It was jewlicious

Posted on March 13, 2007


Dear Rabbi Yonah. 

Here I sit 22 hours after Jewlicious 3 wrapped up.  I’m filled with emotions ranging from pure joy to total frustration and anger.  And yes, it is all due to Jewlicious, so I guess in a way it’s your fault.   

Jewlicious has taught me what can be.  It has changed my expectation of what our Jewish community should be doing for ourselves and for our future.   But guess what?  I’m finally ready to admit that “the Jewish community” doesn’t seem to get it.  At all.  Yeah, there are lights in the crowd who have made it possible for Jewlicious to grow and thrive.  But there is some sort of communal force that seems hell bent on keeping on keeping on, even if that means doing so little for so few. 

Here’s a fact.  In our fair city, the traditional organized Jewish community could not host an event like Jewlicious.  I can only imagine how the planning would go.  There would be a committee meeting to determine what kind of committee would be required to form a committee.  And most members would show up with very serious looks on their face, and talk about what a shame it is that the future of Jewish life looks so bleak and that we really need to do something.  Skip forward two years to planning meeting number ten.  The discussion would be on liability and insurance.  Religious observance, save for a motizie and Kiddush,  would be removed from the agenda so as not to be off putting to the non-religious and non-affiliated students we are hoping to attract. 

Funding.  Ah funding.  Well, we can’t spend more than $10,000 because nobody will support it.  There are no Federation dollars available.  Why?  Well, because the Federation campaign hasn’t materially grown in years, and the dollars are all allocated to the same things they were allocated to last year.  And the year before.  Certainly we can’t ask the community to fund this program, because there are only twenty five active Jewish students at Hillel.  So if we ask twenty families to each come up with $500, we’ll be in good shape. 

Maybe I’m taking an undeserved swipe at the system, as much of our funding has come from people who support our Jewish community.  Those few families who have written the big checks do seem to “get it”.  Alevy may be a pain in the tuchas to deal with, but the man was the catalyst for 100% of what we are doing at Beach Hillel and Jewlicious today.  He was right time and time again.  Allen–you’ve earned my respect and admiration.

I feel betrayed by the system.  And yes, I’ve been a part of it for seven years now.  I’ve done everything by the book.  I sent my kids to the JCC for preschool.  I joined the Federation board and learned what how the community functions…or something like that.  I sent my kids to the local Conservative congregation for Hebrew school as I wanted for them more tradition than Rabbi Laibson and Temple Israel would provide but could not bring myself to allow my daughter to continue in an Orthodox congregation out of a fear that she would not be able to have the experience reading from the Torah at her Bat Mitzvah.   

But guess what?  The system hasn’t worked.  My choices seem to be wrong, and my faith improperly placed in those people who I thought knew how to build community and foster Judaism.  But do you know what is really sad?  My daughter, who you know has a most Jewish n’shoma, has zero friends in her Hebrew school class.  It’s heartbreaking.  To her credit, she doesn’t complain, and instead turns her attention to her studies and towards pleasing her very dedicated and capable teachers. 

So back to the anger and frustration.  Now 23 hours after Jewlicious wrapped up I’m looking at the photos on Jewlicious.  Every picture is full of life.  Jews are hanging, rocking, dancing, smiling, laughing, eating, and holding other Jews.   Some of those Jews traveled across the country to be here.  Others took a ten hour bus ride to join us.  They came, they learned, they ate to excess.  Some slept a few hours here and there.  One or two girls decided to drink too much wine at the Kiddush wine tasting.  One of the guys broke his leg while shooting baskets in the gym.  And some jackass Jews appears to have broken a ping-pong table and stashed their beer bottles along side it.  Guess which of these pieces of the weekend I heard about from the Organized Jewish Community? 

It kills me that we can have the likes of Golem in the building, playing Yiddish music that might just make it into the collection of the young Jews at Jewlicious.  Yiddish music?  Are you kidding me?  College age Jews rocking out to Yiddish music? Anybody paying attention to this? Rav Shmuel’s semi-history lesson with “Protocols” has caused more Jews to ask “what does that mean” than enrolled in Jewish Studies at CSULB.  And rather than congratulating me on how flipping unbelievable Jewlicious has become, I’m getting spanked because a few stupid kids did a few stupid things.   

You know what is unbelievable to me?  Our Jewish community has managed to do nothing for college students and young adults.  Nothing might be too strong a word, but relatively speaking, we are doing nothing.  How many young Jews come to study and learn?  How many find a venue where they can experience a living Jewish community willing to address them on their level, and not expecting them to be like their grandparents?  Why can Beach Hillel, with almost no resources, develop a website and blog that is perfect for students, when the Federation with all of their national resources can’t seem to build an engaging static website?  What other members of our community have taken to the power of blogging?  Anyone else out there got a podcast?  No?  Just Beach Hillel?  Our two person operation? 

I came to Jewlicious to help you and Rachel.  I thought I’d probably be in the way, but wanted to be there for a few hours to show my solidarity and support.  But I got sucked in.  Did I plan to spend the better part of 36 hours at Jewlicious?  No way.  As much as I was there to give, I got in return.  Yeah, I sat in on a few of the sessions and listened to the panelists speak, but got so much more from just absorbing the conversations, arguments, and Jewishness of the festival.  Ask me what I was doing at 3:30 in the morning on Sunday, and I can’t begin to recall.  I know I was at Jewlicious, and must have been doing something to help out, but am left only with the wonderful feeling of being there, and not with the exhaustion I must have felt from being a 40 year old guy running around the building trying to keep up with a bunch of college students half my age. 

But where was the rest of the community?  Not that we wanted an invasion of the geriatric set, but I think I could handle the verbal pounding I’m taking a bit better if the establishment actually knew more about what went on.  I can’t imagine anyone fully appreciating Jewlicious and then effectively threatening to end it by cutting off our access to use the building.  I half expect one of our future relatives to come back to what was once Long Beach, stand atop the rubble pile that is left, and tell their children stories about how in this place, now called Tel Jewlicious, inspired great Jewish leaders who went out into the land and prospered as Jews.

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