by Wes Peskin
NFTY Operations Manager & URJ Camp Harlam alum
It probably comes as no surprise that most Jewish young professionals (mid-20s through 30s) feel there is no place for them in the traditional synagogue life prior to marriage and even then, not really until they have children.
For me, in the years since graduation, the feeling that something was missing has been all too familiar. In fact, it wasn’t until last summer when I returned to URJ Camp Harlam and subsequently began a position with NFTY and the URJ here in New York that I realized a community to call my own was the omitted piece. I don’t regularly attend Shabbat services, because for me Judaism is more about the community. And I am not alone – Jewish organizations are recognizing that, for young adults, it’s about being together and being social with other young Jews and not necessarily just about being a welcomed member of the synagogue.
The Reform Movement is seeking new and innovative ways to connect, communicate and bring the message of “You’re welcome here!” to young professionals. With that in mind, a cohort of young adults representing Reform Judaism recently attended the Jewish Federations of North America’s TribeFest conference. TribeFest hosted celebrity speakers, Jewish artists, dozens of high profile Jewish organizations and 1400+ Jewish young professionals in Las Vegas, NV!
TribeFest is about bringing together Jews from around the globe, all with different backgrounds and intentions, under one tent…
Rachel Wright, Detroit, TribeFest co-chair
From the “Main Stage” to the breakout sessions, topics spoke to young adults. Spectacular keynote addresses included sharing a laugh with Rachel Dratch of Saturday Night Live, watching a crowd of 1400 young professionals completely silenced by the inspirational words of Talia Leman (the 17 year old founder and CEO, Chief Executive Optimist, of RandomKid – an organization dedicated to providing staff and services to youth looking to embrace change and “making room for others”) and being called to action by activist Rabbi Larry Sernovitz of Old York Road Temple Beth Am in the Greater Philadelphia Area, who spoke on the importance of future parents to be tested for all of the 19 Jewish Genetic Diseases.
Breakout sessions covered entertaining, enlightening, educational and sometimes controversial topics ranging from social justice to Israel, American politics to African drum circles. There literally was something for everyone and if you couldn’t find what you were looking for in a session, you could take a stroll down the strip, spend some time at the roulette table or see a show (we were in Las Vegas after all!).
With so many issues covered, there are countless reasons why “the Tribe” descended on Vegas… but the one common denominator was that we are Young Professionals, we are Jewish and we are looking for community. And that’s really what TribeFest is all about.
It was a great conference and a great time. And while I walked away with a few less dollars in my pocket thanks to the Blackjack tables, I did walk away armed with the ideas, motivation and tools to work towards building vibrant young adult communities within the context of Reform Judaism.
Conversations started at TribeFest must continue back home as we figure out what the next steps are. Alongside the other seven staff who were at TribeFest to represent Reform Judaism, the young professionals who were clearly looking to be engaged by the Movement, and the Movement’s leadership – we will ask questions of one another, of our peers and of our leadership. Such as, what the role of the ‘lost generation’ will be in creating a community of our own, in established congregational communities and as a part the greater Jewish community? At the same time, we have to figure out what role this community plays within the lives of my peers.
How do we keep this momentum of our conversations and actions going? We need to continue the dialogue. We have to speak to those who have never been involved with Reform Judaism and those who grew up within our walls. Reach out to alumni of URJ Camps, NFTY, Israel Programs and HUC. And start the conversation with the young professionals who have been engaged by other communities for this type of program and find out what it is they’re doing and what we can take away from established and successful programs. The need to have these discussions is evident to my peers and to the Reform Movement, so we will build upon our experiences at TribeFest and find innovative ways to involve Young Professionals in Reform Judaism.