A dozen young Jewish leaders from Pittsburgh took off last week for a few days in Las Vegas, and what happened to them there will not stay there.
That’s because they immersed themselves in Jewish culture, returning home energized and inspired to help build community here.
TribeFest, a gathering organized by the Jewish Federations of North American that drew more than 1,500 attendees, offered those in their 20s through early 40s a variety of ways to connect to Judaism through a series of lectures and music concerts.
The event showcased such speakers as U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), acclaimed novelist Joshua Braff and actress Mayim Hoya Bialik, as well as musical acts Soulico, Y-Love and violinist Miri Ben Ari.
“I’ve been to several of the conferences [organized by the Jewish Federation of North America’s National Young Leadership], but this is the first time in five years there has been one of this magnitude,” said Larry Schwartz, chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Young Adult Division (“YAD”).
“I thought it was a great event,” he added. “It’s always great when you get that many people there with a similar vibe. When you leave there you want to do more.”
One particularly relevant topic presented, said Schwartz, was “being Jewish in the 21st century.”
“We talked about how to modernize Judaism and make it relevant without losing what it means,” he said.
Schwartz is excited to take some of the ideas generated at the conference and implement them in Pittsburgh.
“We have to make adjustments,” he said. “It’s not a reinvention, but a re-visioning. There are a lot of new ideas, but in the end, the whole idea is outreach to the young adult community.
“The Federation needs to raise money and funds to achieve its goals, but if we don’t engage people and build community, we won’t get those funds to do all those good works.”
A case in point, highlighting the necessity of maintaining a strong, connected global Jewish community, was speaker Alina Gerlovin Spaulding, a refusnik from the former Soviet Union, who talked about the Federation’s impact on her life.
“Alina told us her life’s story and how the Jewish community, through the funds raised by the Federations, made it possible for her family to leave the former Soviet Union and start a new life,” said attendee Catia Kossovsky, Pittsburgh’s Young Women’s Chair of YAD.
After Spaulding’s father suffered a debilitating accident, and her family was evicted from their home, the Federations “acted fast,” Kossovsky recounted, bringing the family to the United States, and arranging life-saving surgery for Spaulding’s father.
“Her (Spaulding’s) life was shaped by the Federation’s assistance and she moved all of us in the audience to tears with her speech,” said Kossovsky, who also served as Pittsburgh’s Tribefest co-chair, along with her husband, Yuval Kossovsky.
Attending Tribefest with other local young Jewish leaders helped strengthened bonds within that group as well, Schwartz noted.
“It was great for the Pittsburgh community to have a bunch of leaders there,” he said. “Now, we’re tighter than we used to be.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)