It’s been a sad week at Tablet Magazine as JDub Records, our office-mates—as well as strategic partners, who have helped get the word out about Tablet and Nextbook Press—announced they are winding down after nine years. Rabbi Andy Bachman has a wonderful tribute to JDub and the special genius of founder and CEO Aaron Bisman; New Voices posted videos of several JDub artists.
A perfect way to describe what makes JDub so great is to explain what is so wrong with this post on Commentary’s Contentions blog. Instructing us to “Shed No Tears for the Death of JDub,” author Matthew Ackerman lazily lumps it in with Heeb, the alternative Jewish magazine that recently
lost most of its funding was forced to scale back significantly due to financial difficulties, and crows, “The turn against these outfits by their funders should be welcomed as a potential indication of growing seriousness in American Jewish priorities. It is no doubt true there is nothing wrong with innovation in itself. Yet we should be wary of the enthusiasm generated by unsustainable appeals to passing whims about the nature of Jewish commitment.” I know what Ackerman is saying. I’m inclined to agree about Heeb, which too frequently places its highest premium on shock and defines Judaism so broadly that it defines it out of existence. But that is not what JDub was ever about. It was about using media—primarily music, but Jewcy, which it owns, is also a good example, as was its consulting with Birthright’s alumni organization—to connect to Jewishness young Jews who would otherwise have no day-to-day, or week-to-week, or even year-to-year link to this aspect of their identities. While I’m sure JDub would be happy to have, say, Baby Boomers listening to Balkan Beat Box, Girls in Trouble, or any of its acts, that was never the demographic that JDub spoke for, or to.
When you are growing up in a Jewish household, it is easy to feel Jewish and participate in Jewish activities and institutions; once you are old enough to create your own household, if you have managed to make it there while maintaining a connection with your Jewishness, then this is once again easy. JDub aimed for that middle spot, a time of life when it is very easy for young Jewish people, living perhaps far away from where they grew up and in a very different milieu, to stay Jewish. Bachman notes that JDub brought “together countless young Jews in the altneuland of their own identity project,” and the reference to Theodor Herzl’s novel of Zionist utopia feels apt.
But how to answer Ackerman’s concern about JDub’s lack of “seriousness”? By asking in turn: Would it be better if young Jews just had no connection with Judaism at all? Better there be fewer of them who, when they get older, are members of congregations and other Jewish institutions? Fewer who marry Jews and raise their kids Jewish? If this is a trade-off Ackerman is willing to make, that is his right, but to my mind it makes him the only slightly more lenient (and much more secular) cousin of the ultra-Orthodox. More likely, though, this is just a case of lazy thinking, and in an honest, sober moment, Ackerman and Commentary would admit that they would gladly have 20-somethings relate to Judaism through indie rock bands so that these same people, when they are 40-somethings, relate to Judaism via more traditional—Commentary would say “serious”—institutions. They’d never admit it, but the fall of JDub means fewer future Commentary subscribers.