What Will the Jewish Community Do?

by Ruthie Warshenbrot

I was surprised and disappointed to hear of the recent closing of one of the Jewish community’s darling innovative organizations, JDub. I have great respect for my colleague Aaron Bisman, and have enjoyed watching JDub’s growth and reach over the past almost-decade of its existence.

This big news makes me wonder how the organized Jewish community will react. I suspect that JDub’s closing will result in a flurry of reactions via social media, articles, op-eds, and even obituaries, potentially touching on the following topics:

  • Was arts & culture programming actually a good entry-point to Jewish life, especially for young adults? Many studies emerged just as JDub was gaining popularity that supported its mission, almost verbatim and JDub’s own numbers in its departure press release are fairly significant – 150,000 participants over 9 years. Is there now a niche to be filled in the Jewish community of young, culturally-engaged adults with no way to get their fix of Jewish music, media, and cultural events? What about emerging Jewish artists? The Six Points Fellowship, which JDub helped foster, is not large enough to support the potential number of Jewish artists trying to get their break.
  • If arts & culture wasn’t the way to go – and there are many ways to read JDub’s numbers, and its closing (were those 150,000 unique participants?), what is the way to reach Jews in their 20’s and 30’s after all? Did we hedge our bets on JDub and organizations like it? Are there other ways to interpret the studies on “young adult” interests and other opportunities for young adult engagement now that JDub has shut its doors? [The independent minyan scene may be capturing many of the young Jews interested in religious and ritual life, but what about those looking for other connections to Jewish life, beyond ritual and arts and culture, such as through social justice and service, Israel or a global feeling of peoplehood].
  • Will this make the Jewish community question its commitment to “innovation” and “social entrepreneurship,” two extremely hot topics of the past decade, and two words whose meanings have been obscured? JDub was supported by both Joshua Venture (in its previous iteration) and Bikkurim. JDub has been recognized by Slingshot in each year’s guide since Slingshot’s inception, and Bisman has often been featured as a model Jewish social entrepreneur. The increased innovation in the Jewish community and its impact has been highlighted by Jumpstart’s research, including The Innovation Ecosystem : Emergence of a New Jewish Landscape and The Jewish Innovation Economy: An Emerging Market for Knowledge and Social Capital, supported by The Samuel Bronfman Foundation and Natan. In its most recent report, The Jewish Innovation Economy, the start-up Jewish sector is credited for reaching more than half a million people across North America through more than 600 initiatives and nearly $200 million annually. Will the Jewish community question this investment? Will older, established “legacy” organizations secretly cheer at JDub’s demise, while they remain standing – or will they lament not playing a part in expanding JDub and organizations like it? Will this confirm the feelings of skeptics of innovation? Or will this loss spur additional innovation?
  • Finally, I believe and I hope that the Jewish community will applaud JDub’s transparency, and gracious exit. JDub’s departure will be a model for institutions making difficult decisions in the future. After all, if anyone knows how to exit the stage appropriately, it’s an organization with deep roots in the music industry. Looking forward to seeing what the encore is…

Ruthie Warshenbrot is the Lisa Goldberg Fellow of Jewish Professional Leadership at NYU Wagner/Skirball Dual Degree program and a Wexner Graduate Fellow.

Here are additional responses to JDub Closing Up Shop.

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  1. At Jewish Art Now we see a huge need for the arts in Jewish communities. It is just as important for the community to engage in creativity, as it is for the artists to create for themselves. It enriches our lives and help us look at the world, and our culture, in new ways.

    One of the challenges we face is educating the value of art and design as a commodity with worth as any other goods or services, except with more social impact. There will always be shifts in the ways the arts will continue depending on the needs of the community. Often times, it is giving them something they didn’t think of yet that makes the difference.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful piece, Ruthie.

    One quick answer to your first bullet-point question: on page 18 of “The Jewish Innovation Economy” (http://innovation.jewisheconomy.org – and thanks for the shout-out!), there is a table that answers your first bullet-point question. That is, Jewish startups with a focus on arts & culture attract a greater proportion of people with no other connection to the organized Jewish community (34% vs. average 26%), but a slightly smaller proportion of Millennials/GenY participants (32% vs. average 35%).

    That said, there definitely has been an increase in the number of arts/culture-focused Jewish startups in the past few years, and that focus of work is increasingly popular among younger startup _founders_, if not necessarily younger startup constituents & beneficiaries.

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