Monday, February 6, 2012


I understand the sense of desperation at JFNA over the probability that TribeFestivus II will be as big a financial failure as the first Festivus. So, here's what's happening (or not happening):

     ~ JFNA Senior professionals have made it abundantly clear in writing that the overriding purpose of TribeFest " the collective goal of bring more people to TribeFest." It's all about the numbers; the numbers are the "goal." Thus, after offering the Endowment Committee "seven ways" staff -- for this is a staff driven thing with YLC lay leaders around for support and script reading -- to apply a $100,000 proposed grant, ultimately staff decided to offer 500 additional potential registrants a $200 subsidy. Seeing as 73% of all participants in Fest 1 were subsidy recipients, sounds like a good way to hype the numbers for a Conference that, like the old Seinfeld show, like JFNA itself, appears to be about nothing. But it is about something -- TribeFest II is all about spending what JFNA estimates (and JFNA is really bad at this) $818,259 before staff travel and overhead...this is therefor a $1,000,000 event. Where was the debate over this investment? Rhetorical question. Numbers for numbers sake.

Forgive me but I can think of ten things or more that JFNA might be doing with $1 million that responds to the needs of federations, that would produce more young leaders. But, at JFNA...this.

     ~ National Young Leadership will convene a pre-Festivus "Leadership Development Institute" in a transparent effort to pump up attendance. So, here you have it: Festivus "designed" for the non-affiliated will be integrated with NYL -- supposedly the "elite" of the affiliated young adults. JFNA is so confused and desperate, they don't even see the conflict...can't have a deficit;

     ~ The confusion that is promised by the Global Planning Table "process" will now be exacerbated as the Festivus attendees will be surveyed as to how our donors Israel and Overseas dollars should be prioritized and distributed. Yes, JoAnne Moore will devote a session -- say that's an hour -- to "explaining" our system's historical commitment to Israel and overseas needs and the GPT itself and, then, these young men and women will be asked for their "input." I can think of nothing more pandering or ridiculous, other than the waste of Festivus itself.

Best I can tell the "LDI" (yes, in the great tradition of JFNA, this thing has already acquired its own acronym) will last for 5 hours (and that includes at least lunch and, probably, breakfast), cost $99 (in addition to the $499 cost [less subsidy] of the Fest) and the speakers will all be professionals, mainly from JFNA or affiliates, each with little in the way of federation experience (not that that matters anymore). No lay persons, though there are Co-Chairs who will, no doubt, bring greetings and say farewell. Sad, but this is what the Young Leadership Cabinets have been reduced to -- no longer the fertile field of future federation leadership, just bringers of best wishes and cheerleaders for ideas no matter how weak. Oh, and "...professionals are invited to register to learn alongside lay leaders."

     ~ As of mid-December, 104 young men and women had registered; now the claim is that over 800 have -- amazingly, though the recession is still upon us, and there have been no apparent communal benefits from Festivus 1, allegedly 64 communities are already committed to subsidize Festivus 2 and JFNA copped a $100,000 "grant" for 500 more subsidies (see "above"). I am told that the YLC conducted "post conference programming...including the handbook, e-mails to assist communities to conduct innovative and creative activities following the Tribefest experience." Have you seen any of that?

     ~ I read somewhere about the Jewish Rapper Shyne, who, for some reason known only to Shyne himself, announced he was "rapping my tzitzis." Shyne will no doubt be front and center on the Main Stage at the Festivus. Enjoy. 

     ~ And back on January 17, an attendee at the first Festivus wrote:  "Now with TribeFest rapidly approaching, I think we need more dish on how that NEW IDEA is progressing in light of last year's 'results.' I was in Las Vegas and despite the fact that the vast majority of attendees were self-selected Young Leadership types, when discussing plans for this year almost no one knows about the massive cost overruns, the failure of achieving stated goals, etc. I mean I had a very fun time last year on my heavily subsidized trip - but I don't know how I can justify going again while remaining at peace with my conscience. So please - let me know how it's going. Please tell me that JFNA is taking active measures to organize a better event, to attract any new blood, etc. Please tell me this is not going to be just another booze soaked Vegas weekend."


Like you, I want to see more and more young men and women engage with our system. We have found the means to do so in Chicago and those from federation with credibility at JFNA have suggested both tried and proven ways to do so to JFNA time and again -- only to be ignored time and again. What we have instead is this pile of waste now to be repeated for a second year. So, JFNA will have lost two years wandering in the desert that is the Festivus/Festivii. Last year over $253,000 was lost on this thing and to avoid further losses this year, $100,000 was sought and granted from the JFNA's endowment and the attendance pleas and pressures began much earlier in 2012. And, remember this name...Rachel Dratch, star of 30 Rock (or was that Tina Fey?), and one big name draw at the Fest to come, along with multiple personalities from 25 Broadway.

So, here you have it: JFNA has made TribeFest its premier program. It's throwing $1,000,000 of its budget at it and asking you for more, assigning its top domestic professionals to it (most of whom by age alone should be as disqualified from attendance as I am) -- and it can articulate no purpose for it other than...numbers. This is junk programming; it is narishkeit; it is a terrible waste at a time that we cannot afford any.
At the end of the day, with all of the waste -- money, professionals' time that could be spent productively, the precious time of young Cabinet members and leaders (who have actually been convinced and convinced themselves that this is something other than "another booze soaked Vegas weekend." Remember last year, the YLC Co-Chair actually compared Fest to Birthright.)  --  most tragic is how our system is being presented to those not affiliated with us and to those who are at an event like this.



Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Party Pooper,

You may have stumbled on something. Why not turn the whole thing over to Birthright as a reunion event.

Anonymous said...

Give them something for next to nothing and they will give you back what? Nothing? Where is the spirit of mission and an unfinished Jewish agenda? Where is the sacrifice and the goal larger than oneself implicit in the phrase "acharei"? This is a great new generation with so much talent and promise. Challenge them with a task not a flask!

joebrown42 said...

And I think of how Limmud events have caused Jewish revival amongst young, involved and interested Jews, in the UK, in Europe, and even in Israel.

Anonymous said...

Tribefest is nothing more than a Jewish PepRally. I was there last year and there was no mention of philanthropy.....Apparently that is not important

Anonymous said...

What's the budget for the Jewlicious Festival? Isn't it something like $120,000 total? And didn't I read that one of the consequences of TribeFest is that support for and participation in Jewlicious is down? Surely there has to be a way to run an event of this scale that does not require spending so much money? Or is this a truly educational event that demonstrates clearly what Jewish Philanthropy is all about these days - short sighted and desperate strategies that are more about flash and less about substance?

Anonymous said...

no purpose
no content
no clear market
no ask
no lay involvement
no strategic connection to other efforts
no coordination with better programs
no cost efficency or effectiveness
no follow up
nuff said - brand JFNA!

Anonymous said...

No oversight
No sense
No funding for JDC and JAFI
No no no

Jewlicious said...

To Anonymous (February 7, 2012 8:01 AM) - You are remarkably well informed! Have we ever hit you up for funding? If so, please send us cash and your Jewish youth!

But Yes. We're just under $120k per Festival. And yes our numbers are a bit down but that might just be the economy. Jewlicious is not the same as TribeFest and that might go a long way toward explaining the cost discrepancies. Jewlicious is aimed at college students and young professionals. Someone who is 40, let alone 45, might feel a bit out of place at Jewlicious - our pace is rather frenetic and the energy level is high. If you're old you will be exhausted. I know. I'm old. I'm always exhausted afterward!

But more importantly, this isn't a pissing contest! We don't want to be compared to TribeFest and we'd rather not be used by its detractors to score points. This next TribeFest will be only the second one ever. I'm sure they'll replicate their successes and learn from their mistakes. The next Jewlicious will be our 8th annual Festival and we're still learning! I wish the organizers and participants of TribeFest 2012 great success!

RWEX said...

Dear Jewlicious,

Thanks for joining this dialogue. As you have noted, the Blog has a broad representation of insightful readers (and an even broader group of "non-readers, if you catch my drift). My understanding is that the Festivus target audience is identical to yours -- of course, in pursuit of "numbers" JFNA appears to have abandoned its criteria -- congrats to Jewlicious for your focus and continued success.

Your Comment arrived while I was in the midst of writing a Post on JFNA's treatment of those it calls "partners." It's a cautionary tale, of course.

Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Oh come now Jewlicious. I remember the first TribeFest actually billing itself as a Jewlicious Festival for older people. They've since stopped doing that of course, but ask yourself honestly, what is TribeFest? Look at the format, the entertainers, the speakers, etc.? How many were past Jewlicious Festival attendees? From what I've read about Jewlicious, there is an overall mission to encourage young Jews to get more involved in their community, whereas at TribeFest, most of the participants are already involved. Another big difference is that TribeFest is a lavish affair that includes lots of drinking, partying and the availability of gambling and other Vegas-related vices. Of course your numbers are down! Every Federation is subsidizing TribeFest participation. How much support are your participants getting? Of course Vegas will beat a boat in Long Beach! I have no idea why you're not totally incensed at what looks like a strategy of cooptation with you and your Festival in the cross hairs. Unless of course you're being pressured... Well, don't worry about it. The facts are obvious. People aren't stupid.

Anonymous said...

Yes Jewlicious, what's with you? I'm so glad another anonymous called you out. Ok, so you don't want a pissing contest; that's fine. But stop kissing up to JFNA. We all know TribeFest has seriously hurt, and may ultimately destroy, Jewlicious. Better to stay out of the fray than heap undeserved praise on JFNA. After all, you also have a rep to uphold.

Jewlicious said...

Oh yikes! Truth is I have no idea what reputation I or rather we have to uphold. I know we've had 7 annual Festivals, all successful by any measure, but I still hear establishment people say that we're some kind of Orthodox kiruv organization. Or affiliated with Chabad. Or funded by some folks that aren't actually funding us. None of this is true of course. I tell you it's like pulling teeth to get Federation people, national or regional, to come and just check out the Festival. No one really gets what we do. So yeah, I have no idea what this reputation is. I do however know that above and beyond anything else, we function as a Network hub. We connect people to the greater Jewish community. We want our participants to get involved in ROI, in Presentense, in their local Federations and in everything implied by a rich Jewish identity. As such, we're about building bridges, not knocking them down. The ultimate solution to the issues brought up in this post and on this blog in general, is, I think to encourage more involvement in and knowledge if local Federations and even JFNA. I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from that potential course of action. I don't have a horse in the race. JFNA does not fund us. We're not involved in TribeFest this year. I am trying to remain chilled out and productive. It's hard to do, but I think it's the right approach.

Anonymous said...

Jewlicious, please contact Jerry Silverman and his staff ASAP. Tell them the secret is to "connect people to the greater jewish community." Tell them to build bridges and stop knocking down everyone elses. In fact, you can show them how to build bridges.

They'll ignore you, of course. But you'll be everyone's hero. And who knows, maybe some new philanthropist will then shine on you.

Jewlicious said...

Dear Anonymous (FEBRUARY 10, 2012 12:52 PM): Thanks for your feedback and suggestions. I highly doubt that Jerry Silverman knows me from Job. Nor should he. I live in Jerusalem and help run the Jewlicious blogs. I'm sure however, that he knows Rabbi Yonah, our Festival Director, who was the highest vote recipient of the 1st Heroes contest. I don't think it's Rabbi Yonah's style to call people and chastise them. We try to play nice, you know? And besides, they say discretion is the better part of valor, right? Does anyone really want to hear about how hard we work and how little support we get? Can you imagine? We run Jewlicious, which according to Joel Berkofsky, is a notable part of JFNA's social media strategy, we run which is a predominantly Russian language blog aimed at young Russian Jews, and we just started for students and for young Jews in Turkey. We get zero regular support for any of that. We need to build bridges. We can't continue this way in perpetuity. I sure can't - someone's gotta pay the rent! But yeah. Jerry Silverman. I aint calling him because I am sure he is too busy to talk to me.

Anonymous said...

To the 4th Anonymous, you are mistaken. One of the seminal moments last year was Alina Gerlovin Spaulding's electric speech about the power of Federation philanthropy in her life - and countless other lives. The most widely lauded session was Slingshot's session on supporting programs and projects that infuse life and meaning into our community. Mark Wilf and Jonathan Kraft spoke of the power of Jewish community and philanthropy in their lives. I am not sure what conference you attended, but jumping on this bandwagon is not appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Dear Festivus Insider,

You have identified three programs from last year's Fest that had "value." If this year's schedule is the parallel of the last, there are currently 38 programs (not including Yoga)on the Schedule. Apparently you believe that it's just fine that a federation-funded program, allegedly for the unaffiliated, devote less than 10% of its programs to our communal philanthropy.


Anonymous said...

Dear friend, those were just a few examples of the whole. It is clear that the facts are not important here in this discussion, so I will leave it at that. I am sorry you are so angry about something that is trying to do some good and has the support of the majority of the federations and people out there - at least that has been the surveyed feedback. My suspicion is that ANYTHING that JFNA tries to do will not be good in your eyes, so why even bother to have this discussion.
Just remember that there are a lot of good, honest and dedicated young professionals at JFNA who are working very hard on this, doing it with little or no budget, and are doing it in partnership (yes, that is a real word) with our federations, our agencies, and organizations.
We don't think these attacks are funny.