“Labels are for T-shirts,” Eric Rosen said. “Jewishness is for people.”
That’s how Rosen, marketing manager for Jewlicious, describes the annual festival for Jewish students and young professionals aimed to blur denominational lines and unite Jews under common banners of interest — like, say, bagels and Matisyahu.
With its music and socializing focus, Jewlicious, held this weekend in Long Beach, Calif. and now in its sixth year, represents a new type of Jewish education subtly mixing religion with booming Jewish pride and community.
And after years of sending students to more formal conferences, the Hillel Jewish University Center is ready to try something new, as seven students and recent graduates, along with Hillel Jewish University Center’s executive director, Aaron Weil, will fly west.
“Jewlicious is a protest for students to stand up and say ‘Being Jewish matters to me,’” said Rosen. “And it might not matter to me like it does to you, but we can all agree that it does matter.
“It (Jewlicious) has become a protest against the world that wants us all to be the same, and all fall in line and not make our voices heard,” he added.
With more than 1,000 expected to attend, that’s a lot of voices.
The festival began in 2005 as a Shabbaton at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach, Calif., with only 100 students in attendance, growing each year into “a massive annual festival,” according to Rosen, complete with drum circles, concerts, discussion groups, comedians, environmental activism and dozens of presenters speaking about anything from the Dalai Lama to concert promoting.
It’s a big change from Hillel’s past education-based trips, but, according to Weil, now is the time for just that.
“We’ve never sent students to something like this. This is more an instance of programming for 20-somethings by 20-somethings. It’s a more organic event,” Weil said. “Not your traditional AIPAC, federation or national Jewish organization event.”
The aim, according to Weil, is to inspire students and nurture that energy into new programming at Hillel and the Jewish student population at large. Hillel subsidized the trip along with a student down payment.
“The investment is not in the festival, but the experience that students will bring back. That’s why we chose mostly underclassman who are not only being sponsored to go, but expected upon returning to work with staff to implement their favorite new ideas,” said Weil. “The endgame for Hillel — well, we’re in the meaningful Jewish experience business. No doubt it’ll be memorable.”
Caryn Goldenberg, a 23-year-old University of Pittsburgh senior, believes, “[Jewlicious] is a different perspective. Just by looking at topics, you know it’s not something you’d normally see at a Jewish festival. It’s a new way to rock out to Judaism.”
The festival aims to capture a flash of unity in an often compartmentalized people, its organizers hoping to push that mentality back into the outside world.
“This is the only place I’ve ever seen where you can find Jews with peyes sitting at the same table as lesbian activists,” said Rosen. “There’s anybody under the sun. It’s by the people, for the people and because of the people.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)