JFL finds takers for JVibe and Babaganewz, will close

The end of Jewish Family and Life, the nonprofit incubator of Jewish projects, is imminent, as JFL has found other organizations to take over the last two of tis publications, JVibe and Babaganewz.

The board of JFL, which was started more than 12 years ago, decided in late April that it would sunset the organization as soon as it found takers for its four remaining publications, Sh’ma, JBooks, JVibe and Babaganewz. And after placing Sh’ma and JBooks this summer, it agreed recently to cede JVibe to the social media network JVillage and Babaganewz to the publisher of Jewish learning material and books Behrman House Publishing.

The deals, which have not been publicly announced, became official this week. And JFL, which was the landlord at an office space at 90 Oak Street in Newton, Mass., where several other Jewish nonprofits rented space, has handed over its lease to two of its renters.

“JFL is in the process of dissolution,” the organization’s CEO, Amir Cohen, told The Fundermentalist. “We have filed an application with state of Massachusetts to be dissolved. It should not be too complicated, provided that we meet all of our obligations financially. At this time, JFL has followed a plan that began at our board retreat on April 30- May 1, that would lead us to a point that when all is said and done all of our obligations will have been met.”

JVillage is a for-profit company started last march that helps synagogues and other Jewish nonprofits set up Web sites and then use social media and other online tools to create online networks in an attempt to broaden and engage their membership bases. (You can read a bit more about JVillage in this Jewish Week story.)

The group will use JVibe, an online magazine for Jewish teens, as a tool to offer to synagogues to help them reach out to post bar and bat mitzvah congregants. Synagogues who work with JVillage would be given a portal to JVibe on their own Web sites, and JVillage will attempt to create an online community around JVibe.

“It seems to us the involvement of our young people pre-bar and bat mitzvah seems to peak at bar or bat mitzvah, and often times their connection to Judaism fades into the background. There is this void, this gap and lots of ways to bridge that gap. At JVillage we saw JVibe as perfect means to bridge that gap,” the company’s president, Mike Kanarick, told The Fundermentalist. “Our plan is to create a much more robust online teen community, to take the best of what is going on in the magazine and fold that into the JVillage web site.”

Behrman House, which is the country’s primary supplier of books for Hebrew schools, has actually been working with Babaganewz for several months, according to Cohen; in the past two months they have collaborated on several projects, including games for students.

This summer, Sh’ma was taken over by the Lippman-Kanfer Foundation, which will build an organization around the magazine on Jewish thought. And JBooks was taken over by its publisher, Ken Gordon.

By finding takers for all of JFL’s products, Cohen has met the board’s goals — and worked himself out of a job in the process.

“If you told me on May 1 that all of the editors of our publications would have kept their jobs and, and all that wanted to keep their jobs would have jobs, I would have said that you are a crazy optimist,” he said.

It is a bittersweet moment, he added.

“When you look at JFL, it was an incubator that has been incredibly successful. We have been involved in the launch of some of the best programs around. We saved Sh’ma 10 years ago. JFL was involved in development and creation of programs like MyJewishLearning.com,” he said. “The financial reality of the world though dictated certain things, and that JFL would no be able to stay in the capacity it had been. Is it sad for Amir Cohen to be the one closing the door and shutting the lights? Of course it is. But I have no regrets with any of the decisions we have made over the last four months.”

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