JDub Closing Up Shop

Sway Machinery at 6th Street Community Synagogue; courtesy JDub

Venture is aging out of the cohort of Jewish “start-ups”

JDub, an initiative touted as being at the forefront of a Jewish cultural renaissance, has announced it will be closing due to financial pressures. Founded in 2002 by two then NYU students, Ben Hesse and Aaron Bisman, JDub was one of the earliest projects incubated through both Joshua Venture and Bikkurim (2003-2008). In its start-up phase, the organization focused on developing a small group of artists, including Matisyahu, SoCalled and Balkan Beat Box. As time went on, JDub’s artist roster grew to include Israeli hip hop, Biblical indie-rock, Yiddish Punk, Cantorial Afrobeat, Sephardic rock and Jewish Kids music.

Among the reasons stated for closing are “aging out of the cohort of Jewish “start-ups,” a troubling thought to those of us familiar with the exciting and expanding world of Jewish innovation.

Left currently in limbo (see release below) is the future of several initiatives including Jewcy, an online media publication geared to young Jewish adults, which JDub acquired in 2009.

I’m writing to let you know that after almost 9 years in operation, JDUB’s Board of Directors has decided to wind down the organization.

The decision to close was entirely financial, as the challenges facing our business model are too great to overcome. 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. The collapse of the music business in the decade that JDUB has existed, combined with recessionary effects and aging out of the cohort of Jewish “start-ups,” made securing the necessary operating support an insurmountable challenge.

Determined to overcome this challenge, and inspired by our mission of forging vibrant connections to Judaism, we took opportunities to expand our work beyond music beginning in 2005. We co-founded the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists, and we adopted Jewcy.com, a platform for the ideas that matter to young Jews, which is the most popular peer-run website of its kind. We also launched a consultancy through which we helped over 30 other organizations including Hillel International, Birthright Israel Next, Nextbook Press, and Tablet Magazine to connect Jewish content, products, and experiences with new audiences. While these strategic moves have dramatically increased our impact, they never yielded a sustainable revenue base.

Just as JDUB modeled what a new Jewish organization could look like and achieve, we will also model how one appropriately winds down. We plan to share as much information as possible, and seek appropriate homes for our successful programs and assets.

We are extremely grateful to all of our funders and supporters, the creative and inspiring artists with whom we’ve had the pleasure to work, their devoted fans, and our innovative and energetic team. We close with heavy hearts, but incredible pride in our collective accomplishments and impact.

As Felicia Herman, Executive Director of the Natan Fund, JDUB’s longest standing funder said, “JDUB’s stakeholders should feel nothing except ‘mission accomplished.’ In addition to the hundreds of thousands of people JDUB touched directly through its events and albums, JDUB also changed the communal conversation, and made the community aware of the need to adapt to 21st-century American realities.”

A final snapshot:

  • 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
  • 70+ Jewish organizational partners
  • 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
  • 87.5% of our staff never worked for a Jewish organization prior to JDUB

For responses to JDub’s announcement, see Will We Be Builders and Not Just Buyers? by Sarah Kass; What Will the Jewish Community Do? by Ruthie Warshenbrot; Response to JDub Closing by Maya Bernstein and May JDub Be a Call to Action by Ariel Beery.