Friday, March 4, 2011


So I read the p.r. on the Fest in The Huffington Post and The NY Jewish Week. It sounds far removed from any reality; if only wishing made it so. If only.

My sense is that a few months back, with Festivus approaching disaster status, JFNA decided to hand over the bulk of the programming to the generation for whom the Fest was intended -- with wholly predictable results. I don't pretend to comprehend, given my senior status, what the purpose of the TribeFest really is or ever was. It appears to be far more ambitious than the attendance could possibly justify -- in the press, JFNA decribes Festivus in advance as a "life altering experience" somehow comparable to Birthright. I truly believe that few at JFNA can describe how this could be in any real sense at all -- and that many lay leaders and professionals at 25 Broadway are embarrassed and concerned about what Festivus says about JFNA and, thereby, about all of us.

What started out with internal estimates that the Las Vegas venue and non-traditional programming and marketing would draw 3,000 young men and women to TribeFest. Now, Silverman projects 1,200 and others suggest numbers as low as 850. (With over 100 "speakers" on the Program, the numbers of attendees are more easily inflated -- one "speaker" for every 10 registrants is a ridiculous ratio.) With 40 "partners" and the encouragement JFNA gave federations to subsidize, 800 or 1200 or 3000 would seem to signal a lack of appealing content.

The Program itself -- whether on the "Main Stage" or in the "mash ups" (vayezmir) -- is beyond schizophrenic -- ranging from "Lunch with a Legend" to this: "'Door Prize' is the story of a trans, two spirit, butch-boi lesbians for whom public restrooms are always an adventure." I don't deprecate the focus -- and I know it's a discussion after viewing a short film; I guess it's my age, I don't understand the topic or its description -- "trans" I think I get, but "butch-boi" -- is it a typo? -- "two spirit?" (But I am certain that presenter Zsa Zsa Gershick will explain in full.) And, for certain, the game show parody "Jewpardy" should pack them in. This week Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman presided over the opening of The Mob Experience at the Tropicana Hotel -- coincidence...or new venue?

And, speaking of the need to explain, JFNA describes itself in the promotional materials for Festivus as: "...a network for doing good, through meaningful philanthropy and hands on volunteerism." Really? Festivus? Is this what we have become? Really? I remain convinced that the target generations crave real engagement and substance -- instead they get this? (Remember the negative reviews the Hillel attendees gave to the GA.)

There are a variety of Fest programs offering everything from the sublime to the...not so much...from organizations hip and newish -- e.g., PresentTense, Bikkurim, SUDIN -- to not so hip but Jewish -- e.g., the Jewish Federation of San Antonio's Howard Feinberg to the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and more. A veritable potpourri of organizational self-promotion. Pulling it all together? Best I can tell -- Nothing.

Jerry S has publicized the positive press -- articles pre-Fest in USA Today and The Jewish Week. It is clear from those quoted and from the missives JFNA Board members have received that there has been a major dedication of senior professionals from Development -- er, Philanthropic Resources -- from their fund-raising and constituency responsibilities to the Fest. Will press releases and staff comments mean the Fest is a success? Will 1,200 attendees ipso facto make Fest a success? Will a post-Fest survey affirming that everyone had a swell time make it a success? Or, none of the above?

Maybe the Fest shouldn't have been held in Las Vegas after all -- perhaps Fantasyland at Disneyland would have been more appropriate. This is how we present our system to the generations that follow ours? And, JFNA is already hard at work "planning next year's event."


1 comment:

SimeonWolf said...

The event in Las Vegas only has a real chance of making an impact if Federation lay leadership or professionals follow up with participants upon their return to their home communities. Programs are no substitution in any way ( even Birthright) for the development of relationships person to person - peer to peer - professional to lay leader. These relationships should be built upon shared stories not just shared experiences.Conversations need to take place between two people that offer insights from the riches of Jewish civilization in order to strongly tether those being outreached to or engaged to something deeper than a ephemeral experience no matter how fun or positive. There needs to be a relationship somewhere for there to be a possibility that they will explore and embrace their own identity and take ownership over their own connection to the Jewish community in any meaningful way. If I have learned anything during my tenure as a Hillel professional its that engagement or "outreach" is only effective person to person and through the building of these type of relationships. Events can be catalysts but they only have limited impact. I wonder how many local Federations that are sending young adults to Vegas this weekend have a follow up plan in place after the weekend is over? I can't help but make a few snarky remarks but after the hangover wears off from this weekend how many people will actually act out the charge and cliche "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" ? With this kind of investment from the organized Jewish community its never a good idea to let the chips fall where they may when we know better.

Another thought .....
All this makes me wonder what ever happened to Tel Aviv One? At least one could at least feel good that young people who might have missed out on Birthright had a chance to go to Israel highly subsidized.