No Cause for Celebration

By David Kelsey

Joshua Venture Group (JVG) has announced the line-up of new fellows for their 2014-2016 fellows. It is heavily skewed towards Jewish education initiatives, and is comprised of all women fellows. Each fellow will receive more than $100,000 in funding over the next two years, as well as skill-building support. This organization formerly known as just Joshua Venture is what gave start-up capital to launch Heeb and JDub Records, among others. And while none of the recent cohorts have produced anything approaching the impact of a Matisyahu, JVG continues to tap a steady stream of projects that are innovative in their own way, even if the majority of them are most appealing to the already Jewishly committed.

But their lack of a broad impact is perhaps related to the gender problem facing American Liberal Jewry, explicitly revealed by the demographics of this new JVG cohort devoid of male participation. That Liberal Judaism has a problem retaining young male involvement is hardly a secret. And if this new JVG cohort is at all indicative of the current trend, it is apparently getting worse, not better. But apparently that depends on one’s perspective.

As the JTA noted,

This is the program’s first all-female cohort – something that happened not by design, but was a “pleasant surprise,” as Lisa Lepson, the group’s executive director put it.

An investment like this in female Jewish leadership is refreshing to see in our community, and we look forward to watching these women build a strong support network together alongside their impactful ventures,” Lepson said in a news release.

I don’t doubt that this was not a deliberate decision, and the organization did the right thing letting the chips fall where they deserved to land. Affirmative action for the sake of appearances will help nothing.

But Lepson’s spin that this situation is “refreshing” and a “pleasant surprise” should be emphatically rejected. For no amount of innovative projects are going to make a significant difference to the future of American Liberal Jewry if this paucity of male participation continues. We can debate what could or should be done, but apparently, we can’t even agree that the lack of male representation is a problem, never mind a dire one.

David Kelsey is the proprietor of Kelsey Media, an ad rep firm focused on the online, digital Jewish media niche. He has been on the business side of
Heeb since 2001.