In this corner: a loose affiliation of young Jewish social activists working to transform Judaism "into a more loving, inclusive and radical culture." In this corner: a team of New York-based theater promoters and PR pros marketing merchandise and events to hip Jews and others aspiring to "kosher-style fabulosity" through a Web site called "Jewcy.com."
The stakes in this battle of attitude: legal rights to the name "Jewcy," a title both contenders claim.
The Jewcy activists are primed to put the squeeze on the folks behind Jewcy.com, threatening legal action if they continue to use the "Jewcy" banner.
"We are in the process of trying to create more awareness of a movement of younger social-justice activists; they are in the business of capitalizing on a cool concept without having any political message," said Staci Cotler of Portland, Ore., a member of one of the activists’ three "Jewcy crews" nationwide. "That’s not what our group is about."
Cotler and her lawyer drafted a letter she said was sent last month to one of the theater promoters, Jon Steingart. According to Cotler, the letter stated that her group had sole rights to use the "Jewcy" name and demanded that Steingart and his partners "cease and desist."
Steingart’s business partner, Jenny Wiener, declined to comment on the specific trademark issues. She said that she and her colleagues did legal "due diligence" before embarking on their enterprise, which has substance beyond the hype. Its more serious purpose is to reach out to the "younger community and create a sense of pride" and to promote Jewish entertainers among urban audiences outside of traditional Jewish venues.
A tussle over the bold and sexy "Jewcy" concept reveals a potent level of communal vitality among younger Jews. "People of our generation want to claim their identity and renew it," said Jennifer Bleyer, editor and publisher of Heeb, a magazine that dubs itself "The New Jew Review."
The Jewcy crews got ready to rumble last fall when they learned of the Jewcy enterprise and its Jewcy.com Web site. The site sells clothing and promotes performances under a stylized "Jewcy" logo. They were particularly dismayed to see that Jewcy.com was advertising a Chanukah party here, with proceeds going to UJA-Federation of New York.
Jewcy crew members already had been raising funds for their annual retreats by selling Jewcy wear – silk-screened by hand – over the Internet and at events like the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
Begun five years ago by the progressive, Philadelphia-based Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the group has grown to a close-knit national network of activists in their 20s and 30s "working in social change movements from labor, youth, and environmental organizing to feminist, anti-racist, queer and trans-liberation struggles."
The choice of UJA-Federation was especially irksome to many Jewcy activists, who tend to distance themselves from the mainstream philanthropy.
"A lot of people in the Jewcy crews in their volunteer or professional lives come head to head with big Jewish institutions, many times over political issues about Jewish and American life," said Cindy Greenberg, director for the New York-based Jewish Social Justice Network and a member of Jewcy’s steering committee. "So it’s a sore spot."
Each of the "Jewcy" rivals claim to have applied for federal trademark, but only the applications filed by Steingart and Wiener (as Ars Nova PGM, LLP) appear on the government’s Internet data base. Cotler owns an Oregon state trademark registration, and because her group has been selling its own Jewcy gear publicly for nearly two years, she said, they should have a common-law right to the name nationwide.
The founders of the Jewcy enterprise acknowledge plans to donate a portion of the roughly $3,000 from the Chanukah event to the UJA-Federation – an umbrella charity chosen for its philanthropic range and not its politics. But their brand of "Jewcy" is far from old school.
Performers at the sold-out Dec. 7 party included the provocative comedian Sarah Silverman and the satirical singer and faux-Evangelist Tammy Faye Starlite.
One of Jewcy’s founders, Jason Saft, said he recently met some members of the East Coast Jewcy crew and that mutual understanding may be cooling tempers.
For her part, Wiener said she had no problem with coexistence.
Said Cotler: "I don’t think any of us is interested in turning this into a crazy Jew versus Jew fight."