Saturday, April 19, 2014


One of JFNA's lay leaders for whom I have only great affection and respect wrote me the other day. She sent me some very positive correspondence about TribeFest. I want to share that with you. The following was sent to JFNA in response to a post-Fest 3 "outreach" by the "Associate Director, Community and Professional Relations" asking those communities which received "grants" ("subsidies") to "help (JFNA) report back on the impact the national subsidy program has!" And, back came the following:
"Dear Julia,

Thank you for emailing me in Sam's absence.  Actually, we have quite an amazing post-Tribefest report for you!

On Wednesday, April 2nd, the University of New Mexico's student senate heard a resolution to divest from six companies who do business in Israel.  It was brought forward by Students for Justice in Palestine.  The hearing room was full to capacity, perhaps as many as 150 people were present.  There were perhaps 30 people present who were against the resolution and only seven students of the 30.  

Led by Sarah Abonyi, founder of Lobos for Israel, six other students spoke in a careful and polished manner against the resolution.  Half of the students had never spoken in public previously -- other than at their b'nai mitzvah ceremonies.  None had spoken in front of such a hostile crowd.  

Of the seven students who spoke, three attended Tribefest: Ezra Rabinsky, Rose Davenport and Jacob Goldstein. They did beautifully, despite the tension and the animosity of the crowd. 

Of the other three Tribefest attendees, Gabe Zambello would have spoken, but he had to attend class, Julian Lesnevich suffered a death in his family the previous day, and Dan Majewski is no longer a student. 

The student senators did not know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they knew that they didn't like the animosity shown.  After a difficult three hour meeting, they rejected the resolution (7-12), after unanimously striking all reference to Israeli companies first.  

It was extraordinary, and perhaps the first time a BDS resolution has been unanimously rejected at a US university.  After the meeting, I went through 750 tweets that occurred during the meeting.  The vast majority were hostile to Israel, often sarcastic to our students, and some veered straight into old-fashioned anti-Semitism. I have never experienced anything like this before.

Our young people were very brave.

I know that Tribefest made a real difference for them, as all three, Ezra, Rose and  Jacob, were immediately willing to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people, despite the real difficulties.

Thank you for enabling them to attend the event.  I know it gave them the strength to face the BDS movement head on.

All the best,"

And, kal ha'kavod to New Mexico. 

But, really. Is this exemplary experience worthy of the encomium offered by the JFNA Vice-President, Institutional Advancement (and kudos of course to the JFNA Senior V-P for Titles): "This is extraordinary. Should be used somewhere to demonstrate so many facets of what we do..."

Well, here's the thing...or a few things:

  • Does the New Mexico experience (or even 4 or 5 like it) rationalize the expenditure of over $3 million on a succession of what can only be described as failed Fests?
  • In the letter transmitting the New Mexico success, my friend asserted that "TribeFest came out of Young Leadership Cabinet's desire to offer a low entry outreach and engagement event for young people." Having heard from Cabinet leaders, I can tell you that that assertion is merely the rationalization for the triple failures of the three Fests. The Fests were imposed upon the Cabinets, pure and simple.
  • Other than the few operational federations, each of which is struggling, anyone who knows federation and its continental organization knows that these institutions...our institutions, should not be engaged in direct programming. In fact John Ruskay seriously questioned why JFNA was engaging in the Fests (when almost identical programming was being provided to the same "intended constituency" by others) -- there was no answer, of course. And, so it has continued with different audiences but the same dismal results year-after-year.
So, of course congrats to New Mexico and to its six heavily subsidized Festers for their good works. But....really?



Anonymous said...

It's time for not only TribeFest to go but for all those who have insisted it be repeated and repeated again need to be ushered out as well. They have wasted enough of our money and precious human resources on an "event" with such minimal returns (New Mexico included) as to be laughable.

Anonymous said...

I applaud the efforts of the students in New Mexico. And "Lobos for Israel" sure sounds like an AIPAC chapter on campus.

My issue...why is Tribefest for college students? Isn't it for young adults? Might as well just hand Tribefest over to Birthright NEXT and let them plan it for the future as a follow-up activity and not utilize JFNA resources. Birthright does a great job with drinking and sex -- so why not let them continue that for a weekend --- WITHOUT WASTING MY FEDERATION'S FUNDS!

Anonymous said...

To second anonymous - turning it over to Birthright is no better since a lot of their money also comes from the federations. Tribefest just needs to go.

Anonymous said...

To the last anonymous, a lot of Birthright money comes from federations? Kindly back-up your comment with facts; how much did all the federations together give to Birthright last year out of Birthright's total budget? Certainly millions, but I doubt it is much more than about 6% of the total. While that is still millions of dollars, it is FAR BELOW the 1/3 of Birthright money that the federations were supposed to kick in.

Anonymous said...

To the last anonymous asking to back up with facts - what exactly is your point? You seem to think that because the percentage is low that federations gives to Birthright - "perhaps only 6% of the total" - that this seems to justify turning over Tribefest to Birthright is okay. All I said (as the third anonymous)was that it is a lot of money that federations give to Birthright. Perhaps you don't think 6% of millions is a lot of money. Does this mean that the $30 million of the $900 million or so raised by federations isn't a lot of money either since it is only 3.3% and of that $1 million or so for Tribefest is only a rounding error. You jumped to an incorrect conclusion by assuming that I was justifying what federations give to Birthright. I agree with you it is not what they were supposed to give but why dilute it anymore with a nonsensical suggestion that Tribefest be turned over to Birthright to waste any of the even 6% that does go to Birthright? To further denigrate the work of Birthright by saying it does a great job with drinking and sex - shame on you.

Anonymous said...

To the last anonymous, if I misunderstood you were justifying the pitifully low number federations provide Birthright, my apologies. But nowhere did I suggest turning Tribefest over to Birthright. Tribefest needs to go and so does the JFNA CEO who is responsible for this ongoing waste of JFNA resources.

Anonymous said...

I chuckled reading the above comments.

JFNA needs to clearly articulate who TribeFest is for -- a 22-30 or older crowd. Once determined, who can best deliver the program. If for a younger cohort, then why not partner with Moishe House or Birthright...and if for older crowd then JFNA's YL efforts may work.

The question, like with so many Jewish communal offerings to younger people, what is the longitudinal impact. And that we will not know for decades to come.

RWEX said...

Worthy of reprinting right here:

Anonymous said...

Why do you keep putting down TribeFest? I have been at all of them and they are great.

I have gotten drunk and got laid every time and my parents friends paid the bill. And we were all Jewish so what is the big deal?

You complain about the subsidy, shut up. Nobody except the JFNA workers would go if there was no subsidy.

My parents made me join a Jewish Frat, go to Hillel, Birthright, and now they shep naches from TribeFest.

Nobody cares about the sessions or anything else, it is a great party. And maybe I will find a Jewish wife there someday. (Don't worry, I am always careful).

Thank you JFNA for a great time. Better if it was every year. Las Vegas is a better destination than New Orleans, but skiing would be fun too.

Sara Koplik said...



Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah:

"Confidential e-mail"? Really? Is Wexler to blame for its distribution? How did he get his hands on it?

Richard may be a "creep," but he's our "creep."