Thursday, February 3, 2011


For the January JFNA Board Retreat, JFNA over the Board Chair's signature flooded the Internet with documents in preparation for the Board Meeting. One was of special interest -- TRIBEFEST: A MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS. I have a strong sense that this piece was prepared in response to the criticism from quarters other than this Blog about the lack of purpose for the Festivus. The title alone is filled with such pomposity, pretension and self-congratulation as to merit analysis for substance.

Let's start with the reference in the Board Chair's transmittal of the document: it's the "Young Adult Strategy Document." Not satisfied with NextGen or NowGen or the other misnomers, now it has become "Young Adults" ... and that's so unfortunate inasmuch as most dictionary definitions find "young adullts" to be defined as those between 12 and 18 years old. Whatever became of the admonition "know your audience?"

Did I learn anything from this Primer for Professional and Lay Leaders (JFNA's pretension 2)? Sure: JFNA now has a Development Affinities Department (pretension3?) and I have to admit I don't know what that is -- but clearly it has something to do with restating the obvious (the next generation of federation donors and leaders is hard to engage) and relying on Jack Wertheimer's excellent research into ths engagement of "Leaders in their Twenties and Thirties" almost entirely for their conclusions -- with a number of which I am pretty confident Wertheimer would disagree.

To JFNA, Festivus is one of a number of "...meaningful and content-driven programs" for "young adults" -- it is apparently just disguised as a Las Vegas party so as to "...(find) new ways for the message to resonate with them." (Oy vey!!) TribeFest:Vegas is, after all, the Opening Event of Strategy. Please raise your hands if you believe that the "strategy" came first, followed by TribeFest as opposed to the reverse. You might guess that I believe the "strategy" is no more than an after the fact rationalization for a party gone bad from the get-go. And, you would be right.

Then there is an amazing set of definitions of activities for the TribeFest event itself -- apparently if you call a "plenary," the "Main Stage," or rebrand the "Exhibit Hall" the "Big Show" (where "heavy hors d'oeuvres [sic]" will be served), it will make all the difference to the intended audience. Then "there will be blocks of time dedicated to 'sessions' (will not be called traditional 'breakout sessions or forums')..." Friends, I am not making this up -- and the paragraph is titled "Side Stage Breakout Sessions" and, later, yep, "Breakout Sessions."

I could go on but you get the idea -- now it is variously titled TribeFest, TribeFest: Las Vegas or TribeFest: Journey in the Desert or, of course, Tribefest: A Marketplace of Ideas -- but, whatever it's called, it remains, as one of our Commentators called it "trivializing the already trivial." It demeans its very target audience by suggesting that the attraction of Las Vegas trumps the need for real substance -- it is the tail wagging the dog. It is, sadly, as it has been since its conception, such a waste. Even if 1,800 "Young Adults" show up (at sharply reduced Registration costs and a subsidy), is this a success?


P.S. A Friend of the Blog forwarded on to me a TribeFest "tweet" which announced that Mayim Bialik...yes, her...will speak at the Festivus. Now I am pretty excited -- although I think that Ms. Bialik may be outside the demographic -- Mayim had a small role (and she has appeared in any number of TV series, I guess) as a Funkhauser on my favorite show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. If the organizers keep this up, they will soon announce Henry Winkler as MC,.


Anonymous said...

I would think and hope that someone of your age would have something better to do than constantly write about and criticize an event that is not designed for you or your peers. If you have something constructive to add or suggestions to make, why not contact the program team directly? It is a fact that you have had (pleasant) email exchanges with JFNA professionals about this - why not continue to have positive conversations rather than to tear down something about which you only have partial knowledge?

Anonymous said...

Here's another fun tweet from the Young Leadership Division of Orange County:

Going to #TribeFest from The OC or LB and want to go via stretch limo w/ 20-30 other #Tribefesters? DM us or email

This is what young leaders love, subsidized stretch limo rides from Long Beach to Las Vegas!

It's also being billed as "TribeFest - The National Jewish Event of the Year" Of the year no less!

Don't be put off by the language. "Main stage" "Big Show" "Breakout Sessions" these are all words used at other festivals and gatherings like SXSW, Ted, Lolapalooza etc. The language isn't really that ridiculous. What IS ridiculous is that this all takes place in a Hotel and all the programing ends by 8 pm making for a not really festive and not really immersive program. Festivals like Coachella, Burning Man and Jewlicious are powerful because they are immersive - the Festivities never end.

Speaking of Jewlicious, what do you think about the fact that TribeFest is happening a week after the Jewlicious Festival? I also can't help but notice that many of the speakers and acts have already performed or spoken at Jewlicious. Yet "Festivus" registration fee is nearly $500 while Jewlicious costs I think $50. It's odd because I see TribeFest banner ads all over Jewlicious. I guess they're not worried.

Finally, to the anonymous commenter that discussed your age, all I can say is that the concerns voiced by this blog have been pretty fair. Your comment is basically saying shut up old man. That's not nice.

RWEX said...

Ouch!! Ageism is alive and well at JFNA? To the JFNA professional who resents my Comments so much that she would attack the old and frail elderly, some constructive advice -- either cancel TribeFest as unworthy of the federations national organization or nmake it worthy of our federations' values and the eagerness of the next generation (they are not "Young Adults") for substance.

Anonymous said...

To the second Anonymous, I don't see the problem in JFNA copying Jewlicious.

Jewlicious is a proven festival that taps into the young demographic the Jewish community at large is trying to reach. The JFNA sees success, they copy it. Why not? You can argue they haven't done such a great job copying Jewlicious, or that original programming should be the job description of JFNA officials. Okay, these are valid criticisms. Jewlicious gets several hundred people to attend every year, so you can understand if JFNA wants to replicate this.

I think if you're looking to criticize, you have to look at other problems with Tribefest such as cost for guests, costs to the JFNA, venue and absence of coherent programming. If they were going to use Jewlicious as a model, why not really make it like Jewlicious?

Anonymous said...

To the last anonymous, the attendance at Jewlicious has been over 1000 each of the past two years.

They're doing something right!

Anonymous said...

If they wanted to do a Jewlicious festival, they could have funded one. In this blog, you can see two of the Jewlicious organizers state they can't get funding for their festivals from the mainstream organizations.

This isn't very logical. You have a model that works for years. Instead of funding it and cloning it in other places, somebody funds a whole new one that copies the successful model but without the experience the leaders of the model can provide.

This means a new learning curve, wasted resources, waste of a few years until they come to the solutions Jewlicious has already figured out, unnecessary competition even though both groups have similar objectives, and yes, wasted funds and energy.

It's confusing because this is the type of replication that everybody is seeking to avoid.

Anonymous said...

It's not all that confusing...