Tribefest 2014 Was a Global Jewish Convention of Insight, Kinship for Louisville Group

From March 16-18, six young Jewish adults from Louisville ventured to New Orleans (NOLA) for Tribefest. It was a Jewish leadership convention that drew around 2,000 Jews from all around the country, Canada and even as far as Israel, ready to experience the joys and special connection of a shared culture.

We learned from captivating speakers who shared their journeys of a deep-seated faith of our people. We learned from each other in breakout sessions where we discussed real-world issues and how as a united front, we can make a true difference. The Jewish people are inimitably resilient.

We learned through service projects, such as reading to disadvantaged children and making crafts with the elderly, just how incredible it is to affect real change. Tribefest 2014 kindled a sense of faith in Judaism as well as in fellow tribe members.

A small but a proud group, we interacted with other delegations that had up to 70 members. Tribefest is valuable, in part, because it fosters a feeling of a close-knit community. It felt fantastic to be around so many peers that told of similar tales of how their families immigrated to this country and of familiar formative religious upbringings. Jewish people are innately connected, and we have to be consciously appreciative of that.

As Greg Liberman, CEO of JDate wisely pointed out, “For 3500 years, Jews have dealt with existential threats, and yet, here we are.” No matter what studies emerge or fears might run amiss, Ben Platt of Pitch Perfect and The Book of Mormon fame contended, “Jews are the best underdogs in the world.” And as underdogs, we must reach out to each other and continue to build a loyal and loving sense of community.

We were thankful to have Tzivia Levin Kalmes, Federation Development Director and Hillel Director as such a caring, inclusive, and hard-working leader of our Louisville young Jewish adults circle. She even sacrificed her spot in a service project to ensure that the rest of us would have opportunities to have such a rewarding experience giving back tzedekah.

Kalmes found Tribefest to be beneficial for it “allowed [her] to connect with the Louisville group and other young adults in nearby cities.” She further said, “I learned a lot about the global Jewish community, philanthropy, and unique programming ideas that I hope will help me serve our community more effectively.”

Ben Rubenstein also gleaned significance from our time at Tribefest, as it “helped [him] to network among national and regional Jewish communities.” Rubenstein says, “I am excited to maintain those connections for professional and personal purposes.”

Our NOLA knowledge was not just a standstill moment in time, but will continue to have a ripple effect. As Rubenstein explained, “Tribefest definitely enhanced how I want to be involved in the Jewish community and broadened it to a regional scale that I was unaware was possible. Incorporating this regional support will not only create more opportunities but could open new possibilities for our own programming.” We are passionate about advancing societal prospects.

Also, Rubenstein was particularly enthused with “the people and how easy it was for us all to come together and connect on so many other levels than our Jewish identity. I have already seen two people from Cincinnati that I met there and I am look[ing] forward to making the most of these new friends and connections.” We became friends with fellow young Jewish leaders from all over the country.

Alexandra ‘Sasha’ Belenky was another one of our cohesive Louisville group who was impacted by the conference in NOLA. Belenky “was surprised and impressed by the effort on the part of so many Jewish organizations to explore diversity and inclusion within Jewish life, and the attempt to engage those who have not been active within the Jewish community.”

As Rabbi Sharon Brous, one of the Tribefest speakers said, we need to learn to “throw away the envelope” of rigid viewpoints and aim to be more welcoming to all kinds of Jews. We can do more to fortify our alliance.

“There is still a long way to go, however,” Belenky observed. “Having emigrated from the Soviet Union, and grown up around other Russian Jews, I felt like my cultural experience with Judaism was not always well-represented at Tribefest.” This was the third Tribefest gathering, so hopefully future conferences will be even more comprehensive.

She agreed with the rest of our Louisville delegation regarding the invaluable worth of Tribefest to facilitate “Jewish young adults from all across the country to discuss and explore what Judaism means to us, and what it will look like going forward.” A great deal of emphapsis was placed on how we might fit into the future of supporting Judaism in a modern, constructive manner.

Belenky, too, enjoyed “getting to know other Jewish young adults from [her] community and other communities close to Louisville.” Tribefest did a magnificent job of encouraging positive rapport, so we could understand the importance of collaborating with Jewish leaders.

“I also had the opportunity to reconnect with a friend from Vanderbilt University Hillel who I had not seen since graduating in 2009. That was pretty neat!” Belenky said.

Our Louisville group grew closer through our joint adventures as we relished expanding our perspectives in a city of thrilling jazz, delicious eats and fascinating culture. There is nothing quite like being in New Orleans among so many who are uniquely bonded to you through a rich history. Tribefest cultivated renewed convictions and the desire to learn and help others.

Tribefest concluded with keynote speaker Doug Ulman, cancer survivor and CEO of LIVESTRONG, who emphasized value built on the substance of community. Ulman fervently believes that communities can solve great problems and provide solutions to improve the quality of life for everyone.

When asked, “How did you survive what you’ve been through?” Ulman stated that people who had been diagnosed valued working together to get better, sourcing ideas, finding solutions, encouraging one another to solve problems rather than simply talk about them. Having a community of people battling cancer was vital for him. “It’s the dialogue, it’s the conversation, full of stories and people,” said Ulman.

One of the most moving moments of Tribefest was when Ulman recounted his personal story. “My parents taught us the difference between a community and a crowd. In a crowd, people push, shove and they elbow, and they try to get ahead of the person next to them. And in a community, people look each other in the eye, they smile, shake hands and they may even hug. They realize at the end of the day none of us get the opportunity to move forward unless all move forward together.”

We now understand that it is our responsibility to embrace those around us facing devastating obstacles. Ben Platt said it best when he maintained, “Happy and sad events in someone’s life are shared by the whole Jewish community.”

In Louisville, we may be a smaller community, but as a unified group, we hold promise to advance and affect the world around us. We seek to see each other genuinely and not just glance. We shall be a devoted, compassionate society, never forgetting our bonds to one another.

None of us this would have been possible were it not for the tremendous generosity and support of the Jewish Federation of Louisville for granting us the subsidies that made Tribefest possible. It was a life-changing experience for all of us. We are all inspired to be involved in future endeavors of our local community.

Editor’s note: The Louisville delegation to Tribefest included Alexandra “Sasha” Belenky, Jacob Efman, Ben Goldenberg, Julie Lamb, Tzivia Levin Kalmes and Ben Rubenstein.

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