TribeFest delegates to get a New Orleans experience

After a successful two year inaugural run in Las Vegas, Michael Weil, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, had a simple question for organizers of Tribefest: “Why not go to a real party town?”

TribeFest, the re-imagining of the Jewish Federations of North America young leadership biennial, will be at the Sheraton New Orleans from March 16 to 18.

Weil noted that New Orleans hosted the Federation’s National Young Leadership Conference in March 2009, with almost 600 in attendance. It was “a huge success,” he said. “They loved being here.”

Then three years ago the Federation system decided “to change the model completely” with TribeFest “and make it a big happening for young people,” Weil said.

Alison Goldstein Lebovitz, a Birmingham native who is National Leadership co-chair, said the idea was to re-invent what the event looked like and get away from the typical Federation conference model.

Instead of plenaries and breakout sessions, TribeFest has a Main Stage and Mashups. The Big Show takes the place of the traditional exhibit hall.

Overall themes include justice and inclusion, faith and culture, Jewish life, innovation and “hot topics.”

Part of the plan was to pick a city that was an inherent draw by itself. The first TribeFest was in Las Vegas in 2011, then returned to the city in 2012. The plan was to have TribeFest every other year after having the first two a year apart to establish the concept.

Weil contacted JFNA and reminded them that the 2010 JFNA General Assembly in New Orleans was “probably the best-attended GA for many years” and “we can do a better TribeFest.”

Often, conventions exist in a city but don’t necessarily have the city’s flavor. That is not the case in New Orleans. “They come to see how New Orleans has been rebuilt” since 2005, and New Orleans provides a local flavor for the events. Weil said that while New Orleans is hosting the weekend, “it’s their party.”

A major component of the local involvement will be the March 16 host event, “Rollin’ On The River,” held at the Toulouse Street Wharf on the Steamboat Natchez, starting at 9 p.m. Soul Rebels Brass Band will be featured at the Purim-themed party, and the local Jewish young leadership group, JNOLA, will also take part.

The next morning, TribeFest delegates will fan out across the city on a wide range of service projects.

Some volunteers will go to Kingsley House’s preschool and adult day healthcare/ senior center assisting with day-to-day activities. The house provides nationally accredited and state certified programs to thousands of infants, children, youth, parents, senior citizens and medically fragile adults from throughout Southeastern Louisiana.

Others will go to Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans, while volunteers at ReNew Schools will read with a young child or two, sharing their attention, warmth and enthusiasm about books. Additionally, books will be gifted to the elementary school students.

There will be a wide range of hands-on projects at City Park, the sixth largest and seventh most visited urban park in the country. About 1,000 acres of the park were under water after Katrina, and volunteer labor has been vital to its renewal.

Others will visit Arc’s Mardi Gras Recycling Center. Volunteers will sort Mardi Gras beads by length and size and sometimes by color for resale to Krewes, benefiting the Arc’s programs for people with intellectual disabilities and delays from birth through adulthood.

Some will join All Souls for a neighborhood trash and weed pickup day in the Lower Ninth Ward, or help at the All Souls Community Center reorganizing classrooms and adding flair to additional meeting spaces throughout the facility, and help clean the center’s warehouse.

All Souls offers a basic skills tutoring program four nights a week during the academic year, a classical music training program that meets four evenings a week and a seven week enrichment program during the summer.

Some of the speakers will be locals. Ruth Kullman, who represents clients nationally on projects such as long range strategic planning, capital and annual campaigns, board development and restructuring, will discuss her work.

Alana Himber is the program and development associate at AVODAH New Orleans, having worked as education coordinator at the Vietnamese American Young Leadership Association during her year of service.

Malkie Schwartz, director of Jackson’s Institute of Southern Jewish Life department of community engagement, will speak on “Unpacking the Jewish Privilege Backpack.”

There is also a Leadership Development Institute that will meet on the morning of March 16, before TribeFest kicks off mid-afternoon.

Among the dozens of speakers are actors Joshua Malina of “Scandal” and Ben Platt from “Book of Mormon,” Grassroots Soccer co-founder Ethan Zohn and Livestrong Foundation CEO Doug Ulman.

TribeFest chairs are Emma Samuels of Boston and David Kline of Austin.

For those from out of town planning to attend Tribefest, Anshe Sfard will be hosting those who arrive for Shabbat on March 15. Services will be at 6:30 p.m., followed by a Shabbat dinner for Tribefest participants.