By Dov Hoffman
Let’s run through a series of questions leading up towards my second TribeFest experience. If asked as a young child growing up in New York if I ever thought I’d live in Baltimore, I would have answered “no.” Even after spending middle school and high school at Yeshivat Rambam, if asked if I’d live in Baltimore as a young adult, I would’ve responded “unlikely.” Upon my return from a Young Judaea gap year in Israel, if asked whether I’d attend a young Jewish leadership conference in Las Vegas in 2012, the answer surely would not have been “yes.”
However, as we all know, life doesn’t always play out as expected. One of my favorite phrases to this day is the Yiddish quote, “Mann tracht und Gott lacht.” Translated into English, this means, “Man plans and G-d laughs.”
I moved to Baltimore the week after I turned 11. Despite not having a choice in the matter, this would pay off in years to come. Since graduating from Towson University in 2010, I have become an active volunteer within the Greater Baltimore Jewish community and an advocate for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. After graduation, I realized that Baltimore presented great opportunity for an up-and-coming young professional, so I decided to call Charm City “home.”
In college I was active in a number of student organizations, with the American Marketing Association (AMA) being one of them. At an AMA professional networking event which I attended, there were a couple of folks from The Associated. I connected with them, and it didn’t take long until I was introduced to IMPACT, the young adult division of The Associated. For one reason or another, I didn’t make it to any of their upcoming events.
Months passed and it was at my family Rosh Hashanah table that The Associated and IMPACT were brought up once again. My cousin and her husband, who are lay-leaders in The Associated, recommended that I check out IMPACT. Soon after, I heard about the annual Chanukah Latkes & Vodkas event and figured I’d give it a shot. After all, how bad could it be, they did advertise latkes & vodkas, right? It was through my continued involvement in meeting with IMPACT staff and attending their events that I heard about an upcoming young Jewish leadership conference in Vegas, TribeFest.
I was initially attracted to TribeFest because I was told it would be the perfect opportunity to connect with other like-minded young Jewish professionals equally passionate about growing a stronger Jewish community and other related issues. Plus, it was a chance to explore Vegas for a few days.
With it being over two years since attending TribeFest in 2012, I’m amazed at the impact it has had on my life – both professionally and personally. First of all, other than an experience like this, where else do you get to jam out with the Moshav Band, hear William Daroff speak, and take a picture with Rachel Dratch? And that’s not to mention the countless other moving speakers which we heard at the conference in addition to break-out sessions, evening “mash up” social events, and volunteer service projects. It was truly an inspiring trip.
Being with over 1,500 similar individuals, all there for the same reason: to connect, explore, and celebrate our Judaism was something I had never experienced before. I still keep in touch with the young adults who I met from other federations, but my strongest connections have been with my fellow young leaders here in Baltimore. We had 25 attendees and I barely knew anyone heading into the program. Now, I consider these some of my closest friends and we all get together regularly whether for Shabbat dinners, social events, or volunteer activities.
The obvious question: why did I go back for take two? Well, I never have been to New Orleans, so that was a reason in itself. But, in all seriousness, I went back because I left TribeFest in 2012 motivated to learn more about how young Jewish leaders are thinking and how I could translate that to being a part of growing a stronger Jewish community here in Baltimore. Between the social activities, networking events, and volunteer aspects, it was a logical decision to return again.
I feel that I’ve grown as an individual and leader from my TribeFest trip in 2012. Since then, I have participated in Taste of IMPACT, and am currently serving as a board member for Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC), a committee member for Jewish Volunteer Connection-Young Adults (JVC-YA), in addition to being a part of the two-year program, Young Leadership Council (YLC). I have made a conscious effort to take the appropriate steps and groom myself as an up-and-coming leader. After all, despite what I thought growing up as a young child, in middle school or high school, or as a college graduate, I have since realized that for now, Baltimore is the place I can comfortably call home.
TribeFest 2014 was everything I would have expected and more. It built on the experiences from my previous trip, but it was extra special to spend Purim in New Orleans with over 1,300 young Jewish leaders from across the country. One of my favorite highlights were the speakers including Doug Ullman, president & CEO of the Livestrong Foundation; Joshua Malina, actor from the hit show Scandal; David Weiss, writer from the Rugrats Movie, and Avital Zeisler, self-defense expert and motivational speaker. I also really enjoyed the breakout sessions, in particular, Start-Up People: Strategies for Engaging Jewish Tech Entrepreneurs, as well as the musicians, Soulfarm and Mikey Pauker.
If I had to narrow it down to one takeaway from TribeFest 2014, it would be: don’t take the opportunities presented for granted. I consider myself fortunate to have explored my passion for volunteerism and Israel while discovering new avenues for action. I also got to celebrate and embrace the many rich aspects of Jewish life, heard dynamic speakers share their stories and why being Jewish matters to them, and most importantly, connected with over 20 fellow leaders here in the Baltimore Jewish community.
What sticks with me the most weeks after coming back are the last words I heard before departing the conference: “How will you take TribeFest home? It’s time for young adults to raise our voice. We are the now generation.”
This puts the responsibility on my generation to decide how we will impact the Jewish community. Not only here in Baltimore, but beyond. Whether it is planning a Shabbat dinner, helping out the elderly, or finding a way that’s meaningful to you, I encourage all young leaders to become involved. Raise your voice and remember, we are the now generation.
Interested in learning more about ways for young professionals to connect with the Greater Baltimore Jewish community? Check out IMPACT’s website, or contact me directly if you’d like to find out about opportunities with JVC.