The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) represents 157 Jewish Federations, which collectively raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually for social welfare, social services and educational needs. That’s the official line. However, the philanthropy – collectively of the 10 largest in North America, also supports communal institutions such as JCCs and arts & culture organizations including the Foundation for Jewish Culture. Individual Federations also support the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists and JDub, the parent organization of this site. All that said, according to their own research, fewer than 30% of Jews under 40 are even aware they exist. So JFNA set out to change that with a series of contests and awards, culminating this weekend with Tribefest, a gathering of 1,200 Jews under 45 on the sunset strip in Las Vegas. Amongst the presenters are the founder of Idealist, the owner of the Patriots, Mayim Bialik, and JDub’s own Soulico.
Jewcy will be on the ground, documenting participant experiences and behind the scenes footage and live blogging from select sessions. You can also follow our exploits on Twitter @Jewcymag, @JDubdeb, @bizmonides, @Professor_Cod
Sunday, March 6th
2:48PM US Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz feels compelled to clarify a misleading statement that could be misconstrued as an announcement of her intention to run for President.
2:00PM Jewlicious tells us we took all the good seats in the press row. We wonder what’s good about a press row with no table, no power, almost no internet connection, and no private audience with Mayim Bialik.
3:0oPM “I’m supposed to get you excited to be here and motivated to give something to your jewish community.” – Mayim Bialik before she goes on to profess her totally sincere and heartfelt love for the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and to share that “my Jewish identity exists alongside my religious observance, and not in place of it.” One of the best – and most nuanced – speeches we’ve heard at a Jewish pep rally.
3:15PM No better way to wrap up an opening session than with a “security expert” who tells the crowd, “Pessimism is a luxury a Jew can never allow himself.”
4:00PM Soulico sound checks while we help award a $5,000 grant to the Institute for Southern Jewish Life through workshop run by The Slingshot Fund crew.
7:30PM Soulico takes the stage, followed by Miri Ben Ari. We contemplate why all 3 acts tonight are hip hop and wonder if it has anything to do with the limited number of plane tickets required to get an MC or DJ (or violinist) onstage. (No one seems to mind.)
8:30PM JFNA, host of #Tribefest, asks us to “take the night off.” In other words, they say, “please don’t blog about the gambling, drinking, and canoodling we’re pretty sure participants came for.”
8:31PM JFNA suspicions are confirmed and justified.
Monday, March 7th
9:40AM bizmonides‘ voice is borrowed to make an announcement as the voice of Tribefest. This will be all anyone here’s from him at the conference.
10:27AM “As the representative from Las Vegas, I represent gambling, drinking, and loose women.” – Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, just after asking all the single ladies in the room to check out her single son, who stood up and waved.
11:15AM Session on “Reconnecting Jewish Americans to Israel.” Entire room has been to Israel, seems like they’ll be preaching to the choir
11:30AM Maybe young Jewish entrepreneurs and leaders are under represented on #Tribefest panels because Tribfest didn’t trust them. Some invited speakers aren’t helping the case, making “you and “they” statements when this is a room of “us.”
11:35AM Acknowledging reality of young Jews’ relationship with Israel. Panelist anecdote: 3 out of 100 Birthright Israel participants identified as Zionists. (Shocking.)
11:40AM Yoav Schreiber tells his audience that Zionism is a nationalist movement. “We have a state of Israel. Why do we still need nationalism? We need to reinvent it.”
We wonder why we’re trying to save terms. Not convinced the Jewish people live and die on the words “Zionism” and “pro-Israel” themselves.
11:45AM Panelist and Jewlicious founder David Abitbol explains that “fundamentals don’t change. Jewish community is about physical community.” May be true but it’s an interesting statement from a blogger. He also (fairly) calls out the movement of independent prayer communities proliferating in America today as meeting the needs of 1,000 Jews and not necessarily the savior of Jewish life in America.
11:55AM We head to another session and miss the lively (and at least to mobius1ski, depressing) Q & A which includes lovely sentiments that are captured in mobius1ski’s twitterfeed.
12:00PM In “Work the system” panel on leveraging institutional dollars for new Jewish ideas, Ariel Beery discusses Presentense Investments, a new program he’s rolling out to match potential volunteers (who will give time and money, but mostly time) with new entrepreneurial ventures.
12:10PM Q&A “Why isn’t there a Jewish facebook?” Groan.
1:30PM On the hunt for our next tuna sandwich.
2:21PM Waiting for “Obama & the Jewish Vote: a Look towards 2012” session to start. Most age-diversity we’ve seen in any one break out session. Curious to see if there’s similar political diversity here.
2:41PM “Obama is the most supportive President of State of Israel. This is based ‘demonstrable facts’ most notably financial support of Israel and sanctions levied against Iran.” – David Harris from National Jewish Democratic Committee. No perceivable boos in the crowd. Sign of Democratic audience or simply respect for moderator William Daroff‘s request for civility?
2:55PM David’s picture of Obama’s relationship with Israel doesn’t match reality. Tremendous strain in Israel/American relationships. – Matthew Brooks from Republican Jewish Coalition. Goes on to say American Jews and Israel need not be self-reflective about commitment to peace, whereas “Palestinians and extremist Islamists clearly do.” Such a request by Obama Administration illustrative of disconnect with American Jews.
3:00PM “Jstreet is one of most dangerous and offensive organizations in the Jewish community.” HUGE applause. “Nothing more than radicalized… (he stops and restarts) they wrap themselves in veneer of being ‘pro-israel.’” – Matthew
“I don’t talk about other organizations unless they attack me. That said, the width and breadth of our community is vast. If people want to gather under that rubric and believe in it, ‘go and be happy.’ I doubt we would cohost an event with Jstreet in the future.” – David
3:25PM Y- love steps to the mic to ask how the Tea Party will effect Jewish connections/affinity to the Republican party?
“We condemned Rand Paul and Ron Paul – two nut jobs….As in any movement, there are people on the fringe. We need to make sure they are adequately called out when so needed. A lot of the Tea Party are sympathetic to Israel.” – Matthew, skirting the actual question posed
“Matt is delusional if he thinks there will not be political ramifications for this group of loopy people. There is a mainstreaming of their ideas.” – David
3:30PM We take a break from sessions to upload some of the 100+ interviews and testimonials we’ve recorded. A few highlights:
Tuesday, March 8th. The Final Stretch
10:00AM Any better way to start off the last day than listening to a “radical” rabbi explain who Hunter S. Thompson was to a group of Jews sitting in a Las Vegas convention center? And shouldn’t a guy named Niles have a British accent?
10:10AM He gets serious, and we like what we hear. “Don’t incite our people through fear. Show them what a treasure Judaism is.” – Rabbi Niles Goldstein on the failure of Jewish organizations to connect to young Jews through Jewish values.
10:20AM In “Why Israeli Arabs are a Jewish Issue and What the Next Generation Can do to Ensure a Secure, Jewish, and Democratic State of Israel,” Anat Saragusti contrasts the treatment of Israeli Arabs in Israeli media to that of African Americans in American media. “Arabs are presented as a threat at least half of the time.” Goes on to share examples of “breakthroughs” – shows which portray Israeli Arabs not solely as stereotypes – including the Israeli edition of “Big Brother.”
10:35AM in “Combating the Assault on Israel’s Legitimacy,” Aryeh Green from Media Center is not particularly persuasive with the sweeping statement that Israel’s poor standing in the world’s view is all “the media’s” fault. More interesting is a specific example of news he believes the international media choose to ignore: the Palestinian Authority has just named a soccer tournament after Wafa Idris, the first Palestinian suicide bomber. This is confirmed by our limited Google searches which fail to turn up any international coverage. Guess this makes Jewcy the first? [Update: 14 hours later, The Jerusalem Post has this story up.]
10:50AM Q&A. An elderly rabbi who’s been seen around Tribefest passing out pamphlets supporting the use of the Mikveh (a Jewish ritual bath), steps to the podium. “I am a survivor of the 1929 Hevron massacre. What are we doing wrong that we still don’t have peace?”
10:52AM Other questions. “Is Jstreet part of the the campaign to delegitimize Israel?” “How do we better use Evangelicals to fight delegitimization?”
10:55AM Someone next to us recognizes the host of the panel, as the guy at JFNA’s General Assembly in New Orleans who put a protester in a chokehold. Suprising that he’s been given responsibilities here. Not at all surprising that the panel he’s hosting is this one.
11:45AM Its hard not to feel that the closing session of Tribefest is a bit anticlimactic. After such an intense 48 hours, what we expect to be the final rallying cry is more of a hoarse whisper, however this doesn’t seem to diminish participants’ overall excitement. When the lights come on, huge groups swarm the stage area to take pictures underneath the giant Tribefest signs.