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A Boomer Looks Back At TribeFest 2012

A Boomer Looks Back At TribeFest 2012

A lot of folks my age have misperceptions about TribeFest, if they have even heard of it.  For the uninitiated, TribeFest is Jewish Federations of North America’s conference for 20- and 30-somethings, designed to engage, educate, and inspire them to become active in the Federation system and in organized Jewish life.  TribeFest 2012 was the second such conference, both held in Las Vegas.

Of course, having a group of 1500-plus young adults in Vegas, including  an open bar with music at night and after-parties at clubs leads to certain conclusions about the event.  And I’m not going to dispel those conclusions. But I am going to challenge anyone who thinks that there isn’t much more to TribeFest. So here are my observations, as one who attended as a presenter and who participated as a partner (under the banner of Jewish Connectivity).

  • There are some amazing young adults coming up the ranks in the Jewish community. I met people who started their own philanthropic foundations while they were in their 20’s, someone who is helping a rabbi to create an eruv (Shabbat boundary) to build a traditional community in a city that hasn’t had one, a young woman who served as a volunteer in the Israeli prison system, and more than a few people who are using advocacy and political action to change the world. These people have life resumes that would impress at any age.


  • It is truly amazing to see the search for meaningful engagement and purpose among the crowd.  Among conversations people had with me, were:
    • How do I balance my work, my relationships and my volunteer work?
    • I think I could use a rabbi. I never had one. What do you do for people?
    • I could use some help to regain the joy that I used to feel in my work
    • I think I’m ready to take what I’ve learned in business and use it to serve people

A common theme was that the really inspired (and inspirational) folks credit a transformative experience that got them to where they are. Some mentioned volunteer service in high school or college, many mentioned a wake-up call by participating in Birthright Israel. 


  • TribeFest is helping the American Jewish community figure out something it never has:  where are the 20- and 30-somethings?  The answer is: They’re everywhere;  You just have to figure out what drives them. They’re not avoiding Jewish; Jewish has avoided them. TribeFest can only do so much; It’s a national event. Local communities have to now pick up the ball and run with it. What is YOUR community doing that really meets the needs of this age group?


  • The Jewish communal professionals I met at TribeFest are a high energy bunch. They may have been the folks who recruited participants, but they themselves are part of the target population, also. They work for established organizations, where they are often agents of change. They also work for younger organizations, like BirthrightNEXT and Repair the World. They’re also dynamic rabbis and cantors, who had a track running through the event.


  • TribeFest is truly collaborative. My little startup business made it onto the website and publicity alongside great organizations like JTA and NFTY. And at every step of the way, TribeFest made it abundantly clear that they valued everyone’s collaboration.

TribeFest is a startup. Like many startups, it has interesting challenges and some great initial successes.  Looks to me like it is onto something really great.

And it was an honor to be part of it. Maybe next trip, I’ll have time to actually tour Las Vegas.

Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan is the founder of Jewish Connectivity, a Jewish life coaching and consulting practice. His blog appears on and his podcasts are at

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