Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
The laughing and eager crowd of mostly single, Jewish adults were watching the large projection screens at the front of the conference hall, because the on-stage speaker, Rachel Dratch, appeared tiny and barely visible.
Dratch, a spunky and hilarious veteran of Saturday Night Live, got her point across, as did the other speakers on the Main Stage over the three days of the Las Vegas conference, pitching the Jewish Federation in an elaborate promotion of Jewish community involvement.
By the time the curtain closed on Tuesday morning, TribeFest II seemed like it was a success.
TribeFest, a conference for Jews in their late 20’, 30’s and 40’s, was held for its second year in Las Vegas. Vegas is a town that everyone loves for conferences because even if the conference is boring, there are myriad ways to be entertained and the hotel rooms are to-die-for. For the Jews of TribeFest, Vegas offered a beckoning non-stop night-life to enjoy after a half-day of conferencing.
The conference excitement did not depend solely on Vegas. Organizers and partner organizations crafted a program of break-out sessions that tapped into hot issues in the Jewish community such as sustainability, social entrepreneurship, LGBT, Israel & Zionism, dating, and the upcoming Presidential elections. The entire Monday morning program was devoted to a massive social-action project that brought thousands of books and reading help to students at troubled Vegas schools.
Aside from laughing with Dratch, there were more tears, laughter and inspiration to be found on the Main Stage. A team of lay leaders and staff selected the speakers with a strategy in mind—to underscore the TribeFest narrative of Jewish identity and how attendees can impact their community, do more, and give back, especially within a Jewish and Federation context.
TribeFest presented inspirational speakers such as Talia Leman (age 16) the CEO and a founder of RandomKid; Rochelle Shoretz, a two-time breast cancer survivor, who founded Sharsheret; and Jonathan Greenblatt, founder of Ethos Water, which provides drinking water to impoverished children. Many of the inspirational speakers shared stories of overcoming illness and personal adversity, in addition to their connections to the Jewish community. They also featured community and social entrepreneurs on the massive stage such as Jordan Wolfe from CommunityNEXT in Detroit, and Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, the Director of JHub in London.
I asked many participants about their level of current involvement in the Jewish community. While only the Federation surveys will be able to tell exactly, anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the participants are engaged in some way with their Jewish communities back at home. There were also many age-appropriate, Federation fundraisers, programmers, and lay leaders, in addition to Jewish organizational professionals who were there to participate and present. It is the hope of organizers that those already involved with the Federation will bring back enthusiasm from TribeFest and previously un-engaged participants will be more likely, in the future, to become engaged in local activities.
Sunday and Monday programming culminated with a mash-up of dinner, drinks, music and a shuk of Jewish organizations and initiatives from everywhere. Ethiopian crafts, and Israeli High-tech projects were present along with groups like Israel Forever, Nefesh b’Nefesh, AEPi, and Repair the World. Rabbinical seminaries also had booths. Relatively obscure but eminently talented Israeli acts, reggae band Hatikvah 6 and rocker Aya Korem, were a huge hit in addition to American hip hop artist Kosha Dillz, and the Israeli American band Moshav.
TribeFest participants were fortunate to be joined by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson whose company owns the Venetian. The Adelsons participated on Sunday and Monday and made themselves available to speak with participants for nearly two hours at Sunday’s Mashup.
There were other gatherings on the periphery of TribeFest. A leadership track, a rabbinical track, and some independent parties. Jewlicious and another event organizer, E-3 from Denver, created a huge sensation with a cocktail party replete with DJ and extravagant drinks, in one of the hotel’s finest 8,000 sq foot Chairman Suites.
One of the most memorable moments for me came towards the end of TribeFest. I found myself laughing with 200 other participants at one of the worst on-line dating profiles in the history of Jewish online dating, which was being displayed as an example of how-not to create an online persona. The room, full of single Jews, many of whom with tales of woe and disappointment from the dating experiences among their tribe, offered advice to the speaker about how to make the profile better. And this only made the audience laugh more.
The primary motivations behind getting Jews to Vegas for TribeFest were opportunities to socialize with other Jews and the attractions the city offers. But the primary message they carried away was not one of hedonism and excess. Most came away embracing the Federation’s mission to help Jews in need, Israel, and to serve as dedicated members of the tribe.
The organizers were clearly interested in how many participants took advantage of the subsidized stays in Las Vegas to conference and how many to party, after facing criticism from some about last year’s event. Event participation was recorded for each person by tracking their conference badge via RFID, a wireless non-contact system that uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer and store data. Among the key things that JFNA wants to learn are which issues resonated most deeply with participants to help shape future events, and how to use data on individual participants’ interests to help connect them with programs in their communities.
TribeFest is the best thing going for JFNA — a significant organizational and communal accomplishment for the largest charitable network in the Jewish world. So while participation on a national level at their annual General Assembly convention is down, and Federations around the country are downsizing, TribeFest’s 1,500 delegates is more that last year’s participation and shows no sign of slowing down.
Taking off my observer hat for a moment: TribeFest, like Limmud and Jewlicious Festival, has my backing. We need many more creative efforts to bring Jews together for the purposes of connecting with one another, becoming connected to and inspired about Jewish community, and, yes, partying with fellow Jews.
Our people — and especially those in their 20’s and 30’s — sorely need these experiences as part of their Jewish identity. The number of young Jews around the country eager for opportunities for Jewish connection is huge.
Rachel Dratch, herself of TribeFest participant age, told me, “TribeFest feels very community oriented…. It’s nice to plug back into the Jewish community, I feel a bit unplugged. Its good to recharge and get the Jewish energy going again.” Many others echoed her sentiments.
Building a Jewish future requires us to deploy new and creative ways of engaging our people who are often only partially committed to creating their own Jewish futures. The Jewish Community in North America has tools to engage the Next Generation.
As Sheldon Adelson told me, “Tomorrow’s adult participants are what will connect one generation to the other. These [young] people are the cement. Gatherings like [TribeFest] are the cement to connect generations.”
TribeFest, Jewlicious Festivals, and Limmud, are engaging young Jews by bringing dynamic people together as speakers, teachers, performers, and participants, in intense communal Jewish experiences. These immersive programs help this generation feel proud, feel connected, solve problems, and understand that they are a valued part of the Jewish community.
This approach is working.
Rabbi Yonah is Director of Jewlicious. Follow him on twitter.com/rabbiyonah.
11.3.13 at 10:01 pm |
8.16.13 at 9:21 am | The High Holidays need not be awful, they can be. . .
8.16.13 at 9:18 am |
7.16.13 at 4:26 pm | We should not look at this as an isolated. . .
6.25.13 at 12:05 pm | The debate must be change from the narrow. . .
6.9.13 at 9:27 pm | The recent proliferation of media-inspired lists. . .
7.30.12 at 2:17 pm | There is a great deal of ferver among the. . . (7)
6.30.11 at 8:20 am | I often ask myself, what would Abraham and Sarah. . . (7)
3.29.13 at 12:22 pm | We are. Don't rush to blame anyone but ourselves. (3)
April 1, 2012 | 8:18 am
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Jewlicious will be holding a Shabbat Tent Passover Seder at Paid Dues Festival lead by rapper Kosha Dillz at 6pm on April 7, 2012, in San Bernardino, California.
Paid Dues, one of the nation’s largest hip hop shows, coincides this year with the Jewish festival of Passover. With many Jewish attendees planning to attend the Hip Hop Fest, the Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz who is performing approached Chang Weisberg of Guerilla Union and Murs about the possibility of hosting a small Seder at the Festival for anyone who wants to participate.
With support from the Festival organizers, Kosha approached me about the possibility of Jewlicious and the Shabbat Tent project (www.shabbattent.org) creating a Passover Seder complete with Matzah, grape juice and a Haggadah
With so many Jewish attendees not wanting to miss out on Passover, it made sense to help create a seder at Paid Dues. Thanks to their support, the Seder will be available to people of all backgrounds.
“This might be the first time in history that anyone ever combined live hip-hop and Passover,” said Kosha Dillz who is performing with artists such as Wu Tang, Odd Future and Mac Miller. “For me it’s the only way I can play this amazing festival with family approval.”
Information on the Holiday will also be available for all attendees at the “Shabbat Tent” through- out the day, which is slated for a 6PM Seder. You may also find some of your favorite rappers in attendance.
March 21, 2012 | 1:26 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
My name is Rabbi Yonah, and I am over-wired.
Tethered to my iPhone. Waiting for the ding or buzz to announce some new tidbit of information. Someone re-tweeted. Breaking news from who-knows-where. Is that a txt message? An appointment?
At the office the routine doesn’t change. Even on vacation, no roaming farther than my portable WiFi hotspot can find service.
The intended consequences of our wired world creates such a host of distractions and interruptions that it’s a wonder some days that I manage to get anything accomplished.
Even before I became a permanent IP address in the great server in the sky, I discovered the Jewish Sabbath during college and fell in love with unplugging from the info-byte matrix. Finding a home in personal connections and spiritual devotion provided an oasis in time to refresh my soul.
While Sabbath observance is often dismissed as archaic, attitudes are changing as the pace of information and methods of delivery are unrelenting.
I am not the first to realize that over-connectedness is a harmful side-effect of our digital world, interfering with our personal, spiritual, and professional lives.
We are starting to recognize the dangers of addiction to being connected to a device-based community at the loss of real conversations and communications that take more than 140 characters.
As a response, my friends at Reboot created The National Day of Unplugging, a tech-detox day, in 2010.
With roots in Jewish tradition, this day of rest “brings some balance to our increasingly fast-paced way of life” and reclaims time, “to connect with family, friends, the community and ourselves.”
The Day of Unplugging advocates that for twenty four hours, from sundown Friday, March 23 to sundown, Saturday March 24, “shut down your computer. Turn off your cell phone. Stop the constant emailing, texting, Tweeting and Facebooking to take time to notice the world around you. Connect with loved ones. Nurture your health. Get outside. Find silence. Avoid commerce. Give back. Eat Together.”
This can be a challenge. Changing ingrained habits is never easy, especially for 24 hours.
Reboot is not advocating an Amish or Luddite culture shift. The wheels of the wired world will start spinning soon enough. However, the opportunity has arrived for many of us together to take a chance on finding serenity. Be brave and try it!
Those ancient Hebrews were on to something 3500 years ago when they laid down their tools to “rekindle” their souls.
February 16, 2012 | 10:51 am
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Yes, that is correct. Norman Finkelstein, the embattled and much maligned former professor, has called the BDS effort, an effort to destroy Israel.
Jewlicious blogger and publisher David Abitbol, has revealed a video interview with long-standing Israel nemesis Norman Finkelstein where he describes the BDS movement as “cultish and dishonest”. The video, posted on YouTube originally, then taken down because of some complaints, lives on Vimeo.
Abitbol writes in his post on Jewlicious.com, “He described these movements as cultish and dishonest and essentially agreed with our long standing criticisms of these movements – that support for the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement is basically a call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
The interview is a stinging rebuke of the BDS effort. Abitbol quotes liberally from the video, with passages that seem to be geared to Israel advocates who want to discredit BDS:
We have to be honest, and I loathe the disingenuousness. They [BDS Movement] don’t want Israel. They think they’re being very clever, they call it their three tier – we want the end of the occupation, we want the right of return and we want equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they’re very clever because they know the result of implementing all three is what? What’s the result? You know and I know, what’s the result? There’s no Israel… there’s no Israel, full stop… If you want to eliminate Israel that’s your right but I don’t think you’re going to reach anybody. I think it’s a non-starter.
I have been critical of Norman for years starting with the first time I heard him speak at CSU Fullerton in 2004. This is the first time that I can recall that he has been publicly seen too distance himself from some of the most heinous anti-Israel efforts in America. Is Finkelstein changing his tune? Abitbol doesn’t think so, “Finkelstein hasn’t left the movement, he hasn’t renounced any of the beliefs that have motivated his 30 year career as a critic of Israel and supporter of the Palestinian people. He just called it like he saw it.”
January 18, 2012 | 11:04 am
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
If you want your restaurant to prosper, give free food to the homeless. This is according to the anecdotal evidence put forward by my homeless friend Yehuda. Yehuda has been on the streets for five years in Los Angeles and can can’t shake a heroin addiction. He lives on small change from kind souls … and restaurants. Yehuda once had a thriving window dressing business and a million friends. Today he depends on people’s leftovers and meals from generous restaurants for his fare.
Yehuda taught me this important lesson when a recently opened, kosher-certified, national franchise shut down, much to the surprise of the neighborhood. The story followed an arc that Yehudah had seen before.
Yehudah began approaching the new fast-food sandwich shop that had opened on his regular stretch of road. They were generous with Yehuda, offering him a sandwich as much as once a day. The food went a long way to sustaining him, and a few other homeless Jews who call Pico-Robertson home.
The new gleaming store was packed the first few months. But as time went on, the crowds became thinner. Eventually, the free sandwiches became less and less frequent. The worse business got, the more they resented him. Soon they stopped giving him food. Within months the restaurant had closed its doors. A successful national franchise, on a popular restaurant block, with special kosher certification, was now a thing of memory.
If this were one isolated case, it would not prove anything. But it was not.
Over the course of these five years, Yehudah has seen other restaurants come and go. The same pattern of generosity followed by hostility accompanied the downfall of all those restaurants. There was one place that chased him out with a broom — they were closed within a month. It didn’t matter that Yehudah warned them against treating the homeless this way. He warned them that their tight fist, would be their downfall. But who is going to listen to a junkie homeless man for business advice? Nobody it seems.
One of the businessmen that didn’t treat Yehudah well, who subsequently opened a new shop after his latest one failed, began to see that Yehudah had a point. He started giving Yehudah food every day. Whenever Yehudah stopped by, he was sure to walk away with something fresh to eat. Yehuda said the business was booming.
I went to check this out for myself.
Passing by this establishment for the last six months, I can attest that the place is thriving. Customers line up for food. They run out of product all the time. The owner is happy, and the business, even in these times when small restaurants are really hurting, is thriving.
Restaurants often chase the homeless away, instead of inviting them to the backdoor for a warm meal. We, the customers, loathe their pan-handling when we are trying to have a coffee with friends. We resent them for interfering with our plans to go and get something to eat, and for making us feel guilty. Let someone else give them a hand, I have heard said too many times.
Prosperity is not deserved, but is a blessing bestowed by God. The Torah teaches that when a person puts out his or her hand, it is a commandment to fill it. Therefor it is not surprising that the Torah’s economic principles can be a lesson to us all. Generosity begets blessing.
Hopefully, someday soon, our MBA students will learn about the economics of generosity, and restaurants that want to have a fighting chance, will adopt Yehuda’s simple business plan.
Follow Rabbi Yonah Bookstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RabbiYonah
December 28, 2011 | 4:24 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
New Year’s is a massive celebration we have been looking forward to for some time. Before we head off to the night club to party, before we pop that champagne cork, let’s take a few steps back. The secular New Year is not just a chance to party, it is also a time for starting over. Few of us really stop to contemplate the significance of a new year. The self-improvement process that surrounds the Jewish celebration of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, offer us an important opportunity for re-energizing, renewal and reflection that will help us in 2012.
10. Sound the alarm. One day can merge into the next and before we know it January 1st, 2012, will have come and gone. We slip easily into the same routines, the same lives, the same reality. We need to sound the alarm now so that we can prepare ourselves for this amazing opportunity at rebirth and renewal.
9. Heal damaged relationships. Each year we wrong someone close to us and sometimes this leads to an ugly falling out. Yet, we still love this person. We still care for them, but because of egos we can’t admit fault and say we are sorry. If you ever wanted to reach out, but just couldn’t do it, now is your chance. You call and say. “I’m calling to say I’m really sorry. I really want that in 2012 we rebuild our friendship. New Year’s is a convenient time to make-up.
8. Self-improvement starts with personal responsibility. We all want to become better people and realize our potential in 2012. While we might hope that our New Year’s resolutions will stick, first we must recognize past mistakes and character flaws before we can hope for new resolutions to have a chance. When we own up to our shortcomings, we can truly become better people, realize our potential and have a chance for personal growth in the New Year.
7. Time for an accounting of the soul. Sometimes we are not even sure how to do the right thing. Sometimes, even when we know the good deeds that we could be doing, we are not sure how to start. On the New Year we can search our soul and see what is preventing us from initiating and expanding the good we do in the world.
6. Time for an accounting of the mind. How we think has such a deep impact on what we do. We jumped to negative conclusions, without giving people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps we stood by when we could have made a difference, and are full of regret. We stayed in abusing relationships. We let negativity cloud our thoughts. As we prepare for the New Year we clean out our head-space from self-doubt and negativity. Giving charity, gifts, and loving kindness helps us actualize the positive impact we can have this new year.
5. Set realistic goals. Audits are exhausting. Now we know how far we have to go after doing these accountings. We want instant results. In our desire to repair our lives, if we start on all repairs at once, we can end up setting ourselves up for failure. Saints were not born overnight. Lives are not fixed in the tick of the clock. It can be harder to change one character flaw, than anything else we have tried. By first establishing attainable goals and then stretch goals we set ourselves up to succeed.
4. New Fiscal Year = New Spiritual Year. This past year we paid it forward sometimes, just not enough times. We were content with receiving when we could have been busier giving. Just as we start our financial year from scratch, we can start our spiritual bank accounts over. We have the chance to accumulate great spiritual wealth this year.
3. Celebrate that God has given the world another year. Our lives do not exist in a vacuum. We rejoice at this opportunity to start afresh, yet we also need recognize how our lifestyles affect the world around us. New Years offers us a chance to reflect on how we can live healthier lives in harmony with our surroundings. We have another chance in 2012 to start healing our lives and the planet.
2. Start on the right foot. We know we should always put our best foot forward, but with the New Year we suddenly forget that lesson. Thanks to a few drinks, we begin with headaches and in places that make us feel sick. Instead of with regrets, start the year with sweetness and joy by being with people who are a positive influence on you. Enjoy one an other’s company, with good food, sweet desserts, and a modest amount of wine.
1. Get more spiritual. The world around us is full of materialism, distractions, and the stress of making a livelihood. Consequently, we don’t make enough time for prayer, ritual, contemplation, and being grateful for what we do have. In addition, we made moral and ethical mistakes that damaged or spiritual lives. This New Year, give your spiritual life a chance to really grow by opening a bigger place inside your heart, and fill it with spirit. When we resolve to lead more upright, and conscientious lives we can come closer to the Divine.
Rabbi Yonah answers your questions on Twitter @rabbiyonah. Rabbi Yonah is a contributor to the JewishJournal.com, Huffingtonpost.com, and Jewlicious.com. He is the Director of JConnectLA and Jewlicious Festivals.
December 26, 2011 | 6:06 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
The bank manager at Citibank ran over to me when I came by this week to show-off the company menorah. Each branch received a menorah. Well, they actually were sent two. What had happened? My friend the manager explained. The first one arrived with only one on-off switch to control all the lights. That was replaced a week later by a new menorah that had one on-off switche for each light. While there we noinstructions included, the bank must be relying on the wisdom of the employees to know what to do.
The entire episode prompted another great conversation with my banker. (As one of the only customers at that branch who is a rabbi, we end up discussing every holiday as they arrive in some detail.) When he was early in his career as a banker, he brought in an electric menorah himself to display at the bank. In his native Russia, the thought that you could even have a menorah in a public place was unthinkable. He proceeded to light all the lights at once for the holiday to really promote Hanukkah and his menorah.
The next thing he knew, a Jewish customer approached and castigated him for not lighting them one at a time. This Russian Jewish immigrant, a junior banker trying to make a difference, was being given lessons in menorah lighting at the bank. Yes, we sometimes overlook the good that people are trying to do. Instead we make sure they are doing things the way we want them, ignoring or forgetting to thank them for trying in the first place.
Later in the day I had to go into an adjacent Wells Fargo branch. The Wells Fargo Christmas Tree dwarfed the 4-footer at the Citibank. It was festooned with a myriad of ornaments and candy canes. Arranged around the base were presents, a stuffed fake reindeer and snow, making a real Christmas diorama. I searched for a menorah and didn’t see one. I asked a banker walking by, “Excuse me, is there a menorah too?” She looked around and said they didn’t have one. To which I replied, “well you better catch up with your competition — Citibank has one!”
At Citibank, while the menorah was small, understated, and directionless, it still fared better than Wells Fargo. There may be other branches of Wells Fargo that are doing things differently in Jewish areas. But Citibank made the effort to ship these menorahs to EVERY branch. It didn’t matter if they were in an area with Jewish clients.
I sometimes wonder if my shopping, banking, or car repairing will depend on a company’s decision of how to celebrate the holidays with their customers. Is there some subliminal or outright conscious decision that I make which determines my behavior toward one bank or another? Can a holiday decoration turn me from being a customer to being critic?
Honestly I don’t expect, nor would I want to see, a 7 foot high menorah with golden inflatable driedels — though that could look kind of cool. But I think in this day and age we can expect some kind of token concession to Hanukkah.
Maybe I’ll just leave it to the expensive consultants to offer suggestions to corporate America to tell them if a menorah is a good idea or not.
Or they can take the advice from a Rabbi for free: a menorah of any size or shape is greatly appreciated.
Rabbi Yonah answers your questions on Twitter.com/rabbiyonah. Rabbi Yonah is Director of Jewlicious Festivals, and blogs on JewishJournal.com, Huffingtonpost.com and Jewlicious.com.
December 13, 2011 | 8:02 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
The Jewish world is in spasms over Matisyahu’s facial hair. Even before I awoke in Los Angeles, text messages were lining up like Chanukah cards from the East Coast, asking “Is it true?” As my witty blogging friend Esther Kustanowitz put it, this was “the beard heard round the world.”
Never before in the history of our ancient people has one man’s beard caused so much commotion. In fact, I am not sure if in the history of beards, one beard has earned so much talk.
In our world obsessed with looks and stardom, Matisyahu’s decision to go beardless now warrants news alerts.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency alert yesterday was “Gingrich sticks by Palestinian comment, draws GOP rebukes.”
Today the alert is about our beloved singer’s decision to shave off his signature bristles, “Matisyahu Shaves off Beard.”
Tens of thousands of people have looked at the photos on Twitter, thousands are commenting on his Web site and Facebook. Even mainstream gossip media sites are chiming in with their own opinions. But all one needs to do is look at what Matisyahu wrote on his blog:
“No more Chasidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me … no alias. … And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry … you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair.”
It seems that his own words were not enough. Everyone has an opinion. Rushing to judgment is a national pastime.
There is no obligation in Judaism to wear a beard. It’s not a mitzvah. Facial hair is meant to be an adornment for the face, say the rabbis. The Torah instructs us how to cut the beard — no razors allowed, leave the upper part of the sideburns — but doesn’t require a man to have a beard. While some associate taking off the beard with a lapse in religious observance, that is simply not the case.
Historically, Jews have gone without beards before. Over the ages, Jewish men have used depilatory creams and powders made from nasty stuff that took off the beard. At the most famous yeshiva in pre-war Europe, most men studied bare-faced. The invention of the electric shaver created the opportunity for observant Jewish men to go beardless without killing their faces.
I remember when I started growing my beard 16 years ago, much to the surprise of my fiancee. It had everything to do with my displeasure at shaving, and nothing to do with a fashion or religious statement. My skin is super sensitive, and no matter what kind of electric shaver, creams or treatments I used, my skin could not bear it. With my marital future in place, I took the risk and grew one leading up to my wedding. My grandmother, of blessed memory, was distraught that all the wedding pictures would have me in a beard.
A beard does not make a man. I am sure some famous bard centuries ago wrote something along those lines. Matisyahu’s talent as a singer and performer have little to do with what clothes he wears and what kind of facial hair he prefers. While it might have been his signature look for part of his career, it isn’t any longer.
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is the executive director of JConnect and the director and founder of Jewlicious Festivals.