Jews, Vegas, Rachel Dratch and… Social Justice?

When I say “Weekend In Vegas,” what do you think of?

Jews? Really? Me, too!

(And social justice, of course.)

I was on the scene this weekend with fellow AJWS employees and full-time Jewish young adults, Dahlia Rockowitz and Matt Balaban, at TribeFest. The Jewish Federations of North America’s annual convention of Jewish young adults hosted over 1400 participants at the Venetian to learn, teach, network, reconnect, exhibit, drink, laugh and party.

And party we did. Dahlia lost a dollar to the slot machines before we even left the airport. I became personally acquainted with more varieties of Italian wine than I care to admit. And Matt managed to rub elbows with SNL star and special TribeFest speaker, Rachel Dratch.

But our focus, as always, was global justice. Dahlia led a “Meet the Change” workshop with Josh Protas of the JCPA about local and global hunger, attended by foodies and community leaders working for food justice in their communities. I was privileged to sit alongside leaders and volunteers from Repair the WorldNIF and the JDC to facilitate a session on the Jewish social justice movement and impactful modes of civic engagement.

We also mixed social justice with, well, mixers. Casual conversations reminded us of the many entry points that AJWS offers young inspired Jews:

“I get your e-mails; please keep them coming.” “Sure, I know Erica. I was at a Pursue event the other week!” “Your video with the celebrities was awesome.” “Oh, I saw this Uganda trip video online the other day. What’s that about?” “Yeah, I learned all about this food aid stuff at my Global Hunger Shabbat this past November.” “I was on a Rabbinical Students’ Delegation a few years ago and recently attended the Alumni Institute! Say hi to Adina for me!”

One speaker even confided in me, “I think AJWS is one of the holiest Jewish organizations working in America today.”

All this from a conference that put significant emphasis on social justice. Monday’s local service program began at 8:00am and boasted 600 participants. Mainstage speakers included social activist heavyweights like Israel’s Stav Shafir, and an entire track of sessions was dedicated to communal social activism.

The takeaway: the present and future leaders of the Jewish community care about social justice. They care about effective partnerships and about real movement toward world-changing issues. They care about being involved in something bigger than themselves. If the goal of the conference was to inspire Jewish young adults to live out their Judaism, individually and communally in the biggest, boldest way possible, pursuing justice is loudly and proudly a major part of that inspiration.

So Dahlia, Matt and I returned with some renewed inspiration… and a bunch of new Facebook friends. What happened in Vegas hopefully won’t stay there.