TribeFest 2011 offers non-stop energyMarch 7, 2011
DAY ONE: SUNDAY, MARCH 6
The first annual TribeFest took off at lightening speed Sunday afternoon, March 6, and as of writing hasn’t shown any sign of letting up. Perhaps it’s the energy of the host-city Las Vegas, or the 1200 young adults from 80 communities across North America, or the loud pop and techno music that seems to greet us as we enter every room.
Much of the excitement has certainly been generated by high quality speakers, guests, visiting Congresspeople, and discussion sessions that have been on offer non-stop throughout the day. In the spirit of Vegas sensory overload there was not just one opening keynote address but four. Here is an abbreviated list of the highlights:
- Actress/Poet/Playwright/Native New Yorker Vanessa Hidary (aka the Hebrew Mamita) performed her famous ‘Phd in Him’ routine.
- Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, described how the ideals of tikkun olam and tzedakah factored into her years of public service. She also mentioned her recent visit with Gabrielle Giffords and her confidence that Giffords would one one day come back to represent Arizona’s eighth district in Congress.
- Actress Mayim Bialik described what it was like growing up Jewish not just on a hollywood sitcom set, but also within a Federation system, which played a part in shaping her family’s modern Jewish identity.
- Security expert Aaron Cohen fondly quoted former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who said “Pessimism is not a luxury we can afford ourselves.” He then encouraged everyone to do our part for Israel, which includes, in his own words ‘tweeting our feelings.’
The day concluded as more than 1,000 attendees came together for an evening of fantastic musical acts, including Soulico and Israeli hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari. Watch a clip (on the Federation’s Facebook page) from Ben-Ari’s performance, which captures some of the days ongoing excitement and energy:
DAY TWO: MONDAY, MARCH 7
The best parts of the second day were all crammed into one incredible hour following breakfast. The fun-hearted Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman painted a picture of the local Jewish community (the city has 70,000 Jews and is the fastest growing Jewish community in the nation) and professed his warm affection for Federation.
Mayor Goodman was followed by another Jewish public servant, Nevada Congresswoman Shelly Berkley. Berkley proudly wore her Lion of Judah pin and candidly described the present moment as a ‘golden age’ for Jews, marked by our power and access in the heights of government and as policy makers. She encouraged us to not make the mistake of ever ‘laying-low’, and to stand tall and make a difference.
The most moving of the morning presentations, however, clearly belonged to Alina Gerlovin Spaulding, who had the entire audience fighting back tears (some more successfully than others) as she described her life journey from a poor village in Ukraine to the United States, and the personal path that eventually saw her adopting two needy Ukranian Jewish children. It would not have been possible without the Federation, she explained, without people exactly like us.
A diverse array of break-out sessions continued throughout the day, eventually followed by a YAD happy hour and capped off by an evening of comedy with Joel Chasnoff and a musical performance from Yemen Blues, with a special guest appearance from Y-Love (Watch the clip).
DAY THREE: TUESDAY, MARCH 8
Every last ounce of energy was mustered for the final moments of TribeFest. After splitting off for an array of sessions we came back together one last time, where a surprise awaited us. Underneath one of our seats was a free ticket to Israel for the Young Leadership’s upcoming summer mission. After blindly tearing a variety of product labels and stickers off the bottom of our chairs the winner was found – a young woman from Indianapolis.
Sonal Shah from the White House’s Office of Social Innovation proceeded to take the stage and managed to quickly refocus the crowd. She spoke about the changing dynamic between business, government and non-profit organizations, and how new innovative models are serving the needs of all three, which is in turn precipitating a convergence of interests and shared solutions. She called on us to continue to seek new models, with the goal of bringing these sectors even closer together to solve bigger issues locally and around the world.
Finally, the self-described ‘social-justice freak’ Ami Dar, founder of idealist.org, closed out this year’s TribeFest. He described his experiences as a young Israeli in the army, later traveling the world for several years, and eventually realizing his life’s goal was to ‘get the good guys to come together.’ His next project is to take idealist.org to the next level, to a point where people can be brought together not just to work and volunteer for great causes, but to truly solve the ‘meta-issues’ that prevent people from truly connecting, that can propel us to overcome inaction, and to ultimately ‘make things better,’ as he put it.
A few final words from the TribeFest co-chairs and there we had it – it was over. We left exhausted but uplifted, better connected to the volunteers and professionals among us, and determined more than ever that each of us can and already does play an integral part in making our communities back home vibrant hubs of Jewish life.