A Golden Age of Jewish Media, Part One 1


Just when you thought that today’s screen distractions would put a stamp of finality to the end of the reading era—even for the “people of the book”—a resurgence and blossoming of Jewish content, both in print and online, has emerged.

Growing up, Jewish media for me was the Detroit Jewish News, our synagogue newsletter, and a few dusty magazines at the JCC library.  That’s not the case anymore.  Today, there is lively, engaging Jewish content across a broad range of political, religious, and lifestyle spectrums. And in my area (D.C./Baltimore), there is even emerging competition for local Jewish readers.

The list below reflects my personal Jewish media consumption, including periodicals and “periodical-like” websites that update their content frequently. It is hardly a comprehensive list—for example, it does not include a few well-known publications, (such as Lilith, Tikkun, and Commentary) that I do not routinely read nor does it include publications targeting specific audiences (youth, college, Orthodox, etc.) that I may not know about.

And now, the list:

Reborn and Vibrant

The Forward

Celebrating its 120th year, The Forward is the granddaddy of American Jewish media. Founded in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily, the Forward chronicled the immigrant American Jewish experience.  Circulation declined after World War II, despite the introduction of an English-language supplement.

I encountered a new weekly print incarnation of the paper in 2014 and I was immediately smitten.   It leans left, but the breadth of national, international, and Israeli coverage is impressive and thought provoking for readers of all political stripes.  For example, a recent piece assessed whether work permits actually threatened or boosted Israeli security.  Another article addressed the implications of Jewish cemeteries that deny upright gravestones to the deceased poor. No less notable is the Forward’s coverage of the arts and Jewish culture.  Articles have ranged from a story on Bulletproof Stockings (a female Hasidic rock band) to a piece on why a Muslim marine vet offered to guard Jewish burial sites.

When I’ve finished reading an issue of the Forward, there are invariably several articles I’ve marked to be cut and pasted for my personal archive files. And no, I don’t mean with an e-tool. It may be a new Forward, but I’m old school.

Moment

Moment was founded in 1975 by Elie Wiesel and Leonard Fein. Calling itself “fiercely independent,” not tied to any organization, denomination, or point of view, Moment is like a New Yorker magazine about all things Jewish, with long, well-written articles and essays, an occasional light feature, and even a cartoon caption contest.   Publisher and editor Nadine Epstein has infused the magazine and website with new energy and engaging content.

My favorite regular feature is “Ask the Rabbis,” where the proverbial “ask two Jews, get three opinions” finds a welcome home, covering a range of social, ethical, philosophical and contemporary issues.  A recent installment posed the timely and interesting question about what guidance, if any, does Judaism offer to transgender people, and a recent “symposium” feature assessed a “growing gap between Israeli and American Jews.”

Moment is not a quick read, but if, as its masthead proclaims, “the next 5000 years of conversation begin here,” taking a moment or two to read it is often well worth the time.

The Next Generation

Tablet

Tablet, launched in 2009, describes itself as a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture. It is a project of the not-for-profit Nextbook Inc., publisher of the Nextbook Press “Jewish Encounters” book series.

I receive Tablet via e-mail, where a diverse array of content appears in my in-box, ranging from a piece entitled “Can Howard Stern Hold the Key to Good Parenting?” to an article on the future of the Jewish Renewal Movement after the death of founder Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

I tend to print the articles for later reading, effectively turning it into a print magazine. I’m guessing others do the same because Tablet extended its brand by introducing, in late 2015, a huge, oversized print magazine that requires full arm extension to navigate its pages.  If your arms tire, you can take a break and listen to yet another brand extension, a weekly podcast called Unorthodox, which I’ll review in a future post on Jewish-themed podcasts.

70 Faces Media:

JTA, Kveller, Jewniverse, Nosher, and My Jewish Learning

 70 Faces Media is the umbrella organization for a number of brands that “collectively serve as a virtual town square, highlighting and hosting a multitude of voices and conversations [that] inform people about Jewish news, history, traditions, values, entertainment and culture.”

As noted on its website, its name and guidance stem from the ancient rabbinic teaching that there are seventy faces to the Torah—that the creation of Jewish knowledge and narrative is the product of diverse insights, perspectives, and personalities.

Of the 70 Faces Media brands, I am most often engaged with JTA, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency,  MyJewishLearning, and Kveller.

Access to JTA content was once relegated to whatever stories one’s local Jewish newspaper deemed fit to print.  There is no gatekeeper now.  Thanks to e-mail subscription, the world of breaking Jewish news and features is just a click away.

I wish MyJewishLearning  (recently redesigned) had been around when I was in Day School.   My Orthodox education was heavy on rules and rituals, but light on explanation and contextual history. The nondenominational MyJewishLearning fills that gap with articles on all aspects of Jewish life, religion, and history.  It’s a regular stop for me in preparation for Shabbat and holidays.

Jewniverse features “extraordinary, inspirational, forgotten, and just-plain-strange dispatches from Jewish culture, tradition, and history,” such as an article on “Micanopy, Florida: The Moroccan Jewish Utopia That Might Have Been.”

Kveller is a parenting site with a Jewish spin on topics such as raising special needs children, and Nosher, as its name suggests, offers recipes and other foodie stories.  As I don’t typically need much provocation to nosh and am on my umpteenth diet, I don’t usually tempt myself with that one.   Finally, new to the 70 Faces family is Alma, a site for (millennial) “ladies with chutzpah.”  I’ll take their word for it.

Mosaic

 Launched in June 2013, Mosaic Magazine touts itself as taking  “a lively, serious, and committed approach to Jewish issues and ideas.” In addition to a monthly full-length feature, I receive daily e-mails (“Editor’s Picks”) of article summaries with links to their original sources. Mosaic is housed under the umbrella of The Tikvah Fund, which also supports publications such as the Jewish Review of Books, a quarterly magazine “for serious readers with Jewish interests”—a sort of Jewish New York Review of Books.

Recent pieces on the Mosaic site include “What do Palestinians Want? A [Scary] Look at What Ordinary Palestinians Think About Israel, Jews, and Terrorist Attacks on Civilians” and “George Washington, European Jewry, and the Promise of Tolerance Without Fear.”

Aish

Okay. You weren’t expecting this one, were you?

Aish HaTorah is an Orthodox Jewish outreach organization started in 1974. It has its supporters and critics, but it’s website, Aish.com, is an indispensible source of news and features presented through an inviting spiritual len .  It’s an Orthodox lens, to be sure, but the site strives to reach readers where they are—in the midst of dating or divorce; celebration or grieving; faith or doubt.   An extensive selection of   commentaries on the Torah portion of the week and features like “This Day in Jewish History” make Aish.com, like MyJewishLearning, a routine pre-Shabbat stop.

Hevria

Hevria is a personal essay and multimedia site.  According to the site, “Hevria” is a combination of the words “Hevreh” and “Bria,” meaning “a group of friends” and “creation.” Its mission is to spread the idea of positive creation in a spiritual context.

Hevria asks its writers to create essays from the “inside-out,” meaning from deep within the soul: writing that is raw and real. One post-aliyah essayist honestly confronts her reluctance to return to Israel after a visit to her U.S. hometown recalls the comforts of family and place. Another essayist pleads for prayer and Shabbat observance as an answer to Israel’s turmoil, fully aware of skeptics she’ll encounter.

Hevria’s writers are overwhelmingly Orthodox, and it has a definite frum vibe, yet the voices are fresh and somewhat unexpected from such a community.  The inclusion of more diverse Jewish voices would be a welcome addition to the site.

The Times of Israel

Always close in my heart and mind, Israel feels even nearer thanks to the Internet.  The old standard for Israel news and features, the Jerusalem Post, remains an excellent  resource with its accessible, well-organized website.   A more recent entry, The Times of Israel is another excellent site. In addition to its breaking news features, this website is particularly notable for its extensive and engaging blog content.

A Golden Future?

The breadth, depth, and diversity of Jewish media do indeed speak to a golden age of Jewish content.  But all is not entirely glitter. Many Jewish publications are run as non-profits and thus, like watching a great program on PBS, content is occasionally interrupted by pitches for donations.

The Forward (which has recently become a monthly magazine) and Moment, among others, send letters to subscribers letting them know that their subscriptions don’t cover the cost of publishing.  And pop-ups appear on sites like Tablet and MyJewishLearning asking readers to donate if they care about Jewish content. Placing one’s cursor over the “close window” box is definitely a guilt-inducing exercise, so hopefully many choose a course that instead sustains these publications.

Judaism has never been a free ride.  If it were, would we have such abundantly rich content?

Future posts will review book publishing, blogs, podcasts, video, social media, and other platforms for Jewish content.   If you have any suggestions for Jewish media content to be included in these posts, please write to me here.

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Mitchell Weitzman is a lawyer and author. The Rose Temple: A Child Holocaust Survivor’s Vision of Faith, Hope, and Our Collective Future was published in 2016.

Follow him on Twitter @smitchellw.

 

 

 

 

 

 


About Mitchell Weitzman

Mitchell Weitzman is an attorney who writes about empathy, character, and culture for adults and children. He is the author of The Rose Temple: A Child Holocaust Survivor’s Vision of Faith, Hope, and Our Collective Future.


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