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Experiences from TribeFest 2012

By Matthew Reiff, Online Marketing Coordinator

Day 1 – Sunday, March 25

The main hall, just before 1,516 young adults poured in.

TribeFest is a weekend long conference for young Jewish adults focused on engaging community and enriching identity. It should also be mentioned that this conference is 1,516 people strong and like our ancestors, meets in the desert. Well, Las Vegas.

Our first day started on strong with addresses from Rachel Wright and Jason Rubinoff, TribeFest co-chairs, and then Rachel Dratch of Saturday Night Live fame, who brought down the house by first addressing us all in “Jewish grandmother from Brooklyn voice” and then questioning how we were supposed to overcome stereotypes while we teach our children a game (dreidel) that most resembles stock trading.


Alia Gorkin and Ariella Leaffer represent the Bay Area and hold up signs for our incoming participants.

Also, it should be mentioned that this many people all moving about in one (albeit giant) hotel, really makes a stir. Everywhere I go, on elevators, to get coffee, trying to find registration, I have run into not a few others who are part of this conference, but scores. Following that, the community feeling has made its way through the halls of the hotel, and one of the real joys of this conference so far has been simply striking up conversations with total strangers.


Sarah Lefton of winning the Shark Tank and $1,000

The first breakout session I attended was inspired by ABC’s “The Shark Tank,” which brings a panel of expert “celebrity investors” – including noted experts on Next Gen issues – to evaluate innovative programs aimed at reaching out to and engaging young adults. The Bay Area’s own Sarah Lefton of G-dCast, up against other notable projects such as Moishe House  from New York and CommunityNEXT, from Detroit, took home the grand prize.

Day 2 – Monday, March 26

TribeFest attendees ready for reading.

Seven thirty in the morning isn’t the first hour that comes to mind for a person’s second day in Las Vegas. But that’s exactly when hundreds of TribeFest attendees met for breakfast and started to get ready for their service project. Focused on literacy and tikkun olam, we boarded buses and made way for the elementary school. My student, Jacqueline, who hates Halloween because people call her “Jacq-olantern,” likes soccer, and said she loves to read chapter books. Specifically, Judy Blum’s Superfudge and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing were her favorites. Now, I was under the impression that I’d be reading to her. But no need – she ended up reading most of the books in our donation bag to me. Although, I did need to explain who Sandy Koufax is and what being a “lefty” meant in baseball.

The group discusses grant making.

Later in the afternoon I attended what I was told was the most popular seminar from last year, the 90 minute Slingshot Fund, and quickly saw that it deserved its fine reputation. With $5,000 real dollars up for grabs, this session offered insight into the thinking and strategizing of grant making. Sitting in groups of eight or so, each table was given a book full of profiles of Jewish non-profits, stacks of cards that featured possible values for our imaginary grant circle, and a card with four specific organizations to choose from. First, each group would read through the value cards and choose three that we wanted to represent us in our mock granting foundation. We chose “Effectiveness,” “Tolerance,” and “Community.” We discussed and debated whether we wanted to fund a young project or an old one, a large one or a small one, and how each of our organizations matched up to the values we had picked. Now, even though our first pick,, didn’t get the $5k prize, I’d say that everyone walked away with the real value of the session, an insight into grant making process.

In the evening, we had a lively reception for Bay Area attendees before people headed down for the night’s entertainment.

Day 3 – Tuesday, March 27

Keeping the energy strong, the closing main stage event featured Jordan Wolf, leader of Detroit’s wildly successful CommunityNEXT program aimed at young adults (it should be mentioned that Detroit’s group had 80 participants this year) that has taken participation from around 1,000 to over 4,500, with a very modest budget and a plan to keep their new community connected for a lifetime. Following Jordan, we heard from Jonathan Greenblat, founder of Ethos Water, a company that with a portion of its profits works to make safe, clean water available around the world. Greenblat sold the company to Starbucks in 2006 and is currently serving as Special Assistant to the President of the United States and Director of the U.S. Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

Finally, we had our closing. As people trickled out of the hotel, into cabs, and to the airport, I for one certainly knew and recognized many more faces than when I first arrived. It’s hard to say specifically what the take away from TribeFest is, because there isn’t simply one answer. With a menu of sessions based around discovering and enriching one’s personal identity, I’m sure that the lasting lessons and discoveries are just as varied as the people who come to TribeFest – and I’d say that this is the point.

You see more from my trip to TribeFest on Facebook and Twitter.

Ariella Leaffer and Alia Gorkin of SFJCF with Julia Malkin of East Bay Jews at the Bay Area reception.

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