It’s been a week since the Jewlicious Festival ended. I thought some kind of broad recap would be in order and might even prove to be somewhat instructive to those of you out there who are into that sort of thing, like readers of eJewish Philanthropy or the Fundermentalist. Both of those aforementioned blogs deal with issues related to Jewish philanthropy as well as with organizations and projects they fund. Both have also expressed an interest in issues related to youth, innovation and social entrepreneurship – buzz phrases that one often hears uttered by Jewish organizations both large and small.
As far as the Festival goes, it was in almost every respect a smashing success. We had nearly 1000 Jewish students and young adults enjoy a weekend full of fun, food, music and over 120 individual programs. Our success was due in no small part to a grass roots effort by a large crew of volunteers who helped guide almost every aspect of the weekend’s programing. Add to that both local and national philanthropists and organizations who allowed us to keep costs down while still offering a world class event and you have a supposedly simple recipe for success. Yup, as simple as uniting close to 1000 young Jews representing every denomination and orientation in Judaism for a spirited, fun, educational and inspiring weekend… so much for that whole “2 Jews, three synagogues” malarkey!
Of course nothing is ever quite that simple. Raising funds for this event is a difficult job – to say the least. Most of the large grant making organizations out there do not fund us at all – it’s kind of difficult to compress the totality of what the Festival is into 5 double spaced pages faxed in triplicate by 9am EST. Who even uses fax machines anymore? Very few people in the organized Jewish community really get what we do. Of course we try to be as transparent as possible – you could have tuned in to our UStream channel and watched a live video stream of the madness that was the unofficial Jewlicious office the week before the Festival. Or you could have followed our #Jewlicious tweets. Or read our blogs. Ever try explaining to Fred and Francine Federation what a tweet is? Good luck…Given the current economic climate, fundraising is even more difficult for an organization like ours. As was mentioned in the recent Jumpstart Survey of New Jewish Organizations, startups like ours “succeed at attracting the exact demographic that established Jewish institutions struggle to reach, at a fraction of the cost in time and resources.” Conversely, the study correctly noted (at least in our case) that Jewish start-ups are feeling the effects of the economic crisis and need collaborative sector-wide support to survive. It is no wonder that 59% of the respondents to the survey reported having already taken action in response to the economy. So yeah. We certainly took action. Thanks to the hard work of Festival Director Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Long Beach Hillel Director Rachel Bookstein and an army of volunteers, we managed to do more – serving 40% more students than last year – with less money. And it wasn’t easy – the fear and stress in all those late night phone calls and heated meetings was palpable.
All around us all we heard about was recession, depression and the ever present specter of Bernie Madoff. Large, established organizations were cutting back or shutting down entirely. Even our good friends at Jewcy.com had lost their funding, perhaps, we feared, signaling the end of an era. But we persevered because we’re nuts that way I guess. Our early ticket sales indicated another record breaking Festival – we couldn’t disappoint all those people. So we took an already trim event and trimmed even further, without sacrificing quality. Somehow… we pulled it off.
What lessons did we learn? Nothing outrageous I guess. Listen to your constituents and empower them – like for real empower them. Anyone can throw money at a problem but the real key to success is vision, creativity and communication. In that respect those wishing to make a difference ought to embrace transparency and not fear it. Also, I guess since we’re talking Jewish I should also add “food” to that list. The resources are still out there for those of you who want to make a difference in your community, your country and your world.
So here’s a big shout out to Rabbi Yonah and Rachel for all their hard work. Thanks also to Sasha Perry and her Dad who were at the helm of an incredible kitchen crew that just kept the good eats coming. More thanks to the volunteers who ran our whole Greenkeit initiative that allowed us to run a clean, eco-friendly festival, generating only one container of trash over the course of three days – that was impressive! Big ups to our local patrons without whom none of this would have been possible – Deanna and Allen Alevy, Barbara and Ray Alpert and Jim and Liz Breslauer. Also we can’t forget the continuing support we have received from the Schusterman Foundation, the ROI Community and Birthright NEXT as well as all our other sponsors. Finally, another big thanks goes to the dozens and dozens of student and community volunteers who ran themselves ragged making this happen. So I don’t have a dental or retirement plan, big deal. It was worth it. Now if things go well, we’ll see you again at Camp Jewlicious in August and Jewlicious NYC in September. God help us…