Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Last November the Jewish Agency convened a meeting of 150 "thought leaders" from around the World to discuss the broad range of issues related to the Government Jewish Peoplehood Initiative with a focus on Jewish Identity and the Next Generation. The seance was well-attended and many fine ideas emerged. The Jewish Agency produced what I would characterize as a glossy Summary of the Proceedings; it included many pages of photographs of the Plenary and Break Out Sessions. All I saw were pictures of 150 men and women, surely our "best and brightest," at an average age that I would speculate was about mine -- 72. That strikes me as not exactly the demographic that can best plan for men and women in their 20s.

In fact, I was reminded by this circumstance of men and women of my generation sitting around planning for men and women millenials of one of my sons' businesses -- in the fashion arena. I put on some of his clothes thinking I was complimenting him. He took one look at me and urged me to change clothes -- "You are singlehandedly going to destroy our brand. You're not exactly our demographic." I can also think back to GAs where young federation leaders were trotted out for a discussion of "what attracted you to our work?" Were these wonderful affiliated leaders who we needed to hear from? Did they really offer us anything more than the mistaken sense that ours was the path and that others would follow in lockstep when, wherever we looked, literally the vast majority of the generation we so desired to attract weren't.

And JFNA pursued TribeFest, that expensive act of futility that has cost us millions with almost...almost...no return on investment. First, in Las Vegas, there was the abysmal turnout of unaffiliated to what was nothing more than an expensive weekend of fun, games and "mosh pits." Lost $250,000; gained us, what, at best a couple of hundred young Jews who now might have an interest in our work? Then, in Year 2, at a budgeted cost of $1 million (G-d knows the real cost), it was come one-come all to another Vegas-style extravaganza and JFNA ended up with mainly those who were already affiliated for the same lack of substance. And, now, with no accountability for the first two failures -- at a cost that can be estimated at over $2 million -- another $1 million+ will be "invested" in attracting the same people to the same event with the same hyperbolic expectations -- just moved to New Orleans (for Purim).

Someone wrote me off-line and suggested "this wouldn't be happening if Michael Siegal were still Chairman."

I have to admit that at my advanced age there is no way that I can plan for the engagement of the Millenials in our work. I would go so far as to suggest that no one of my generation can possibly do so. But I can look at Jane Sherman's -- through the Fisher Family Foundation -- Flight initiative, Chicago's Nachshon Missions and similar and conclude that there are models that are working, that will work, just as the Young Leadership Cabinet once did.  Tragically, our system has allowed the waste that the Fests have been and are, to distract it from the real work that replicating the successes created by others might yield.

It's all the Emperor's New Clothes in real time.



joebrown42 said...

The strength of Limmud was that it was planned by the people it was aimed at, with guidance and support from the previous generation. Still the biggest success in the contemporary Jewish world.

Anonymous said...

It's worse than you know. To boost attendance, JFNA is urging federation Young LeadershipDirectors and promising THEM some alleged substance - a mini-program on fund raising.

As you have written, this thing is all about the numbers, the numbers, the numbers...and maybe the drinking...and, maybe....but it sure has nothing to do with community.