Next month, more than 1,000 Jews from across North America are expected to wander into the desert for three days and nights to discover their personal connection to Judaism. While these modern-day descendants of Moses and Sarah will trek by plane, train and automobile to their destination — the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, their journey is equally important to the future of our Jewish people.
TribeFest, sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America, in conjunction with numerous partners, is scheduled for March 6 to March 8.
Robin Zappin of Philadelphia, national co-chair of the event, along with Robb Lippitt of Detroit, emphasizes that this is not a conference, but rather "a happening — a place where young Jews ages 22-45 can explore and embrace all aspects of Jewish life."
Workshops and programs will be varied, incorporating art, music, theater, sports and other arenas where Jews have made and continue to make their mark. "Many of the nation's top speakers have also signed on," she says.
"There will be something for every taste and interest … participants will be able to discover which aspects of Judaism resonate with them and learn how to connect with other Jews who share their interests," says Zappin.
She adds that both the name of the event and its location were selected to ensure its appeal to contemporary Jews, many of whom have had no prior Jewish community involvement.
"We wanted a fun and different destination to attract the next generation of Jewish young adults," she says, adding that "this is the first national young Jewish leadership event held on the West Coast in more than a decade."
Zappin, who serves as chair of Philadelphia Federation's Women's Young Leadership Cabinet, is not new to national Jewish communal leadership.
She and her local Men's Young Leadership Cabinet counterpart, Jeffrey Barrack, have been asked to present campaign and programming strategies that they have developed and implemented successfully here in the Philadelphia area to JFNA.
Zappin says that the experiences she has had and the people she's met through her involvement in Cabinet and in Federation's Women's Philanthropy affinity group have sparked and nurtured her leadership involvement in the Jewish community.
She is a Ruby Lion of Judah, as well as a recent graduate of Women's Philanthropy's intensive leadership-training program.
"These amazing, powerful women I have encountered on a local and national level have accompanied me on my Jewish journey, and have helped me grow as a person, a woman and a leader," she says.
Through TribeFest, an initiative that has grown out of Zappin and Lippitt's involvement as National Young Leadership Outreach & Engagement co-chairs, Zappin hopes to help others "to take their first steps on their personal Jewish journeys."
She is well-aware that these journeys are guided by each individual's unique background, affiliation and lifestyle, and advises that "while JFNA is hosting the project, we are not putting on the whole show."
She explains that the organizers are partnering with a wide variety of other organizations including Bikkurim; Birthright Israel; BirthrightNext; Code Blue; COEJL; Hazon; Hillel; Interfaithfamily. com; IsraAID; JAFI; JDC; JDub; Jewcy. com; JewishArtNow.com; Jewlicious, THE Jewish Blog; Keshet; MTV "Rock the Vote"; Punk Jews and more.
"We want TribeFest participants to discover the many diverse ways that people can connect with the Jewish community," Zappin says, emphasizing that "each individual is free to connect with whichever organization or organizations resonate with him or her."
She adds that "each new connection that is made is a 'win-win' for the entire Jewish community."
She expresses confidence that, over time, young Jewish adults will find their unique place within the Jewish community, once they have developed a positive, meaningful relationship with others who share their concerns and beliefs.
"The right relationship is everything," she says. "People don't give to causes; people give to people. First, they have to meet, trust and make this their own. Then, they will not only be loyal donors, they will feel ownership and integrity in our Federation movement."
Zappin stresses that these relationships take time to develop. Lay and staff professionals in each participating Federation community will work with TribeFest alumni upon their return and help them to continue the connection.
In Philadelphia, Greg Marks and Danielle Weiss serve as TribeFest co-chairs, assisted by their staff partner, Federation Renaissance development officer Sarah Bernstein.