WORCESTER – Ben and Cara Lyons of Worcester recently returned from TribeFest 2014 in New Orleans, a conference of the Jewish Federations of North America for Jews ages 22 to 45.
Now in its third year, the event brought 1,200 young Jewish leaders, thinkers and professionals from around the world to New Orleans from March 16-18. TribeFest included inspirational speeches and informative workshops on political, spiritual, communal and cultural topics in the Jewish world.
The Lyons – Ben, 34, an account manager at PC Connection, and Cara, 30, a food blogger and writer – attended TribeFest in 2012 when it was held in Las Vegas. Ben is on the board of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts (JFCM) and serves on the new Israel and Overseas Committee of the Federation. Both Ben and Cara are very involved in the Federation’s Young Adult Division (YAD).
“We go because, being involved with the YAD group, it is good to be able to come back and apply some of this stuff locally in our organization,” Ben Lyons said. “We really liked the breadth of different topics – talking about Israel advocacy, talking about growing your local community’s Jewish organization, about being a modern Jew, the different prism that Judaism can be seen in, the different speakers and hearing about how Judaism has affected their life, and hear what other communities and organizations are doing to advocate for Israel and the Jewish way of life.”
“Tribefest is an amazing, one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn from and share with other Jewish young adults who are passionate about their communities,” Cara Lyons said. “What I really love is the open dialogue about our ever-changing Jewish community and how to adapt yet preserve our culture. I feel such a sense of pride and connection knowing there are other young Jewish adults to whom our heritage matters.”
At TribeFest’s daily “Main Stage” plenary sessions, speakers including actors Joshua Malina of “Scandal” and Ben Platt, and Survivor winner and Grassroot Soccer co-founder Ethan Zohn shared their personal Jewish journeys.
Ben found Malina’s talk particularly inspiring. “He talked about his Jewish upbringing, he talked about marrying someone outside of the faith who converted to Judaism and is now head of the household raising their children as Jews.”
Sessions focused on international Jewish issues including global poverty and emergency relief and Israel’s complex political and social dilemmas. Featured speakers represented many Federation partners, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel, World ORT, and the Ethiopian National Project. Eli Groner, Minister of Economic Affairs from the Embassy of Israel, spoke at a session on healthcare innovation and start-ups in Israel.
Ben was moved by a talk by comic Noah Gardenswartz and “A Global Jewish Comedy Show” a product of the comedian’s encounters with global Jewish communities. As a JDC Entwine Steering Committee member, he has traveled to Turkey, Russia, India, Latvia, Spain and Cuba. Each of these experiences has helped create a hilariously informative comedy show and powerful tool for engaging his peers. “He showed a documentary about a trip he took to a very small Jewish community in India,” Ben recalled. “It was really amazing. He spent a couple of weeks there seeing their way of life.”
Between sessions, Federation professionals and lay leaders sharpened their skills at specialized I-LEAD and Leadership Development Institute seminars. As a member of the JFCM’s Israel and Overseas Committee, one of Ben’s goals in attending TribeFest was to learn more about Israel advocacy.
“I was able to talk to other people about what they are doing,” he said. “We talked about using social media and MEMES in order to advocate for Israel and education about Israel.”
“TribeFest participants came from 85 different communities, and with diverse backgrounds. They were engaged in deep conversations and committed to wanting to make a difference. I am excited to see how these young leaders will engage in Jewish life and in their Federations in the years to come,” said JFNA CEO Jerry Silverman.