85 Metro Detroiters among 1,500 young Jews at annual TribeFest.
Nearly 1,500 young Jews from across North America — including 85 from Metro Detroit, the largest contingent from any major city — converged in Las Vegas March 25-27 for the second annual TribeFest, sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America.
The event, co-chaired by Detroit’s own Rachel Wright along with Jason Rubinoff of Toronto, included celebrity speakers, hit musical acts and 92 partnering Jewish organizations.
“With thought-provoking presentations and compelling events, TribeFest is making the Jewish experience relevant and accessible for a whole new audience,” said Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s president and CEO.
Keynote speakers like SNL’s Rachel Dratch, New York Times bestselling author and Esquire humorist AJ Jacobs, and four-time Olympic gold-medal swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg shared stories of their Jewish experience on TribeFest’s main stage.
Attendees also heard from inspirational speakers such as Jonny Imerman, a Detroit native and young adult cancer survivor who created the nonprofit Imerman Angels to ensure that no one fights cancer alone, as well as Bradley Sherman, who shared how Jewish agencies shaped his life after a loving Jewish family adopted him from Bellefaire Adoption Center in Cleveland, Ohio, as an infant.
During the days, sessions were held by young Jewish leaders from about 50 organizations that represented groups ranging from punk Jews to Orthodox Jews to gay and lesbian Jews. At night, hit Israeli musical acts like Hatikva 6, Moshav, Diwon and Aya Korem performed.
Not all the learning took place in formal venues, however. “Our best memory: an impromptu discussion on intermarried Jews in the lobby of the Palazzo at 1 a.m. with random TribeFesters, including a military lawyer from Maryland, an app developer from San Francisco and a girl with a Russian accent from Indiana,” said Rabbi Yisrael Pinson of West Bloomfield.
“It seems that the Jewish community across North America, not just Detroit, is re-rewriting what it means to be relevant as a Federation; what has worked in the past does not necessarily work now. Truth be told, TribeFest is not your mother’s young adult convention,” wrote Kelli Saperstein, who blogged from Las Vegas on the JN and Red Thread websites.
Detroit Takes Center Stage
Detroit had several main-stage presenters. Scott Kaufman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, and Jordan Wolfe and Rachel Lachover of CommunityNEXT presented the Detroit Federation’s initiative that attracts and retains young talent in Michigan. In just two years, CommunityNEXT has tripled the number of engaged young Jews in Detroit. Miryam Rosenzweig, director of NEXTGen, presented how Detroit is radically changing (successfully!) the approach to outreach and engagement.
“What has become apparent is that Detroit is leading the initiative to adapt to the changing times and is quickly becoming an example for other communities who are looking to retain, attract and engage young people. Detroit is becoming a magnetic city — a place that keeps people here,” Saperstein wrote.
Matt Ran of Bloomfield, who was at TribeFest for the second year, said the Detroiters at TribeFest definitely got noticed, and “not only because of our amazing sweatshirts (that nobody else had), but because of the fact we sat and traveled as a group. Even the former Detroiters were flocking over to us.”
Detroit’s major presence at TribeFest left Jenny Gross of Farmington Hills with a sense of pride.
“I felt so lucky to be a part of the many Detroit TribeFest attendees,” she said. “Attending TribeFest truly showed me how lucky I am to be part of such an incredible Jewish community in Metropolitan Detroit.”
In the spirit of Jewish collective action, there was a service project in collaboration with PJ Library as TribeFest-goers traveled to six Las Vegas elementary schools to read and deliver 4,000 books to children. Saperstein blogged about the day.
“Today, each of us had the opportunity to be perhaps the one person who empowers a child and helps to change their self-image. As Jews, we are charged with tikkun olam, and this collection of Jews at TribeFest is helping to not only repair, but also to change the world.”
The service project was a highlight of the event for Jay Hack from Royal Oak. “The kids were receptive, attentive and just very cool to spend time with,” he said. “TribeFest was definitely a special experience.
I enjoyed learning from my contemporaries from other cities, listening to them struggle with similar challenges as well as understanding the solutions that they have developed and that we could implement.”
Keeping The Spirit Alive
Perhaps one of the most valuable takeaways from TribeFest is the sense of mission, enthusiasm and purpose that attendees take home with them.
“I had only recently started to get involved with the Jewish community,” said Brian Shulman of Farmington Hills. “I left the conference with new friends and a sense of connection to the community I might not have gotten until much later if I didn’t attend.”
Rachel Taubman of Novi said that this, her first trip with the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, wouldn’t be her last.
“It was amazing to feel the energy that having 1,500 young Jewish adults from around the country brought to Vegas. I went on the trip with three friends who have not been very connected in our Jewish community and have come back to Michigan with these friends ready to be more active and engaged in every way possible,” she said.
As the event was wrapping up and she was readying herself for the flight home, Saperstein wrote: “This has been an amazing trip that has bonded 80-plus Detroiters together with a unique experience … This feeling we have at TribeFest will not end just because the conference is over. The conversations that started here will be continued and shared back in the D.”BY JACKIE HEADAPOHL | MANAGING EDITOR