Wednesday, December 29, 2010


On November 17, the New York Times reported that Playboy TV "a fading proposition...spent a year conducting focus groups and other research...If this (Playboy) channel could be anything, what should it be?" Hmmm, I thought, just a week earlier, CEO Jerry Silverman had reported to a departing GA audience that JFNA had conducted focus groups (1, 2 -- 10?) among the "unaffiliated" asking them, I guess, what would be an attractive venue for a JFNA event you would attend? The answer, CEO Jerry reported? "Las Vegas." And, so, Jerry concluded with enthusiasm to applause -- "we're going to Las Vegas!!!" Properly programmed at this point confetti would have been falling from the rafters and scenes of Vegas-style debauchery flashed on the screens. But what we observe is a faux deference to the evident smarts of the younger leaders who thirst for substance -- for JFNA has, once again, opted for glitz and numbers (sure Las Vegas should drive numbers to a party) over meaning and substance, appealing to the least of and in us. But it will sure be fun!!

So, "we're going to Vegas." For what? Tribefest. For what? To be in Las Vegas for Tribefest. It's such an exciting venue and event that, according to a JTA report 1,600 young men and women had signed on even before the registration opened. And, just what exactly is Tribefest -- we don't know. We do know that it will be March 6-8; we know it will be in Vegas; we know that it will be a place to "connect, explore & celebrate the richness of Jewish music, food, arts & culture," and it will be "...THE event for young Jewish adults. Over 1,800 Jewish young Jews will come together to explore why it matters to be Jewish, how they connect their Judaism and the larger community, and to have an amazing time....Tribefest will be THE place for networking, mingling and finding friends and peers..." The registration fee is $475 ($400 for you lucky early birds). And JFNA is looking for corporate sponsors -- Dockers per chance?

I heard from a senior professional at JFNA for whom I have great respect and admiration -- one who has some responsibility for Tribefest. She sent me some more detailed descriptions of the plans for the event that do suggest that there will be some serious programming there. The prospects for the Fest: "These young men and women need to discover their Judaism at their own pace and in their own manner, in ways that specifically resonate for them." OK, but is it fair to ask if this is JFNA's role -- and to do so " the chic and fun Mandalay Bay Resort...acknowledging that participating in Jewish communal life (this is "Jewish c
ommunal life?") can and should be about having fun as well." OMG!!

This week I went to the JFNA website to see what more we might learn about the Fest. The answer: not much. About "The Event" here is the description: "Tribefest 2011: Las Vegas is THE event for young Jewish adults. Over 1,800 young Jews will come together to explore why it matters to be Jewish, how they connect to their Judaism and the larger community, and to have an amazing time. Tribefest will offer inspiring programming, music, food, arts and entertainment, all celebrating the richness of our Jewish culture and heritage. Tribefest will be THE place for networking, mingling... yada, yada, yada" It appears to me that Tribefest will be, like the old Seinfeld show, about nothing. Sad.

But...speakers? There is a list -- We got a hip hop violinist, someone from, an actress. poet and playwright, an author, the Communications Director of the Hebrew Academy, the President of the Kraft Group (guess the writers didn't want to describe two of the speakers as owners of professional football teams), the Mayor of Las Vegas, and Mark Wilf, who is nowhere identified as a major federation leader or past National Campaign Chair, but in his role as "President Minnesota Vikings." It's all surreal.

Tribefest, in the words of a friend, "trivializes trivialization." How does one respect JFNA as an institution when it raises the trivial to the level of Tribefest; when it abandons the Washington or Tel Aviv Conferences for...this? Sorry, chevre, but with Tribefest JFNA leaders are making a clear statement -- to say they respect the next generation of leaders is like BP announcing that it respects the environment.

Have fun.



Anonymous said...

Richard, it strikes me that the "fest" strategy is a watered down secular version of the Chabad approach -- provide some homestyle cholent, plenty of sweet wine and a good niggun and you got em! Of course, the Jewish message conveyed is often infantile and intellectually shallow.

Bottom line -- the mass of young Jews don't need a party planner to find a good piece of herring (some already got if for free with birthright). Aspiring Jewish leaders of the next generation do need a serious forum that prepares them for ownership responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

OMG shades of Nostradomus!!

Did Mick Jagger and Keith Richards predict Federations decline in market share, questionable demographic studies, JFNA and tribefest?

"raise your glass to the hard working people,
Let's drink to the uncounted heads,
Let's drink to the wavering millions,
Who need leaders but get gamblers instead"

paul jeser said...

I think anonymous #2 has had too many shots of Slivovitz!

#1 has it right. In the 'good ole days' the YLC conferences were outstanding in every way possible. Attracted. motivated and developed the best young leaders. UJA z'l.... Sad

Anonymous said...

Nisht slivovitz
southern comfort

anon 2

Anonymous said...

I think that this is Tribe Fest is far worse than any of you are even reflecting in your words. You alluded to the failure of a clear mission. JFNA wants young Jews to come to Judaism at their own pace! WTF does that mean? There are Synagogues, JCCs, and lots of orgs teaching and providing experiential Judaism. YLC, Washington and Tel Aviv were about JFNA providing for our communities. What our communities need is leadership development on advanced and middle levels.

The Washington Conference was always about YLC providing a way for its leaders to flex their new leadership muscles by running the conference. Those who attended were already touching Federation. The events were strengthening the relationship and deepening the Federation connection.

We do not need to do outreach on a national level. We do that at home - maybe we could use some collective think and help to do it better. We need NATIONAL to grow leaders to help us make them more meaningful and richer.

A single Federation cannot afford a rich experience of national talent to help motivate e and educate the next generation of leadership - only a JFNA can provide that.

JFNA- stick to the knitting. Do what Federations need - not what you want. JFNA will not become great by getting more press or Las Vegas debauchery - JFNA will be great when it makes its Federations stronger.

Please JFNA, listen and listen carefully. The writer and readers of this blog love what JFNA stands for. They are committed and that is why they criticize. Good customers tell you what is wrong, bad customers, just go away quietly.

The average Federation is tolerating JFNA because of commitment. Historical Commitment does not go away easily. But, like a bad marriage, when people grow apart and there is no commonality they give up – they get divorced. They stop paying their dues.

If JFNA does not represent collectivity in overseas needs, in leadership development, in advocacy and just becomes the party planner – the lay leaders will stop defending the dues. If the current lay leadership of JFNA does not stop acting like they own the Jewish People and “it is their money” and do not become inclusive they will lose JFNA to the non-payment of dues.

JFNA, wake up and get a life. OURS. Not YOURS.

RWEX said...

To the Anonymous contributor who offered a stinging indictment of a federation executive -- I just can;t accept your Comment even as I may agree with much of what you wrote. Hope you understand.

Focus Groups said...

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Anonymous said...

TribeFest is being billed as a national Jewlicious Festival (weird because I met people there from all across the US and Canada). As a past participant in Jewlicious, reading that gave me hope! But at Jewlicious we were actively solicited for programing ideas before the Festival. Many of us were involved in its planning and implementation. The Festival itself was amazing and inspiring and savvy Jewish community organizations were there to sign us up for all manner of programs and projects. And it cost me $86: $36 for registration and another $50 for my share of the hotel room. I don't think TribeFest is going to be like Jewlicious at all. I don't mind the expense, it's Vegas after all, but what are the organizers offering that can possibly compete with Vegas? Where is the leadership development? Or substantial content? I hope I am wrong and it turns out to be a great and worthwhile experience, but I am not getting my hopes up too high.

By the way, this blog is fantastic! I now know a lot more than I ever wanted to know about what is going on in my community. Mostly sad things though.

Anonymous said...

Scratch that. All programing at the two day TribeFest is going to end at 7:30 pm. I guess that gives us time to eat shellfish, consort with prostitutes and gamble away our hard earned credit lines. Jewish peoplehood hurrah!

RWEX said...

Have I encouraged this kind of speculation? If so, I am sorry. The Fest is lacking in substance, as proposed it's long on "fun." But Anonymous goes too far on what "fun" it will be.

Anonymous said...

RWEX: It's Vegas baby! Programing for TribeFest ends at 7:30 pm for a very simple reason - the organizers assume that they will not be able to provide programing that can compete with what Vegas has to offer. And what is that? Many (non-kosher) restaurants, all sorts of shows, free drinks and gambling at the Casinos and legalized prostitution.

I recall Birthright Israel's Isreality tour that featured a big name Israeli rap act, an Israeli indie band and an American Jewish singer/songwriter. The Vegas stop on the tour took place in Vegas's hottest club which required a $20,000 drink minimum. The organizers pushed the event like mad and the conclusion? An event that attracted less than 120 people, many of whom were Birthright Israel staff who flew in for the event and the rest were mostly Israelis who had never been on Birthright, did not qualify for Birthright and who drank like mad because they turned it into an open bar. Even with all those inducements, the Jews couldn't compete with Vegas. What do you think is going to happen at TribeFest?

I'm going to secure a sizable subsidy from my local Federation and go because why not? I'll have a lavish hotel room, party hard and be a witness to this train wreck. Oh, and I will also relate to Judaism in my own way.

Now let me ask you, if the dealer is showing a six and I have 12, should I hit?