Former JDub Professional Addresses Real Issues in Closing

by Jaime Walman

As we struggle to define community in the 21st century, there is a real sense of loss amongst those for whom JDub was a significant piece of their Jewish connection. For 50% of JDub’s participants, it was their only Jewish connection. I was JDub’s inaugural Director of Development, hired in August of 2007, with support from a Slingshot Fund grant. I worked there until May 2010, when I moved home to Toronto, Canada. During my tenure, we built a Board of Directors, expanded from 4 to 9 professionals, grew the budget to $1.1 million, established a second base of operations in Los Angeles, acquired Jewcy.com and significantly expanded our consulting work through a strategic partnership with Nextbook. For three years, I spent countless hours talking and writing about JDub, listening to music, going to events and pouring over budgets to help ensure that each and every earned and philanthropic dollar was spent with the highest level of efficacy and impact. JDub’s team of dedicated and passionate individuals worked tirelessly to bring quality Jewish content and culture to young Jews across North America.

I learned a tremendous amount from my work at JDub, from everyone I worked with, our dedicated and committed Board members, the strategic and thoughtful funders who supported the work and the thousands and thousands of fans across the country. JDub’s closure far from negates its impact on young Jews across the country. While I understand that we, as a generation, constantly question the world around us, I agree with, and encourage others to think carefully about, Felicia Herman’s statement: “ …the real analysis of JDub’s closure – one based on data and research, rather than opinion – will be a while in the making. We’re all eager to read it – but we should expect and be glad for the delay, which will enable real reflection and contextualization by whomever writes it”.

JDub is an integral part of my own Jewish journey and I think that we have missed some important pieces of this story, while fabricating others. Before we jump to conclusions and publish fiction as fact, it would serve us well to take a step back and carefully, and fully, evaluate the impact of JDub’s closure. Additionally, within this evaluation, we must also consider the trajectories of the professionals who are doing this work and question the sustainability of working within the “innovation ecosystem” as a long-term career choice.

A few months after I started at JDub, we produced The 8, a worldwide Hannukah party in partnership with Birthright Israel. Living in Los Angeles, there was a lot of communal angst about the geography of the venue choice, on the East Side, not an area known for its engaged Jewish population. While conventional thinking was that no one would attend a Jewish event on a Saturday night on the East side of LA, I was awed at the 750 young people who showed up to see Balkan Beat Box and celebrate Hannukah with a rarely assembled group of Jewish peers. As I learned at JDub, if you offer quality Jewish content with low barriers to entry, young Jews will come in droves. In a listener survey we conducted, data showed that 80% of JDub’s constituent base was between the ages of 18-45, and over 85% of respondents shared JDub music with others. The majority of respondents listened to the music regularly, even years after purchasing an album. Unlike normative trends in pop culture, this is a powerful indicator of the music’s effect on the listener and the regularity with which it was a part of their everyday lives. As one of my mentors tells me often, we do not live in an “either/or” world but in a state of “both/and”. I believe that building Jewish identity is a layering of experiences at all points in life and is far from a linear process. JDub was not intended to be the only community for young Jews but a piece of our ever-changing identities, as we live and learn in an assimilated world, where we belong to many different and diverse communities.

I say “we” because I am part of JDub’s demographic. As was everyone who worked there. And far from the presumed consensus in many op-eds, that demographic was incredibly diverse. Staff, like participants, hailed from intermarried families, from completely unengaged households, and from homes of Jewish professionals. And in the majority of their adult lives, JDub was their ONLY Jewish engagement.

Finally, I want to raise one issue that has heretofore been ignored: the question of sustainability of this type of work, and the aging-out that seems to inevitably be happening. At the age of 30, I was the oldest staff person at JDub and had not yet had children. I left JDub when I moved to Toronto but also left because the work … the salary, the hours, the lack of stability and the inability to have any separation between my personal and professional life … was not sustainable for me in the long run. The cost of Jewish living, if one chooses to do so, is astronomical and, at some point, the balance between my love and passion for my job was outweighed by the reality that I wouldn’t be able to support my family or have any time for them. I can’t speak for anyone else at JDub but know, first-hand, from my own work and watching my colleagues work at all hours of the day, the night and the weekends, that the scale is often tipped against it. How do we ensure that professionals working within these innovative organizations can continue to pursue their passions, inspiring other young Jews like themselves while also having sustainable careers? I don’t have the answer to this but think it’s an important point to consider as more and more founders move on from the organizations they started and staff changeover continues to increase.

Jaime Walman was JDub’s Director of Development from 2007-2010. Currently, she is an Assistant Campaign Director at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.