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 Jewcy.com 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! â€œThe decision to close was entirely financial, as the challenges facing our business model are too great to overcome,â€ the organization said. â€œJDub 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.â€ 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 Jewcy.com 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 â€œNon-Profitâ€ 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 â€“ 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 â€œinnovationâ€ and â€œsocial entrepreneurshipâ€ …?” 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 â€œforge vibrant connections to Judaismâ€ for a population with anything but. Of course, dodged entirely was the question of what was specifically â€œJewishâ€ 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!