For the young, artistic, mostly Brooklyn-based set, JDub Records was a boon. Founded in 2001, it announced this week that it was shutting its doors because of money problems. It’s a real loss to the Jewish community. To be sure, the closest JDub ever got to mainstream success was by being an early booster of Matisyahu, though if you live in New York, or L.A., Miami, or San Francisco, they’ve brought lesser-known (though I think much better) musicians to your town that most others probably never heard of.
But at Commentary, they rejoice. In a recent blog post, Matthew Ackerman writes that JDub in fact contributed very little to Jewish identiy–which was its guiding purpose. His argument is that, like other projects borne of the early-aughts Jewish hipster movement (think Heeb), JDub was all style and no substance. He seems to believe that blending punk aesthetics, or hip-hop, or whatever other alternative sensibility into Jewish identity is a sin. He sees JDub’s closing as "a potential indication of growing seriousness in American Jewish priorities."
This is absurb. Ackerman believes that the only serious priorities are those set by the organized Jewish community–the AJCs, AIPACs, and UJAs of the world. It’s plain that what’s lurking behind his attack is that JDub seems to court liberal, secular Jews who, most likely, are not as enthusiasiastic supporters of Israel these days, may not attend High Holidays, or don’t even know when they are. These are serious issues, no question. But as Marc Tracy on Tablet argues, the benefit of JDub is that it created a space for all those Jews who are in an ambivalent, perhaps rebellious stage of their lives and wanted a way to feel Jewish that was in tune with their values. Perhaps, when they grow out of it and "get serious" they’ll learn to love more mainstream groups.
But maybe they won’t. And you know what? There’s other alternatives–and I don’t mean liberal, but simply newer and novel projects–that Jews can embrace as they get older. I’m thinking of Reboot, or Tzadik Records, or SoHo Synagogue or God knows what else.
What Ackerman doesn’t get is that the young Jews who identified with JDub saw only conformity and corportaism in mainstream Jewish organizations, and they craved new creative outlets. JDub seemed to capture that clientele wonderfully. Often, in fact, it wasn’t even in defiance of mainstream mores, it was simply an grassroots alternative to it. Kinda like the Tea Party, when you think of it.
It should be noted, however, that there was more cross pollination between these two worlds–the JDubs and the AJCs–than some would believe. JDub, for instance, received funding from a ton of mainstream organizations, including the UJA and the Schusterman Foundation. It also had partnerships with the Birthright, which is as mainstream as it gets. I would no more cheer the death of one than I would of the other.