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Young adults get set to gather in Vegas

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Former Saturday Night Live cast member and comedian Rachel Dratch to appear at Tribefest

In just its second year, TribeFest, “a celebration” of Jewish culture for young North American Jews, is on pace to attract a capacity crowd of 1,800 people to its three-day event in Las Vegas next month.

TribeFest co-chair, Toronto native Jason Rubinoff, 41, said he’s excited to be part of an initiative meant to give Jews avenues to make meaningful connections.

A Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) project, TribeFest drew more than 1,300 people from 84 communities to its inaugural event last year.

The programming caters to Jews between the ages of 22 and 45 who are encouraged to connect with their roots by learning about Jewish culture, social justice, networking and socializing during the three-day event at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas March 25 to 27.

Building on its momentum from last year, Rubinoff said he is encouraged by the commitment from Canadians who have already registered.

About 70 Canadians attended last year, but this year they’re on pace to double that number.

“Last year, Ottawa sent nobody. The Canadians came from Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg,” Rubinoff said.

He said registration just opened last month, and at least 10 Jews from Ottawa have already signed up.

“It’s a matter of spreading the word. And if you can get those connectors, friends bring friends.”

Rubinoff emphasized that TribeFest is not a conference.

“It’s really a celebration. The whole idea is to really connect people. It’s not about a conference that’s all about federation,” Rubinoff said.

“Typically, conferences are about campaigning, giving back, getting involved, giving money… TribeFest is really about finding people and opening up the tent and letting everybody come in. The goal is for them to discover something Jewish about them, and hopefully along the way… they’re going to be able to connect with something that they didn’t connect to before.”

Participants will be treated to presentations from entertainers, authors and athletes including former Saturday Night Live cast member and comedian Rachel Dratch, New York Times best-selling The Year of Living Biblically author A.J. Jacobs and four-time Olympic gold medalist, swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg.

In addition to the main stage speakers, the scheduled programming includes content on six different themes, or tracks: faith and spirituality, Israel and the Middle East, culture and the arts, social justice and global responsibility, innovation, and hot topics.

Rubinoff said JFNA solicited proposals for programs, and he was floored by the interest as more than 150 program proposals were submitted by local federations and individuals.

In addition to lectures and programs, TribeFest will also present a “Big Show.”

“It’s an exhibit hall where organizations set up tables, and it’s a good opportunity for people to walk through and discover Jewish organizations and establish meaningful dialogue with organizations.”

TribeFest has even incorporated a social service project in partnership with PJ Library, a non-profit organization that mails free Jewish-themed children’s books to families in 165 North American communities.

Rubinoff said TribeFest organizers will send busloads of participants to various public Las Vegas schools in underprivileged areas on March 26, to distribute 1,000 backpacks filled with books.

“We’ve actually worked with the school board to identify what they need, that the books are age appropriate and specifically for the curriculum. These are books that the parents of these children would not be able to afford,” Rubinoff said.

“It’s a very powerful way of demonstrating the act of giving back and giving to a community.”

Elyse Lackie, incoming chair of JFNA’s National Young Leadership Cabinet, a network of socially conscious Jews in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, said she attended TribeFest last year, and will be there again in March.

She said it’s exciting to watch people getting engaged and excited about Jewish culture.

“It is so invigorating to see so many different faces of a young Jewish community. And this is not what your parents or grandparents would have looked like 50 years ago. It’s a totally new look,” Lackie said.

“There are tons of different opportunities – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to connect to something. Jews are looking to connect in meaningful ways and that’s not exclusive to Jewish connections.”

As for the role of the federations, Lackie described them as conveners that bring people together for a good cause.

“If you have an experience that invigorates you in a Jewish way, we’re going to make it possible for you to continue on that Jewish journey. That’s our role – not to do it for you, but to open the door for you and show you to experience it for yourself.”

For more information and to register, visit www.tribefest.org.

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