My journey to New Orleans by Shoshana Marziano

I recently had the opportunity of attending TribeFest 2014, which is the Jewish Federations of North America National Young Leadership conference. As my T-shirt states, the conference was all about Connecting, Exploring and Celebrating. I had the opportunity to do all three of those things.

Visiting New Orleans for the first time and being part of such a big event that brings young Jewish people from all across North America together was truly amazing. There were main stage events that brought inspirational speakers — all came from different places but had personal stories to share about how being Jewish is a big part of who they are and how they became to be what they are today. They talked about how Judaism motivated them to be the best they can be, to be part of their Jewish community and to be an important part of the greater worldwide community.

Breakout sessions provided multiple opportunities to explore different subjects that have to do with Jewish culture, Jewish observance, Jewish community involvement (both locally and globally) and Jewish philanthropy. All of the breakout sessions that I chose happened to be group workshop type activities which gave me an opportunity to talk more in depth with the 8 or 10 random strangers that happened to share a table with me. This was indeed inspiring as I came to learn that these people who shared in the discussions and activities were no strangers at all. We may not have ever met before, but we all share many values, care about similar things, dedicate parts of our lives to building our local communities and share very similar challenges.

The opportunities to connect with other young Jewish adults continued throughout the many events which provided opportunities for people to meet and greet, eat kosher food and socialize, as well as visit multiple vendor booths that offered information about a wide range of Jewish related services, programs and products.

I also had an opportunity to share a meal and explore the city a bit with my fellow friends from the Peninsula including Rebecca Scheetz and Josh and Jenny David, and thanks to Jenny David, we joined the delegation from Richmond to share a wonderful dinner and got to meet some of the people involved in the Federation there.

We also spread out across the city to take part in multiple community service projects. In one of these projects at the Kingsley House, a group of us visited with senior citizens who come for a day program and we worked with them on a spring door hanger project. It turned out they had a daily prayer service as part of their morning service. When their Christian service ended, one of our organizers announced that we would all sing a prayer for peace for them and our group of “strangers” joined in perfect harmony to sing “Oseh Shalom.”

I would like to thank the UJC board of directors for sending me to this conference, following my receipt of the Greespon Young Leadership Award this past summer, and I look forward to sharing more of my experience with anyone who would like to hear about it. In addition, I also look forward to going with a large group to the next TribeFest because I think that going to such a national or regional event coming from a smaller community like ours goes a long way to strengthening your Jewish identity and your motivation to be part of the greater Jewish community at large. Raise your voice!