeFest aims to appeal to the broad spectrum of young Jews in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. TribeFest aspires “to move young Jews to build and lead the communities in which they want to participate”, according to JFNA associate vice president Beth Mann, in a USA Today Religion article. After a fun-filled two and a half day event, Jews will once again exodus from the desert. Ultimately though, TribeFest’s success will be measured by what happens after they return home.