Revel Without a Cause

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Each event serves a purpose, and the success of that event can be measured by how closely it serves its purpose. Of course, events should be fun, and well-attended, and positively remembered, but above all else they must fulfill whatever goal they were intended to address. Last week's "Vodkas and Latkes" event at the East Bay JCC was a fun event that didn't serve any discernible purpose. I danced, and ate, and saw several Jewish friends, and I even met some new ones, but it was unclear why we were all there. 

True, the Jewish vibe was strong. The event's coordinators, like JCC volunteer and ticket-taker Kim Carter, enthusiastically greeted attendees, and the Jewish tone was immediately evident. On our tape of the Chanukah blessings, all of the attendees were singing with vigor, and they appeared truly excited to light the candles. Either attendees are active Jews who enjoy the traditions, or they reemember them fondly from their past, and they're eager to re-engage with them. Either way, the event attracted its target audience, but the vibe wasn't quite right. The music was a little too loud for mingling, yet too soft for dancing, and the song selections didn't inspire anybody to get groovy.

The layout of the event space was also a mystery. "Vodkas & Latkes" was held in a large, square room with a stage at the front that probably saw countless bar mitzvah parties, teen dances, and controversial speakers. Yet it was arranged with the food next to the stage, the tables along the opposite side, and the bar hidden in the back corner, leaving an enormous empty space in the center. Not only did the layout prevent people from socializing with each other (the ideal floor plan would channel attendees into conversation with each other), but there were no "comfortable" places in which people could lay low when they needed a break.

Janine Laughery, one of the bartenders, said she saw the event as a combination of religion and culture. Brought up Baptist, Laughery had worked a similar event at U.C. Berkeley's Jewish Student Union the previous week. She noted the prominence of food at both events ("I like the latkes"), and perhaps traditional food is the common denominator among today's young Jews.

The food at "Vodkas & Latkes" (purchased from Holy Land) wasn't great, but it was at least plentiful. The drinks were the real shocker of the evening. With an admission price of $18-20, combined with the event's name, some attendees told me that they expected an open bar. Nope, only a single free drink ticket, and attendees had to purchase all subsequent drinks. That's one way to get the party going...

Moreover, the event's featured "Hangar One Vodka" never arrived. Distilled using some sort of fancy process, and infused with fruit essences, this vodka was supposed to be a highlight of the event, according to all of the publicity. However, according to the bartenders, it just didn't show up. (Even if it had, we would have been charged extra money to sample it, which didn't sit well with some of the sponsors we talked to.)

However, the evening had a clear upside, and the event was not a failure: Everyone was together in one room, sharing in a Jewish communal experience. Perhaps this was the event's intended purpose. Whether to facilitate social meetings, provide cultural food, or simply connect young Jewish adults to their Judaism, this event was clearly a step up from whatever else they would attend on a Thursday night. Like we say at summer camp, we'll focus now on a simple positive connection to Judaism, and the rest will come along later.

EBAC thanks the East Bay JCC for access to the "Vodkas & Latkes" event.

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