Last week Heeb Magazine unveiled their newly redesigned Web site. Shortly thereafter, fellow Natan Grant recipients JDub Records announced that they were winding down for “financial reasons”. Coincidence? I don’t know…

What I do know is that the response has been almost… mournful. I mean that literally. My twitter stream is full of expressions of sadness and regret, the acronym “RIP” has been used more than once. The Jewish Press has written umpteen articles, mostly repeating what was written in the initial JDub press release. Beyond that the details have been fuzzy. Well, fuzzy and I can’t tell you because I’ve been sworn to secrecy. That having been said, the salient facts are that the Board of Directors decided to wind down the organization because they felt the business model wasn’t sustainable.

At this point there are a few people trying to analyze what went wrong with JDub. Meetings are being planned, courses of action are being determined and yet few people, besides the JDub Board members and some insiders, know exactly what went wrong. I mean, based on the numbers JDub released in their announcement, they were doing some spectacular work:

  • 150,000 event participants in 472 cities
  • 35 album releases
  • 3 Gold Records
  • 3,500 attendees at The Unity Sessions, the largest Israeli/Palestinian concert in the history of the United States
  • 52 songs placed in major films, TV shows, or ads
  • 800+ mainstream press stories including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, MTV, CNN, NPR, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Rolling Stone, SPIN, Billboard, and Pitchfork
  • 26 foundation and Federation funders
  • 630 individual donors
  • 2.7 million unique visitors to since JDub’s adoption

That’s really tremendous! Add to that their list of past and present funders and one has to wonder what the hell happened! “The decision to close was entirely financial, as the challenges facing our business model are too great to overcome,” the organization said. “JDub earned half of its annual budget from mission-related revenue, including album sales, concert tickets, and consulting fees, and the other half from foundations and individual donors.” Also offered was a final snapshot of JDub’s accomplishments: 150,000 event participants in 472 cities, 35 album releases, 3 Gold Records, 3,500 attendees at The Unity Sessions, the largest Israeli/Palestinian concert in the history of the United States, 52 songs placed in major films, TV shows, or ads, 800+ mainstream press stories including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, MTV, CNN, NPR, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Rolling Stone, SPIN, Billboard, and Pitchfork, 26 foundation and Federation funders, 630 individual donors and 2.7 million unique visitors to since JDub’s adoption.

And yet? Here we are. Now that a day has passed since the announcement, some more critical commentary is coming out. In an article titled “Broken Business Models in “Non-Profit” Start-ups; Case Study: JDub,” Jacob Ner-David concludes that “Bottom line: if a venture is delivering bang for a buck (or a shekel), it will be sustainable. It’s up to us entrepreneurs to figure out how.” Also on EJP, Ruthie Warshenbrot asks some very salient questions: “Was arts & culture programming actually a good entry-point to Jewish life, especially for young adults?” “If arts & culture wasn’t the way to go – and there are many ways to read JDub’s numbers, and its closing … what is the way to reach Jews in their 20’s and 30’s after all?” “Will this make the Jewish community question its commitment to “innovation” and “social entrepreneurship” …?” Warshenbrot notes that JDub got community buy-in and support from practically every single Jewish Foundation and Federation out there. They had been featured in every single edition of Slingshot to date. Will JDub’s funders be pissed off? Will they feel they got sold a bill of goods? Matthew Ackerman in Commentary urges us to Shed No Tears for the Death of JDUB:

As the initial promoter of Matisyahu and with a record that included attracting 150,000 young people to events in 472 cities, JDUB seemed to stand as the most successful organization, at least among those with a creative bent. Typical also was JDUB’s claim it could “forge vibrant connections to Judaism” for a population with anything but. Of course, dodged entirely was the question of what was specifically “Jewish” about attending a rock concert, even if the performer wore payes. Also left unaddressed was the long-term sustainability of such a loosely defined Jewish identity.

Of course, JDub has accomplished a lot more than just promote Matisyahu. But Ackerman writes for Commentary. They’re old. What do they know. Certainly here at Jewlicious we’ve made great use of JDub artists, from Matisyahu, to SoCalled, to Soulico, arts and culture JDub style has always been a cornerstone of our Jewlicious Festivals. The difference is that the fun, cultural expressions of Judaism we present are done in the context of a complete and immersive experience that includes a plurality of substantial Jewish experiences. Sure we party, but we also offer various speakers, learning and skill sessions, contact with writers, artists and a multi-denominational crew of Rabbis and activists. Why are we not flush with cash? Well, after 7 years and countless successful programs (including this blog) many still see us as a sophisticated Orthodox Kiruv movement. Just as an aside, I’d like to add a hearty “fuck you!” to those ignoramuses that still think that because we include Orthodox Jews, we’re all about Kiruv. Next time you come to a Jewlicious Festival, join the Reform Minyan for services and stick your Orthodox kiruv where the sun don’t shine.

But I digress. Yesterday I spoke to 2 Birthright Israel groups, 80 young American Jews in all. I asked them for their thoughts on the closing of JDub and the unknown future of Jewcy. They were exactly the target demographic that JDub was supposed to be forging vibrant Jewish connections with. Of the 80, only 3 had ever heard of JDub and 6 had heard of Jewcy. I guarantee you that if 60 or even 40 or even 30 had answered in the affirmative when asked if they knew what JDub/Jewcy was, we would not be having this conversation. Just for the sake of balance only 11 had heard of Jewlicious (but we do have only a tiny fraction of their budget). The point is that maybe JDub failed because it, well, essentially failed. People just weren’t buying what they were selling in sufficient numbers. It’s that simple. Or maybe Heeb’s new web site killed them. What do I know.

Having said all that, I’d like to wish all the JDub community the best of luck in all their future endeavors. Despite everything, JDub did a great job expanding the conversation about the evolution of Jewish Identity in North America. Aron Bisman is an extremely talented and passionate guy and I know that this will not be the last we hear from him. You can’t contain that kind of passion!

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • Right on Article.

    Too much talking, not enough doing.
    Too many think tanks too few do tanks.
    Too many studies not enough learning.


    There are no sure fixes…but surely not everything is broken.
    Everything in our community need not be either- or, every once in a while we should strive for either – and.

    And finally. Lets strive for Quality. Excellence. No matter the age or the voice.

    Craig Taubman

    • Alex! Bubbeleh! I linked to and quoted from the commentary article. Didn’t you see that in the post? Or were you mesmerized by the JDub skull?

      • Damn it. Sorry, that’s where I probably had to start reading faster to get to a meeting on time. Sorry. Nice catch. I wasn’t as aware of all of these strategies until just recently. Not sure where I stand. It’s not so cut and dry as Jewish liberals. 🙂

  • “Just as an aside, I’d like to add a hearty “fuck you!” to those ignoramuses that still think that because we include Orthodox Jews, we’re all about Kiruv.”

    “Kiruv…” I’m fairly certain that it is a term not recognized outside of the Orthodox community, except by those of us who are involved in community organizing.

    As you know, I’ve been involved with the Jewlicious Festivals since the first. I am not Orthodox. I did not have great experiences with the few Orthodox people I knew before my experiences here in Long Beach on the Board of Beach Hillel…and Jewlicious. But I have developed a deep appreciation for my Orthodox friends and what I have learned from them over the years.

    The Jewlicious Festivals have been life changing for literally thousands of non-Orthodox college students and young adults. The community should look at the ROI of invested community funds over the long term. They should attempt to understand which investments will pay a dividend. Jewlicious Festivals does just that. And it is one of the few events where Jews of any label (well…except “for Jesus”) are welcomed, involved, and engaged as they are.

    One of our original Jewlicious Festivals funders wrote his big check with a simple goal. He wanted Jewish young adults hanging out with other Jews, partying with other Jews, (hooking up with other Jews) and having Jewish families. He didn’t care what denomination they came from, so long as they identified themselves as Jews.

    I’m saddened by the loss of JDUB…or any other organization that brings accessible Jewish culture to people who would never otherwise be connected to anything Jewish Jewlicious Festivals are what they are, in large part, because of the influence of “our” musical talents.

    Jewlicious Festival 8 is right around the corner. Join us in funding this event. Then come to it and see for yourself.

  • Hey, the business was built on a flawed idea, that Jews are cool, Jews are not, well there’s not enough cool Jews out there to sustain anything more than a pizza shop. Mainstream Jewish masses no matter their age are conservative, right of center, meat eating, war supporting, slightly racist, not very academic, in the box thinking, conformist, don’t get too drunk or take drugs, boring, upper middle class, victims of our times. Why didn’t they know that?

    • “Mainstream Jewish masses no matter their age are conservative, right of center, meat eating, war supporting, slightly racist, not very academic, in the box thinking, conformist, don’t get too drunk or take drugs, boring, upper middle class, victims of our times.”

      Huh? I guess that makes me Mel Gibson.

  • What interested me about that post was the fact that other than Matisyahu, I don’t think anyone outside JDub’s circle of friends has heard of anything they came out with. Wait, is Balkan Beat Box Jdub?

  • What did I say? How right was I? My last comment in that thread dealt with the $50 large that Portland was about to bestow on JDub. I was poking around EJewish Philanthropy and someone had itemized what LA got for their 2008 investment in JDub. Here it is:

    In 2008, JDub received a $250,000 cutting edge grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of LA. That grant was meant to “inspire the next generation of Jews and give them an opportunity to engage with Jewish culture and one another through music.” The grant period was from August 2008 to July 2011. In that time, JDub put on 21 concerts in LA. Not bad right? However, only 9 were specifically listed as having been “Made possible with support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.” Of those 9, 4 were shows by the Sway Machinery and three were shows by Girls in Trouble (all 3 GIT shows took place within a month of each other). That’s over $25,000 a show (!!!) for bands that were already touring anyway. Would you spend 250,000 precious community dollars on that?

    How much was your Jewish Community Foundation of LA grant? After 5 years of proven success in LA? $200,000? Someone there thought that a NY based group was going to “engage” more young Jews in LA than a homegrown group. I’d love to know who made that decision! (I’m kidding. I already know)

    Well now what happened? $250,0000 for nine small shows! Three of them in one month by the same band! Either someone at the JCFLA wasn’t doing their due diligence OR the JDub carpetbaggers thought of community resources as their birthright to do with as they saw fit, or both! And why did Jewlicious get stiffed (think of how much more you could have done with an extra $250k…)? Because someone on the committee bought into the notion that JDub/Jewcy was reaching more people in LA than Jewlicious was and that Jewlicious was, how did you put it ck? A sophisticated kiruv program. Who was promoting that prima facie false notion? People from JDub and their supporters.

    Now do you understand why I was laughing at you for sinking your own hard earned cash into a dysfunctional and destructive organization?

    But it gets better! Has the organized Jewish community learned its lesson? Sadly, no. This week in DC and NY and LA a series of high powered community players are going to meet in order to decide the future of Jewcy. Are they going to sink further precious resources into this white elephant? Is Jewcy going to be resurrected for the 4th time? For gosh sakes please do or say something about that. Grow some balls for once. If I read another mournful, salutory post or tweet about JDub I am absolutely going to projectile vomit. I don’t want to projectile vomit, I’m kind of in love with my monitor.

  • I should also add that shortly the 6 Points Fellowship in LA, another $250k grant recipient is going to announce the winners of their LA arts grants. 9 people will receive up to $40,000 each as support for their artistic endeavors. I can’t wait to see how many or the fellows will be from “Russian, Persian and Israeli communities in Silverlake, Echo Park and Hollywood.” I also look forward to seeing how many “assume leadership roles in the Jewish community” one f the stated purposes of the grant.

    BennyB? You think Sway Machinery and Can!!Can were obscure? Wait till you see past, present and future 6 Points cohorts.

    • When our commenters are right, they are right.

      Now, seriously, are you saying that the JDub and Jewcy folks are the ones who have been pushing to label Jewlicious as kiruv?

    • Sorry, never heard of those bands, and have no idea what you’re talking about with 6 point cohorts. I’m sorry this program failed, but their inability to come out with anything relevant after Matis really shot them into one-hit-wonder land.

  • themiddle: JDub most certainly diminished the work of Jewlicious, both the Festival and the blog. They justified the 2008 request for $250,000 with the understanding that significant parts of the Los Angeles young Jewish community were underserved, like the Silver Lake hipsters and secular Jews who would be turned off by an organization headed by a Rabbi. I wasn’t privy to private conversations of course, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. What coverage of the Jewlicious Festival has Jewcy ever done? One link to a critical article in the Forward, another by a Rabbi criticizing your Herzl t-shirt. But listen themiddle, it’s not all about you. JDub was a good idea, created with good intentions. But as a non-profit they were dependent on communal funding, as such they repurposed themselves to fit funding guidelines, from a record label meant to support good Jewish music to the unwieldy media juggernaut tasked with saving the Jews, that it has become.

    Maybe the Federations and the Foundations have woken up to the reality that sustainable Judaism requires actual uniquely Jewish content? That there isn’t a quick and simple solution to bring the unaffiliated Jews back to the fold? Maybe. But probably not. Look for Jewcy Part IV coming to a well monied Foundation near you!

    • If what you say is true, then the only conclusion is that the people who make these decisions about funding need to look hard in the mirror and try to understand why they keep betting on the wrong horse. The truth is it’s a crying shame that Jewlicious didn’t become a much bigger enterprise 4 or 5 years ago and lack of community funding is the key reason. By now the USA could have had a number of annual Jewlicious festivals in key markets and all the residual programming that can evolve from these festivals as well. Instead they fund these guys or silly contests or clones of Jewlicious in Vegas (that cost much more than a Jewlicious festival, by the way). The site suffers as well since we’re all unpaid and there’s only so much time to do this stuff.

      What a shame.

  • Rabbi Yonah Asked: What bands are featured in the 21 concerts that were performed in LA?

    Glad you asked that Rabbi. Here’s the complete list:

    Sep 09 Balkan Beat Box
    Nov 17 Hadag Nahash
    Dec 20 DeLeon, The Sway Machinery*

    Mar 18 Golem & The Sway Machinery*
    Apr 28 Soulico*
    Apr 29 Soulico
    May 17 Soulico
    Jun 11 Balkan Beat Box
    Sep 17 The Sway Machinery*
    Oct 28 Soulico

    Feb 28 The Macaroons Purim Party
    May 01 The Wailing Wall
    Jul 15 The Sway Machinery
    Sep 13 Clare Burson*

    Jan 18 Clare Burson
    Feb 23 Balkan Beat Box & Soulico
    Mar 05 Michael Showalter
    Mar 08 The Sway Machinery and Khaira Arby* $18
    Mar 17 Girls in Trouble*
    Apr 16 Girls in Trouble*
    Apr 17 Girls in Trouble*

    From August 2008 till July 2009

    * Billed as having been made possible with support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles

    Once again let me note that all these artists were touring anyway, and they would have had to come to LA with or without the community’s financial support.

    themiddle: From what I’ve heard, 2-3 more Jewlicious Festivals in North America would have had an incredible impact on Jewish engagement. But no one’s going to give serious money to a kiruv group run by an Orthodox Rabbi. Never mind that those 2-3 festivals would not cost as much as one tribefest. Also, imagine how much better Jewlicious would be if you had half or a third of the money spent on Jewcy. A little bit of cash goes a long way toward writer retention. It’s my understanding that Jewlicious the web site has never gotten a single grant from anyone. Ever. What’s up with that? How do you people eat??

    • Jewlicious the web site has never received a cent in support. The few ads that are run provide ck with server costs and some pocket money so (sadly for him) he can kill himself with cigarettes. Over the course of these years, I think Tablet has received $3 million/year in funding and although I’ve never followed Jewcy or JDub, I know they received enough to feed their team.

      As for eating, none of us depend on the site to live, although this site would be better, deeper and have broader reach if it could support us. The internet is a busy place with lots of competition and you need to be putting out high quality content all the time and actively promoting it just to tread water, much less to grow.

      I am currently trying to develop a new project and so far have gotten nowhere with funding. Being anonymous doesn’t help, of course, but I’ve reached out to a couple of people using Jewlicious as a calling card and have received no reaction although I know they’re familiar with this site. Maybe they think a guy who likes unagi and eggs benedict is a stealth kiruvnik. I won’t launch if there isn’t a salary to be had – been there, done that – because it’s an ambitious project and it’s impossible to publish with quality and regularly when the publisher and writers are also trying to make a living doing other things. Not to worry, though, based on past experience chances are I won’t get to launch while some well-connected guys out there will “wrastle'” some money from the community for some lame-ass competition or something else that will have zero lasting impact. Then in 10 years we’ll be wondering why all our kids are intermarrying or barely consider themselves “culturally Jewish” and some more money will be thrown at trying to fix problems that could have been avoided in the first place.

      Hey, this gave me an idea. Maybe I should come up with some competition idea, try to get a half million for it, settling for the inevitable 250k, and then use the money to actually build the publishing project…

  • themiddle wrote: “although I’ve never followed Jewcy or JDub, I know they received enough to feed their team.”

    Oh yes, enough to feed them well, at least some of them anyway. Here are the figures in case you were wondering:

    For Tax year ending in 2008
    Contributions, gifts, grants: $242,709
    Total Revenue: $778,739
    Total Expenses: $880,370
    Ttl: -$91,631
    Notable Salaries:
    Aron Bisman: $101,000
    Jacob Harris: $90,000 (VP Artist Incubation)

    For Tax year ending in 2009
    Contributions gifts grants: $621,824
    Total Revenue: $914,177
    Total Expenses: $946,222
    Ttl: -$32,045
    Notable Salaries:
    Aron Bisman: $66,750

    For Tax year ending in 2010
    Contributions gifts grants: $460,217
    Total Revenue: $1,020,815
    Total Expenses: $1,093,114
    Ttl: -$72,299
    Notable Salaries:
    Aron Bisman: $86,500
    Other salaries & wages: $329,539

    These figures are culled from publicly available Form 990 filings with the IRS. You may want to note that for Tax year ending in 2010, JDub cited $20,993 in Web revenue from Jewcy.

    We’ll see what their last filing is going to show, but whatever it is, it prompted independent consultants and the board to shut JDub down much to the surprise of the staff and the President. What is clear is that every year, hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled to JDub by organizations and foundations that believed that JDub was going to be able to “foster Jewish identity and build community among younger Jews through the performance and dissemination of all forms of Jewish music and the sponsorship of various religious (!!??), educational (!!??) and musical events.” I suppose that had they just stuck to promoting independent Jewish artists, that would have been a laudable and achievable goal for a small record label. But then they would not have gotten all that cash – cash that could have gone to an organization like yours with a proven track record.

    Let me put it into better context, between March 17-April 17 JDub artists Girls in Trouble performed three times in LA to a combined audience totaling less than 400. The support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles used to put on these shows, if pro-rated would have equaled over $80,000. That would have been enough for you guys to jumpstart (sorry Sean!) TWO additional Festivals, or one Festival and significant support for the blog. Or it could have been used for any number of projects more worthy than three sparsely attended shows in one month by a band hardly anyone knows and whose music is only peripherally Jewish.

    What say ye now?

  • I didn’t want to say anything until I confirmed every single one of JDub Ubber Alles’ figures. And I did, and it wasn’t fun. I can’t speak to this recurring theme of yours that JDub had it out for us. Maybe they had it out for Heeb – ie compare and contrast the newer Jewcy 100 to the older Heeb 100 – but I know that we’ve never had anything but friendly and amicable relations with current and past JDub/Jewcy staff. I don’t begrudge them for their success in funding. The fact that they are folding despite this success simply indicates how challenging it is to service the 18-35 year old demographic in a way that is both compelling and sustainable. See this article in Zeek for the scary demographics…

    Anyhow, I’m not a shmoozer and I can’t tell the organized Jewish community what to do with their (our?) money and what will be will be. We’ll keep chugging along until we can no longer chug. Judaism will always face its challenges one way or another, with or without us.

  • Fine, whatever. I’ll keep releasing details in the hopes that someone picks up on this information. Maybe you’ll benefit, maybe you won’t. We’ll see what develops from the meetings in NY and DC regarding the remaining JDub assets. Will Jewcy rise from the ashes again? Or will it finally be allowed to die a merciful death? We’ll find out soon enough I guess!

  • If an old codger who has spent a lot of years in the mainstream media and has come to the Jewish world late in life can be permitted a few comments…

    1) In the “real” world, most venture-backed start-ups fail, and the VC’s spread their money around hoping for one to go big (40-1, or so), so, they don’t mind “losing” on the other 10-20 they fund. Can social entrepreneurship venture capital live with that kind of track record, esp. as there is no “takeout,” as my friend Jacob Ner-David has said? Probably not. When each new hatchling has to be cared for until it can stand on its own feet, then the VC model does not work. Or, conversely, if we want to live with that model, then we cannot rend our clothes and tear our hair out when any single venture – and Zeek and others have pointed out how many have fallen by the wayside – falters or fails.

    2) Some kind of blended model of ongoing philanthropic funding and commercial success would seem to be the only way to go, as there is such a thing as donor fatigue. I truly hope that the well-funded organizations of the moment continue to receive strong support from their funders. But I think they all must have succession plans ready for implementation. And commercial revenues must be a part of that. As has been said about media, that is a tall challenge these days. Old funding models seem to be breaking, if not broken, and momentum and legacy brand names will carry one only so far. Yet many old brands have great value, and very few of the hundreds/thousands of new brands have built up that kind of equity. Will the NY Times survive? Yes, but in what format, not even Pinch knows.

    3) I have reluctantly given up the idea that “one big Jewish brand” – the big tent with everyone inside in a different corner – will work. Gosh, even is dead. For one thing, different strokes for different folks (sorry, I’m showing my age). Ultra-hip NY material such as Heeb and super-obscure bands appeal to some, but not all of it can be “exported” to the flyover states or the Left Coast, even. Secondly, the Jewish-only market just isn’t big enough. Having spent some time on the business side of well-funded Jewish MSM, I can tell you that Audi & Rolex just are not going to advertise on Jewish sites. And I think that efforts to draw the evangelical market to Jewish media in an effort to make a $ are not only problematic but likely not to succeed. Plus, isn’t that a scary thing, values-wise?

    Smaller, community-based programs seem as if they can work, but, then, none of those will be big enough “to save the Jews.” Is that a problem? Must the 6M North American Jews all be able to “just get along”?

    Further, the mainstream North American cultural scene has been thoroughly influenced with Jewish values, creativity, and snark for 100 years now, from Irving Berlin to Seinfeld, with many stops in between, of course. The entire pop cultural scene in the USA – from Hollywood to Broadway to the Brill Building to rock and roll – let alone literature and art – is so thoroughly “Jewish” that it hardly bears describing it as such to a learned audience such as this. Is it necessary to overtly add Jewish content to pop music? Will that save the Jews? And do they even want to be saved?

    Finally, even though I live in Israel, I am not going to say that Israeli culture, secular or Jewishly oriented, is the answer for North American Jews. Does anyone in NY, LA, SF or KC care who won “Cochav Nolad” last night? Maybe they should. A sweet girl from Sderot whose parents are first-generation immigrants from Ethiopia took the crowd by storm (I hope some of the tent-protesters were watching, as well, but those are different stories.).

    Nevertheless, I would only make a few recommendations – finger-pointing, back-biting, and name-calling probably won’t get us anywhere. Yet we also don’t need all to agree and sit around the kumsitz and sing together. Keep talking and arguing – but keep it civil and try to learn from one another. One death should be mourned, but it’s not the end of everything. Don’t read too much apocalyptic message into a single organization’s demise.

    PS: For those who may know my name, or those who find out it is associated with one organization or another, please note that these are personal comments only and do not reflect any particular organization’s policy.

    PPS: This will be cross-posted on the Zeek/Forward article, as well, just because there always has to be one shul we don’t go to. 🙂

  • Wow. Thank You For Writing This. I’ve Read Many Many Posts And Sites On This Topic And Yours Is By Far The Best. Simple, Sweet, Solid, And Supportive, And Genuine. I Will Be Definitely Looking Into More Of What You Write. Thank You For Sharing Your Words.