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photo by Ryan Paul

photo by Ryan Paul

photo by Ryan Paul

Ryan Paul


By Ryan Paul, March 30, 2011

[Editor's note: Ryan Paul is a 31 year old photographer with his own business who "mostly shoots fashion and music", and is active in J-PEG. He along with ten others from our community went to "Tribefest" a conference for young Jewish adults, a program of the Jewish Federations of  North America.] 


It starts with 1200 Jews congregating in the desert, brought together by the JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America) for a weekend of learning, fun and (what we do best) debate.

This isn’t meant to be a report, or my account of what happened at Tribefest 2011 in Las Vegas. It is more of a call for help. Because I need your help! In spite of my original intentions for going to Tribefest this year, I came out more excited and more enthused to be Jewish. I mingled, schmoozed, and noshed with over one thousand other young Jews who, aside from being Jewish have quite a bit in common. Mostly, we LOVE being Jewish!

These people are community leaders. We are Rabbi’s, CEO’s, Journalists, academics, Volunteers and Artists. We are 25, 45 and everything in between. We give our time, we give our money and more often than not, we give both.

We are family!

I speak for myself when I say this, but Tribefest was not what I expected. If we’re being honest, I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but suffice it to say it wasn’t nearly as exciting as what I got. I had images of my 13-year-old self studying haftorah in my cantor’s basement. Him sleeping on the couch, me reading a baseball book.  I was expecting - dull!

Well this was anything but. We were met with open arms and a healthy dose of debate. No topic was too controversial. Controversy WAS the topic.
Lift the rug, and open the closet. It’s time to dig out the dirty and the dark. Let’s deal with it.  Not one of the panel discussions that I attended was conducted in a manner that was anything less than open.

What did you want to talk about? Being Gay? How about Jews with tattoos? What does it mean to you to be Jewish in the 21st century? Can old world Judaism coexist with technology? Are we keeping up with the next generation? My generation.  Our synagogues are losing members, and they wonder why.  Our youth are expressing their Jewish identity differently. If we do not accept them, are we not excluding them? 
If I study torah, and then rap about it, is that blasphemous?  Am I disrespecting Judaism?  Personally I say no: If that’s how you relate to being Jewish then that’s how you relate. If that’s how you want to share it with the world, I say good for you. If you want to tweet it, or facebook it, or blog it, then I say good for you. 

We met people who converted. The concept of being Jewish was so amazing to them, that they chose it. Let that one sink in for a second. They were not born Jewish. They researched all possible religions and chose to be Jewish. It’s that amazing!

We heard from a woman whose family was given a second chance at life, because the Jewish community had set aside money to bring her and her family to the United States. Her father is alive today because “you, and people like you gave of your time and of your money”.  I defy you 1) not to be touched by her story, and 2) to tell me that every $18 donation is not the one that makes a difference.

I have come home a different person.  Two weeks ago (at the time of writing this) I was involved. I wanted to learn how to make a difference in my community, to make my home better.  This week I have evolved.  I want to make a difference everywhere.  I want to make all communities better.  That means affecting change at home. I know that.  It means leading by example. It means being the one to step up and lead the charge towards making a difference. It means accepting that we are not perfect and embracing that fact.  Not just in our minds, but with our words and with our actions.

I had an opportunity on the way home from Las Vegas to speak with Samantha Loxton. Samantha is the Director of Leadership Development with the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. She is the reason that I was on this trip in the first place. My excitement today, is because of her.  On the way home we talked about her vision for the next trip. Mission really. She wants to go build schools in Jewish Communities in Ethiopia.

I want to go.

I want to help.
This is not a small undertaking. Ethiopia is pretty far away, and while I don’t have an exact price - I’m certain that I’ll be saving my sheckles for a while. But it will happen, and here’s why.  I am asking for your help.  Jewish communities are asking for your help.  Not just for this mission to Ethiopia, but to send any number of Jews from around the world, directly to the countries, cities, and villages that need us there. 

Beginning November 21st, 1984, some 12,000 Jews were extracted from their villages in Ethiopia and brought to Israel. However it was not until they first made the trek to Sudan; by trek I mean walk, an estimated 4000 died during this journey. The weak, the old and the sick didn’t even try. 8000 made it. Operation Moses ended on January 5th, 1985. Shortly thereafter, Operation Joshua (1985), then Operation Solomon (1991) saw roughly 14,000 more make the trip from their homes in Ethiopia to Israel, where they spent anywhere from six months to two years getting accustomed to life in their new homes. Learning the language, reconnecting with lost family and learning the basics of life with all of the simple things that you and I are accustomed to having and take for granted every day.

The Jewish community was there. We made that happen!

Not everyone who is reading this is in a position to just get up and go. Myself included. Not everyone who is reading this has the desire to be hands on.  But deep down we all want to be involved in positive change.  Empty hands do not build homes.  Money alone, does not build homes. Helping hands full of supplies and tools build homes. One is useless without the other.

It will be because of you, and people like you, that all of our communities grow, and grow stronger.

If you want to make a difference in the lives of community members around the world, please donate today. Contact any of the following organizations for more information.

The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg
Samantha Loxton – (204) 477-7407
[email protected]

The Joint Distribution Committee (The Joint)

Or to find information on your local federation chapter:

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