Happy to Be the Exception to the Rule… This Time

By Mark Edelson

What happened there certainly did not stay there, and it’s a good thing too, because what happened at TribeFest 2011 in Vegas turned out to be one of the most illuminating experiences of my life.  And that life includes emigrating at age 15, an Oranim Taglit-Birthright trip at age 18, and backpacking through Europe alone at age 20.  To say that TribeFest, an annual North American seminar for Jewish young adults, was eye-opening is no small feat.  Now you might presume that I’m being slightly liberal with my adjective use, but one day when my family and I are so entrenched in Baltimore Jewish life that some might believe I was born here, I will always know that it started with TribeFest and THE ASSOCIATED Young Leadership Council (YLC).

How about a little context?

I emigrated from my native Sunny South Africa at age 15  – yes, “Sunny” is part of the official title – with my parents and sister.  We uprooted and moved to Humid Atlanta – ok, now I’m just taking liberties – where I lived for eight years before moving to Baltimore to continue my education at The University of Maryland School of Law.  Upon my arrival, I was largely unaware of just how rich and cohesive the Baltimore Jewish community is, but I soon got a glimpse of the full picture.  I received an early introduction to THE ASSOCIATED and all aspects of the local community from spending many wonderful Shabbos’im with my cousins in Pikesville.  I often felt motivated to get more involved but simply did not have the time to fully commit what with the rigors of being a full-time law student and being a 20-something guy with a South African accent.  I always told myself that once I was finished with law school and had a steady routine, my primary goal would be to put down some lifelong roots in Baltimore, and more importantly, Jewish Baltimore.

A few months after graduating from law school, I had the most extraordinary turn of luck, or perhaps something slightly more omniscient, and found employment at a law firm run by two pillars of the Baltimore Jewish community: Brian and Evan Goldman.  Not long after starting at the firm, I told Evan that I wanted to get more involved in the community and asked what he knew about IMPACT. That was all it took.  Within a week I was meeting with associates from IMPACT, learning about all of the amazing things that THE ASSOCIATED does worldwide, and attending more happy hours than my liver would appreciate.  But I wanted more…

It was around this time that I heard about TribeFest: a few thousand young professional Jews from around the country participating in three days of networking, seminars on subjects ranging from Jewpardy to the international perception of Israel to a Jewish wine-tasting, and of course, the occasional happy hour.  In addition, every day there was a keynote address at which all participants would congregate in the main conference room to be entertained, moved, and  most of all, inspired by a host of political figures, actors, comedians, musicians and athletes, all of whom are tied together with a common, unrelenting bond – being Jewish and proud of it.

I distinctly recall sitting in the conference room on the Tuesday morning for the final address and some words from the organizers extending gratitude to the participants and expressions of hope that we had enjoyed ourselves and made some good connections in the process.  I looked around at the people at my table that I had met and with whom I had become instant friends in the previous 24 hours.  I glanced out at the rest of the room and saw a few thousand people that I’d become inextricably attached to over the course of just a few short days.  I could tell by the sparkle in their eyes that they were feeling the same thing I was and that in that very moment the room we were sitting in could have been in Las Vegas, Pretoria or Tel Aviv and it would not have made one bit of difference, because in that moment, we were home.

Upon returning to Baltimore, I decided that I was not going to let that feeling subside and I inquired about getting more involved in IMPACT and THE ASSOCIATED.  The logical next step, I was told, was to apply for YLC. I did so and then learned that Evan had been a previous member of YLC and that it had proved to be the gateway to his extensive involvement in the community.  I’m assuming this did not hurt my application.  Now, about seven months into my first year of YLC, I am happy to report that my experience has been exciting, educational and fulfilling.

My hopes were to gain insight into the inner workings of THE ASSOCIATED and its impact on local and not-so-local communities. Through our regular meetings at various locations in and around the city, I have gained a working understanding of the numerous agencies and individuals who seamlessly coalesce to improve the lives of those around them.  I have also gained a greater understanding of the type of role that I would like to play in THE ASSOCIATED and the Jewish community in general.

Next year, as a second year YLC participant, I will have the opportunity to observe the board meetings of one of THE ASSOCIATED’s agencies or internal committees. It is exactly this type of opportunity that I relish and that would not be available without THE ASSOCIATED and IMPACT.  And it is thanks to the fervor and energy of the countless individuals that make up these great organizations that I cannot wait for the next opportunity to become further ingrained in the Baltimore Jewish community.

That is a small glimpse into my time at TribeFest and my involvement in YLC.  With this year’s Tribe Fest coming up in six short weeks, I am filled with questions about the experience that this year’s participants will have: will there be as many or more TribeFesters? Will the keynote addresses be as moving and awe-inspiring as last year? Will other people have the same life-altering moment as I did? Will Gary Busey and Lil John make another guest appearance at the Saturday night welcome event? I honestly have no idea how any of it will unfold for this year’s attendees. But I can tell you this much, I will be there to find out.

Register for Tribefest>>

Looking for something to do in Jewish Baltimore? Check out j-more.org!

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Filed under Leadership Development, Young Adults

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