From March 16-18, six Tucsonans — Pamela Epstein, Dave Hausler, Marina Kandova, Ari Magill, and Amy and Ben Pozez, accompanied by Sarah Langert, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona leadership development and public relations director, traveled to New Orleans for TribeFest 2014.
This biennial national event, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership, drew approximately 1,200 young Jewish adults, ages 22-45, for camaraderie, inspiration and networking. Through presentations and breakout sessions on political, spiritual, communal and cultural topics in the Jewish world, TribeFest offered participants ways to connect to their own Judaism, along with best practices and key programs to take home to their federations for use in their own communities.
Attendees were treated to a pre-conference Purim carnival and black-and-white ball while enjoying kosher cuisine, drinks and dancing to the Jewish/Middle Eastern pop/rock band Soulfarm. A parade down Canal Street to a docked ship on the Mississippi River also took place during the three-day convention. Some of the dynamic speakers included actor Josh Malina from “Scandal”; actor Ben Platt from “Pitch Perfect” and Broadway’s “The Book of Mormon” (and a past Camp Ramah in California camper and staffer); Greg Liberman, CEO of Spark Networks, the parent company of JDate; and Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding rabbi of the IKAR Jewish community in Los Angeles.
Kandova, a veteran of TribeFest, summed up her experience: “TribeFest is always fun, especially when you get to party with many other young Jewish professionals from the U.S. and Canada. I was happy to see old friends and make new ones. What inspired me most is that Jewish people, some despite their fame and status, do not forget about their Jewish heritage. We all get busy (school, work, family) and often forget about the most meaningful things in life. Taking time to reflect on who you are and what you want can help lead to the right path. Whenever times are difficult, always look inside; the most powerful thing is hidden within you. Jewish basics are embedded in our hearts and souls. Being Jewish matters.”
The ties that bind
Or, in this case, the tiles that bind — mah jongg tiles — cracks, bams and dots.
From April 24 – May 5, five mah jongg friends and their husbands — Shelley and Marshall Heyman, Rosie Eilat-Kahn and Paul Kahn, Lois and Ken Jacowsky, Hannah and Ron Meyerson, and Linda and Robert Ullman — plus Tucsonans Helene and Barney Rothstein and Michiganders Arlene and Joel Sharkey (Hannah’s sister-in-law and brother) traveled together to Israel. The mah jongg group, which started over 30 years ago, meets one evening a week at each other’s homes, with dinner followed by game play. Whether killing time during their five-hour layover in Houston at the start of their journey, or trying to stay awake until their departure from their hotel to Ben Gurion Airport on their way home, they pulled out their newly purchased magnetic mini mah jongg set. By the end of the trip, Helene and Arlene were awarded “honorary mah jongg member” status.
Shelley, a local travel agent, planned the itinerary, made the arrangements, and served as group leader, alongside their “exceptional” Israeli guide. Nine of the 14 travelers were first-time visitors. For those who had lived or traveled in Israel before, their packed itinerary provided new and different experiences. On arrival in Tel Aviv, before checking into the Crown Plaza Hotel, they stopped at the nightclub where many young people were killed by the first female suicide bomber. They stood at the memorial by the closed building and recited the Shehecheyanu and the blessing over wine. On the Golan Heights, they learned of the historical and strategic significance of Tel Facher, a former Syrian Army headquarters taken during the Six-Day War. From Independence Hall to the Western Wall, “everything had an impact,” said Shelley.
A highlight for the group — and those back in Tucson — occurred at 8 p.m. Tucson time on May 1, which was 6 a.m. on May 2 in Israel. From her room at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, as the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s “Woman of the Year,” Rosie skyped her acceptance speech to the audience assembled at the JFSA annual meeting at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Her mah jongg buddies were out of view in the hotel room but watching and listening. Rosie’s family at the J accepted the award on her behalf.
As often occurs in this small country, by happenstance, the tour group encountered other Tucsonans: Rabbi Stephanie Aaron and her March of the Living entourage in the Old City.
The beauty of this trip was not just in the sights and sounds of our homeland, but in experiencing it together, bonding, and making lifelong memories. At their Seders back in April, instead of reciting “Next year in Jerusalem” at the end of the Haggadah, it was “Next week in Jerusalem.”
Ron and Diane Weintraub, co-founders of Tucson’s Weintraub Israel Center, flew to Israel for the Bar Mitzvah of their youngest grandchild. Gilad Schoenfeld, son of Dan and the late Beth Schoenfeld, became a Bar Mitzvah on April 26 at Kehilat Ra’anan, Ra’anana’s Reform congregation. Gilad led parts of the service, read from the Torah and gave a D’var Torah. As a mitzvah project, he requested that leftovers from that day’s meal be given to Leket Israel, Israel’s national food bank. The organization delivers rescued food, via its nonprofit partners, to the country’s food-challenged populations. Its name is derived from the laws of leket (gleaning), dealing with the harvesting of the crops and leaving a portion for the poor. The next day, Gilad and his visiting relatives from the United States volunteered at Leket’s logistical center in Ra’anana, sorting and packing nutritious fruits and vegetables for needy Israelis. A hearty mazel tov to all.
Time to share
It’s summer again and time to take a hiatus. Keep me posted about your Israel summer travels for my next column in the Rosh Hashanah issue — 319-1112. L’shalom.