Sunday, February 6, 2011

AS THE FACTS COME CLEAR

Anonymous Commentators have provided significant and interesting facts about TribeFest that we should all reflect upon. Of course none of the insights have come from within JFNA where the Commentator focused on my age. But, one thing has become very clear -- the idea for this Festivus grew, with no attribution, out of a series of annual weekends convened by Jewlicious -- lock, stock and barrel.

The Jewlicious Festival completed its Sixth iteration last February. Rather than encourage Jewlicious (which has no doubt been referred to inside JFNA variously as "our partner" or "those young adults") with funding assistance or actually "partnering" in the event, the chachams at 25 Broadway sought to coopt the event, rebrand it, repackage it and reprice it. "If it's not broken, break it" seems to be the model.

Instead of being held at the Long Beach JCC, as Jewlicious was, where some participants pulled out their sleeping bags in the gym, JFNA announced "we're going to Vegas" and we'll be staying at the "fabulous Mandalay Bay" (with suite discounts and paying a lot of money, eating and drinking and "networking." Instead of talent like Matisyahu (a constant presence at Jewlicious Festivals and comedians involved with the Daily Show, JFNA has...Mayim Bialik and others. And in an obvious attempt to coopt Jewlicious, JFNA scheduled Festivus March 6-8 to directly compete with Jewlicious whose Festival is and has been set for February 24-27. (For more, see www.jewliciousfestival.com/2011/)

We have all been reading a lot lately about schoolyard bullies. Well, here you have the big bully that is JFNA yelling at grassroots Jewlicious "we have decided this is going to be our schoolyard -- get out of it." It's all so shameful -- and JFNA has done even more to distance our organizations from the grassroots we have been trying to attract.

It's that old Murphy's Law -- make that JFNA's Law.

Rwexler

9 comments:

Jewlicious said...

Hi, my name is David Abitbol and I created Jewlicious.com, and along with Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein helped found the Jewlicious Festivals. As such I'd like to point out a few things just so we have all our facts clear.

At last year's Festival we decided to become open source - meaning we wrote posts about how we do what we do in the hopes that other organizations would learn from our experience. For instance we discussed effective event t-shirts. We also streamed our meetings live over the Internet. Anyone who cared to could watch our preparations, hear our phone conversations and be a part of the manic energy that is Jewlicious. That JFNA may have in some way felt that what we had done was worthy of emulation, is flattering.

Tribefest, with an unsubsidized registration fee of $495 is not meant to attract the same crowd as Jewlicious Festival whose tickets start at $36. Yes, some of our participants do sleep in the gym but the vast majority stay at the very nice hotel across the street, where all the rooms are suites and where 4 can sleep comfortably. That adds an extra $50 to the Festival price.

In any case, given that our target crowd is different, Tribefest has not diminished our ticket sales as far as I know. Tribefest's entertainment is not as obscure as you might think. I wish we could have Mayim Bialik at Jewlicious! I wish we had the funding to bring Yemenite Blues to perform! As for the rest? Musicians Diwon and Y Love from Shemspeed are awesome. I know because they have performed at Jewlicious in the past. Other Jewlicious alums appearing at Tribefest? Soulico (excellent!) Ariel Beery of Presentense, Patrick Aleph of Punk Torah, Joel Chasnoff (comedian, author), Niles Goldstein (Gonzo Judaism), Esther Kustanowitz (blogger, net diva and has been with us at every single Festival since the beginning) and Elke Reva Sudin (Hipsters and Hassids, Punk Jews) who we brought with us to the GA. People attending TribeFest will not want for entertainment or thought provoking discussion.

Furthermore, TribeFest has advertised extensively on Jewlicious. Many of our readers are older and may not feel comfortable at the Festival which is targeted at college students and recent graduates as well as some young professionals. Tribefest thus provides them with an alternative event. In any case, Jewlicious is accessible enough that people can go to both!

Had we been given the opportunity to actually run Tribefest we may have done things differently, but there's no doubt that the anticipation levels for Tribefest are good and that there is a palpable excitement in the air. These are good things.

I'm not qualified to speak to the political issues your posts have brought up. We are total outsiders, I wouldn't last 5 minutes as a Federation professional. I'm too impolitic, some might even say crass. We do what we do and if folks want to join us or include us, great! If not then we hope that they, meaning JFNA, Hillels and any Jewish organization, learn from our example and run programs aimed at the entire spectrum of young Jews that are as compelling and inspiring as possible. In that respect, I feel that JFNA is, at the very least, making a move in the right direction with Tribefest.

RWEX said...

David and Jewlicious,

Thanks for your insights and for the work that Jewlicious does. Aside from the Festival it seems that we could learn much from your openness and transparency.

paul jeser said...

I don't understand any of this (yes, I am getting too old).

Where are the great Teachers? Leaders? Role models?

For sure there is a place for amcha type programs such as Jewlicious. The 'young leadership' activities run by UJA z'l and the CJF z'l were designed to attract those who could become community / campaign leaders - in many cases an entirely different population.

Instead of going for quantity the JFNA should be going for quality, and from what I was able to see on the website, there are no major teachers, leaders, role models, being highlighted.

Sad....

RWEX said...

Amen!!

Anonymous said...

I find David Abitbol's generous comment to be naive and infuriating. On the other hand, I commend the author of this blog for his perspicacity. Your essay captured the essence of the problem.

In a nutshell, a couple of people had a vision and have been executing it successfully over a period of years. Now the JFNA creates a carbon copy timed to compete instead of expanding the successful program.

As a guest at a couple of these events, I can attest to their success. Young Jews from all denominations, social classes and different backgrounds come together and experience what it means to be part of an undivided Jewish community.

I'm not trying to be hokey. These are young men and women studying at universities where 90-99% of the population is non-Jewish, or working in a workforce where they are part of a 2% minority.

To them, Jewlicious becomes more than the sum of its parts. Yes, there are discussion groups, debates, live music, sports, etc. In reality, however, what Jewlicious imparts successfully is the prevailing sense is that we are all part of a worthwhile, desirable community. On Sunday afternoon, when the festival concludes, many people try to stay behind as long as possible, perhaps even more so the speakers and entertainers than the "kids." I think this is because Jewlicious sucessfully evokes an idealized sense of community that we all dream of but can't find in the day to day. It's hard not to be moved by Jewlicious. Seriously, somebody should bottle this magic.

Hey, wait a minute, somebody is trying to bottle the magic, except they renamed it, timed it to compete with Jewlicious and forgot that if you omit key ingredients, the potion won't work.

Jewlicious festival exists because two people had a vision and the gumption to execute it. These two, Abitbol and Rabbi Bookstein, have to scrounge and beg and then beg some more for money which finally comes through local donors and a couple of non-mainstream charitable entities. There are no marketing cliches involved, no glad-handing, no surveys or consultants. Nothing. Virtually all of the money they collect goes to the programming so guests can attend for less than a concert ticket.

Until this year, Jewlicious has not received meaningful support from the mainstream Jewish community. In fact, certain unnamed organizations wouldn't even send an email promoting the event to their "members," apparently for "proprietary" reasons.

Imagine an independent project that grows successfully for six years, touching the demographic everybody is seeking to bring into the fold and instead of support, they even have trouble getting emails sent to promote the event. They still get large crowds attending.

Why compete with that? Why time the competition so that it might undermine Jewlicious? Does the Jewish community have so many successful programs attracting young Jews that it can cannibalize successful ones? I know for a fact that Abitbol and Bookstein have been trying to expand Jewlicious to other areas for years. There wasn't a cent to be found.

"Young leadership" events aren't very meaningful if there won't be a community to lead in the future. Yet, instead of giving Abitbol and Bookstein the support they need to build this thing, they created a clone without these two men. Brilliant.

---------

David and Rabbi Yonah, you might be able to guess who this is. I hope not. You should know I have the deepest respect for what you have built and I respect David's conciliatory and understanding tone in his comment. That is why I apologize deeply to both of you if by speaking out in this way, I am causing you difficulties. I know you can speak for yourselves very well and I'm not trying to speak for you. However, I do believe I speak for many others who have seen what you have created and who feel betrayed by Tribefest.

Jewlicious said...

I just got an email from a friend who said, in reference to this thread, "There is no question there are no longer any senior federation exec's who may not know who jewlicious is." Great. After 7 years and thousands of Festival participants and literally millions of visits to our blog, THIS is what it takes to get attention?

I mean, Paul Jeser, who I have never met, if I am not mistaken, lives in LA! Paul? If you want to come see the Jewlicious Festival first hand, we have a special VIP wine tasting Saturday night. Consider this a personal invite. Thursday night we have our big Night of Unity fundraiser. Feel free to attend that too and bring some of your big donors for a taste of how we do things. I'm sure you meant it well but Jewlicious is not some frivolous "amcha" type program - we are not hiding from zee Germans dude. Jewlicious fosters both unity AND leadership. I know in the olden days, inclusivity was not the Organized Jewish Community's forté. Nowadays we do not segregate based on perceived notions of "quality" leaders vs. the hoi polloi. I remain amazed at the Jewish creativity and vitality that has emerged from outside the confines of the Federation system. Thank goodness projects like g-dcast and Challah for hunger are starting to get the support they deserve - but I was there when the principals persevered despite frustration and lack of support. Our goal at Jewlicious is to try to bring innovative projects, the innovators behind said projects and their target audiences closer to the organized Jewish community.

On that note Paul, I should mention that Young Jews have become so disenfranchised from the organized Jewish community that they have no interest in being lectured to by your supposed "major teachers, leaders and role models." They look towards their peer group for direction because the traditional "major teachers, leaders and role models" have proven over and over again how terribly clueless they are. This is a shame given the resources wielded by the Federations and all the otherwise good, important and unsexy work that they do. I hope you can meet me and my crew in LA, we'll be glad to get you up to speed over a beer or some coffee. My treat.

cont...

Jewlicious said...

cont'd from last comment:

Now I have to address Anonymous (February 7, 2011 6:26 PM). Sorry you found my comment infuriating. My naiveté is born out of my uhm... sunny disposition. Its also based on the fact that JFNA has taken tentative steps to work with us and I want to encourage that rather than kaybosh our progress with anger. We had a strong presence at the GA in New Orleans, and we may very well be in attendance at TribeFest and at the GA in Denver. Baby steps! I can tell you that even absent this progress, I am in no position to be angry. The crowd going to TribeFest at $500 a pop is not entirely the same as the crowd attending the Jewlicious Festival. TibeFest can happen on the exact same weekend as Jewlicious and it still won't hurt us much.

In fact, if the JFNA can put together compelling and wildly successful programing for young Jews then I am personally willing to totally walk away from Jewlicious. Frankly, it's a lot of hard work and it's taken it's toll on me personally, professionally and financially. An entry level Federation or Hillel employee makes more money than I do. I'm not kidding. Of course we dream of producing Festivals and running awesome programs in different cities and being able to do so in a way that allows us to meet the needs of our constituents while still being able to afford to live honorably. But if that's not in the cards for us then so be it. That having been said, as long as the kinderlach keep coming, we'll keep giving them what they want and what they need.

I thank you for your feedback Anonymous (February 7, 2011 6:26 PM). Despite your harsh tone, I am certain you mean well. Lucky for you I have no idea who you are!! But I don't have the will or the time for a pissing contest. There's too much work to do and there are about 1200 young Jewish adults counting on me and the crew to get it together and put on a kick ass Festival. That's the only ass kicking I am interested in now.

As an aside I should mention that my comments are my own and do not necessarily represent the official opinions of everyone at Jewlicious. It's kind of funny actually... one of our new interns, told about this thread, sent me an email asking "what's a JayEffEnAy?" I promise you that within the next 3 weeks she will know all about "JayEffEnAy." Heh. Sorry for all the verbosity...

paul jeser said...

David - I did not call 'amcha' pgrms frivolous, they are VERY important - but they have different goals and programing than leadership development type pgrms. Sorry you missed my point...

I'd love to attend but already have other plans.

You obviously misunderstand the role of teachers, leaders, etc in leadership development programs. The never talked to us... they talked with us, they shared, and they were very important part of the development of leaders in our community.

What you are trying to accomplish is to get involvement - that is a great goal. What I was referring to was developing leadership. A very different process.

Jewlicious said...

Paul, I understand you perfectly, I assure you. I was around during the days of the UJA z"l and the CJF z"l. Jewlicious always includes leadership track programing. Furthermore, last summer we ran Camp Jewlicious and that was ALL leadership oriented. Is it not possible to run one program that incorporates both engagement AND leadership development? I think so! That's what we do and that's what TribeFest hopes to do as well. I think combining the two makes for a more pleasant and thus productive atmosphere!

I don't know what kind of leadership development you underwent back in your day - it must have been damned effective because here you are, still doing important work for the community - Yasher koach!

But the situation today is so different, so perilous it literally keeps me up at night. How did we get to this point? How did our continued communal vitality become so imperiled? We could try to contemplate these questions - and we do. But in the meantime, we're working like the dickens to do something about it with what little resources we have at our disposal.

By the way I will be in LA for a month and Rabbi Yonah and the rest of the crew are always there. It's too bad you already have plans for our Night of Unity and for our Jewlicious Festival but I'm sure our gang would love the opportunity to pick your brain and learn from your vast experience. We don't pretend to have all the answers.

Think of our meeting as a mini-leadership development program and again, I'll gladly spring for the nosh. I land in LA next Thursday.