Rising to the FOJAM challenge

Lior Albeck-Ripka and Jesse Lubitz.

IT was just over 18 months ago when Lior Albeck-Ripka and Jesse Lubitz decided to take on the Festival of Jewish Arts and Music (FOJAM). Formerly known as Shir Madness, FOJAM will be taking it to a whole new level at the Melbourne Recital Centre on September 8, promising 135 artists on four stages over 12 hours. 

Getting an event of this scale off the ground has been quite the journey, artistic director Albeck-Ripka explained to The AJN, and it began with some confronting questions: What is the festival? Why does the community need it?

“We wanted to create a festival that we wanted to go to, a festival for people who love music and arts and culture – but with a focus on what it means to be Jewish,” she said.

Jesse Lubitz (left) and Lior Albeck-Ripka at the Melbourne Recital Centre where they will hold next month’s FOJAM. Photo: Peter Haskin

“We want to engage the Jewish community, and especially the younger Jewish community. We are particularly trying to reach those who felt like they want something different in order to culturally connect in a way that reflects them.”

An extension of that vision is Albeck-Ripka’s objective of “being inclusive and letting other people in” – and it becoming reality, with ticket holders coming from beyond the Bagel Belt, from West Footscray to Traralgon, and as far flung as Queensland and Tasmania. 

“Music is emotional, and it helps people find pathways and connection to each other, which is really what we’re hoping is something that people get out of it.”

But organising FOJAM has not been without its obstacles. 

While the festival has received support from existing philanthropic bodies and the City of Melbourne, “the challenge of fundraising has been enormous”. 

“We aren’t fundraisers. We are event producers. Our background is in marketing, artist relations, producing and curating,” said Albeck-Ripka, co-founder of Hear Them Holler, a Melbourne-based artist management and events company that she launched with Lubitz five years ago.

“It has been really hard to engage the younger entrepreneurs, those who are doing really well and looking to support community events and arts and music festivals,” she conceded, adding, “They exist, but trying to find pathways to them, and connecting with them has been really difficult.”

Challenges aside, the duo have created a dynamic program of national and international artists, set to appeal to all. 

“For us, we hope everybody who comes to FOJAM, says, ‘Wow! That was amazing.’ We hope that they feel something, learn something, feel invigorated and understand a little more about the complexity and diversity of the fabric of the local and global Jewish community.

“As for our Jewish audience members, we hope they feel pride and connection, and for those who have not been to a Jewish event in a very long time, that they come, feel connected and know that there is a place for them in the community that makes them feel good.”

To view the full program, visit www.fojam.com.