Shooting the Jewish Press

There is a debate in Israel about foreigners owning Israeli newspapers, because Sheldon Adelson is printing a free Likud rag that’s destablized their news industry. Instead of getting into that debate, I’m gonna pull a Dick Cheney and shoot the guy standing next to me: the American Jewish press.

I was on an AJPA conference call in early 2009 along with Mobius, Shamirpower, Zeek’s Jo Ellen, the 23-year-old New Voices staff and a bunch of adult, Jewish newspaper editors and publishers. The point was to ask us why young people don’t read Jewish papers. For context, I ran New Voices magazine a few years ago, worked as press officer of Hazon, now co-publish Jewschool, and maintain an interest in this field. So I had a few things to say.

I (and we) said to these alter kakers three main things:

  1. Meet us where we are — on social media and the web.
  2. But even if you do, shitty content is still shitty content. You have boring, uninteresting, irrelevant things to say to our demographic.
  3. If you want young people to read, then have young people write! And not about your boring crap, but stuff that isn’t relevant to your existing readers.

There was much protest.

Let’s chronicle what I might mean by relevant content:

  • 50% of us under 30 have a non-Jewish parent. Articles and op-eds about “intermarriage solutions” are a great way to lose my loyalty. A lot more interesting would be articles on dealing with racist assholes in the Jewish world who hand-wring about the former topic.
  • Hold Israeli politicians to the same standards you hold American politicians. If a Prime Minister says there were zero human rights abuses in Gaza, ask a few thoughtful questions about how, why, where, etc., and take a few opposing views. Run some statistics. Find a few whistle-blowers. Do that “watchdog” thing. Trust me, to somebody who can call up 5 differing opinions of that war with citations in 3 seconds, the knee-jerk agreement makes the Jewish press seem amateur.
  • Cover the fringe. That’s where all the so-called interesting stuff happens. No, check that: cover the thoughtful fringe. Just because a celebrity or wacko is Jewish does not make it relevant. If it’s somebody who has defined Jewishness as off-the-derech and can talk lucidly about how it’s fusing ”Jew” and “fill in the blank” – bingo!
  • Do investigative journalism into the stupidity of the Organized Jewish Community. It’s old. It’s weird. It was set up in a different era — and now it’s just bizarre. (Did you know each of the major Jewish denominations can veto any policy proposal at the chief Jewish lobbying institution? Weird!)
  • Don’t talk just about Jews. Talk about non-Jews. Tell me about the world in way that resonates with Jewish themes I heard growing up. Tell me about other people’s quest for homelands, preventing genocide elsewhere, struggling to make other religions meaningful for young folks, and where in the world can I get a decent eco-kosher, fair-wage vegan dinner?

Those are just examples.

Now I get that Jewish newspapers can’t accomplish lots of that. Especially because most of them are not newspapers, they’re newsletters for the very Jewish “powers that be” that Jewish media should watchdog. Most are services provided by the local federation, barely able to sustain a couple staff. The big, more independent ones — NY Jewish Week, LA Jewish Journal, the Forward — are fighting tooth and nail over a tiny market: less than 2% of Americans are Jews. Slice it more and there’s just not enough.

Sorry to say, but the editors and publishers on the AJPA phone found little sympathy among us younger folks. The New Jersey Jewish News doesn’t deserve to exist, as far as I’m concerned. If it goes under and Jersey Jews must instead read the NJ-themed page of the NY Jewish Week or a “local news” feed from the Forward, well, so be it. A couple might persevere, but not all of them. With luck, somebody with spare time will write a blog. Maybe they’ll recruit a couple more authors. Maybe they’ll offer a little advertising. Poof! A local news site is born. Jewschool Junior.

Like I said, there was much protest.

And leave it to Mobius to douse their panic with a little gasoline and a match, when he popped this article, “Thinking the Unthinkable” by Clay Shirky, out to the conference call participants afterwards. It’s summary? Shirky analyzes all the proposed and failed business models for newspapers today and says, “None of it will work.” What with free web publishing these days, it’s a dire situation. You can’t compete with free. The printing press destroyed the manuscript business, produced Bibles and erotic novels en masse, and so on.

And all the world was better for it.

44 Responses to “Shooting the Jewish Press”

  1. Word.


    David A.M. Wilensky · December 29th, 2009 at 6:54 pm
  2. The New Jersey Jewish News doesn’t deserve to exist? That’s a bit harsh. As of now, it meets the needs of its advertisers, its readers, and its owner, the Jewish Federation of the Newark Diaspora.

    Obviously, the needs of its readers and, particularly, its not-yet readers are different than they were a generation ago, when I was an eager young graduate who saw that the best way to make a mark on the Jewish community was to write for the weekly papers that everyone received. NYTimes.com — let alone Haaretz.com and JPost.com — answer the urgent question of “how’s Israel doing” that in 1985 was left to the Jewish weekly newspaper. Throw in demographic trends and advertising trends, and the future for Jewish newspapers is definitely not bright.

    But just because they’re sitting ducks, doesn’t mean that shooting them is clever or called for. Thinking about your critique, I would look at the Jewish papers as both a challenge and an opportunity. Opportunity, because the New Jersey Jewish News reaches more Jewish households than Jewschool ever will — and will reach more Jews who need to hear the things that you, KFJ, have to say.

    Wouldn’t it make sense to present your challenge to intermarriage handwringers in the medium that they read?

    And isn’t it quite the challenge to make the argument on hostile turf?

    Now, I’ll admit that the Jewish newspapers have bought into the bogus notions of “objectivity” of the American press that bloggers like Glenn Greenwald constantly and rightly bemoan. Like American political parties, American Jewish newspapers come in two flavors: rightist and centrist.

    But here’s the big difference: Most of the Jewish newspaper editors I know generally care what the younger generation thinks. Centrism is a wise practical choice, because the left is unwilling to rock the boat.

    So rock the boat, dammit!

    Write letters to the editor. Write op-eds. Make your voice heard. Take advantage of the free Jewish newspapers while you can. While leave them — and their hundreds of thousands of readers — to the Sheldon Adelsons?


    Reb Yudel · December 29th, 2009 at 7:17 pm
  3. njjewishnews.com/justASC/2009/12/29/blog-to-njjn-drop-dead/


    ASC · December 29th, 2009 at 7:21 pm
  4. None of the bullet points above apply to The Forward (with the possible exception of “Talk about non-Jews”; it is, after all, a Jewish paper).

    The Forward’s mideast coverage is superb for a paper its size, and is quite objective. The Opinion page routinely takes Israeli politicians to task. There’s endless coverage of the organized Jewish community and its problems, flaws, etc. (though actual prescriptions for reform are left to the Op-Ed pages — as well they should be). Intermarriage is a constant topic of coverage, though there’s no prescriptions there either unless it appears on occassion in the Op-Ed pages (again, this is a NEWSpaper). And the Arts coverage is excellent: “fringe” and mainstream alike, if its happening in the Jewish world and has even local impact, it usually finds its way to teh pages of the Forward.

    I actually think the Forward compares favorably to any paper in the US — Jewish or not.


    rootlesscosmo · December 29th, 2009 at 7:27 pm
  5. KFJ italicized “deserve”, not “exist”. I read the post not as saying that the NJJN (or any other newspaper) shouldn’t exist, and not as dissing the content of the NJJN in particular, but as saying that no particular newspaper has any inherent value beyond the value that its readers see in it (and, as Reb Yudel and ASC have pointed out, the NJJN does indeed have such value to its readers). But KFJ can correct me if I misunderstood.


    BZ · December 29th, 2009 at 7:42 pm
  6. @asc For what it’s worth, Andrew, I’m grateful for the attention you gave Jewschool over the years and I don’t think KFJ was trying to single you out so much as to use your paper generally as a “for instance”, pointing to a paper covering a suburb of a major metropolitan as, in his opinion, being better off being folded into a bigger metropolitan paper. I read his statement about “deserving” to exist to be about the perpetuity of your brand rather than the value of your journalistic contributions. This was one of the issues that came up when I was shopping JTA’s JMetros plan around to the AJPA: None of the papers wanted to have their brands subsumed to a larger beast. The problem with that thinking is (and I think what KFJ was getting at) is that your paper — its name, its brand, its print edition — is ultimately less important than the work of providing quality news coverage to the people of your community. I agree with him on that point. I ultimately don’t care one way or the other if the NJJN continues to exist. But I care very much about your journalistic contribution, personally, continuing far on into the future, regardless of what medium or venue it takes place in.


    mobius · December 29th, 2009 at 8:07 pm
  7. We can know how many people receive the NY Jewish Week,Phila. Jewish Exponent, or the LA Jewish Journal (although there is no way to know how many read it).
    Jewschool is a major Jewish blog aimed at younger Jews.
    Can we know how many individual hits Jewschool receives each week?
    This may be an indication as to whether this media is the way to get to young Jews.

    If it is hundreds-this is good. Thousands is better. But it is far short of the number of readers that many of the local Jewish papers have.
    Print may be dying-but it is far from dead.

    Could Jewschool, if it actively looked for advertisers, possibly pull in anywhere near the advertising revenues that the print papers do? If not, why not?


    Meir Eynaim · December 29th, 2009 at 8:31 pm
  8. As a member of the ‘dying’ print media (and one whose family buys so many subscriptions that I think we’re single handedly keeping print alive) who also blogs and is eager, like everyone else, to find ways to monetize on-line media, I have a few thoughts about Kung Fu Jew’s piece.

    Sorry KFJ, but your arguments aren’t new.

    They’re the same complaints that have been made by every 20-something who cares about Jewish life in America. Hey, I remember making them myself, and that’s not to say that they’re (mostly) not legit. But I don’t think there’s a way to get your generation to pay for subscriptions to print Jewish publications, not because of those publications’ content, not because they’re not writing enough about people with one Jewish parent (I didn’t understand this particular complaint, because what articles, exactly, would you like to see about this?) but because you guys expect everything for free.

    And if you think the print Jewish media is so archaic, what’s stopping you from creating something as successful, impactful and important as the Forward that more effectively speaks to your concerns?

    Jewschool and the other new media Jewish publications are fun, but they haven’t come close to the impact of (some of) the Jewish print media. They’re just not serious or professional enough. FailedMessiah is the only one I can think of who regularly breaks news, and his interest is focused on a narrow (if endlessly fascinating) segment of the Jewish community. Most of the Jewish blog-a-zines are entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking, but rarely are they journalism — let’s be clear about the distinctions.

    Lastly, KFJ, it is truly wonderful that you are committed to the continued re-newal and re-creation of Jewish life (how’ve you been, btw?). But in this age when Americans (Jewish and not) in their 20s and 30s take a cafeteria approach to religious engagement and when hyper-individualized super-self-centric young(ish) adults expect every thing to be tailored to their particular needs and perspectives, there need to be more of you willing to commit to the greater good.

    New and innovative projects are needed, but so are programs that feed the Jewish hungry and support programs for the Jewish ill and homeless and elderly. New Jewish media ventures full of cultural commentary and trend-spotting are needed, but so are publications that pay professional journalists a living wage to responsibly explore what’s wrong — and what’s right — about the Jewish communities that make up this vibrant reality in which we are fortunate to live.

    My old pal Yudel, I’m with you. Stay with it, KFJ – stay engaged, rock that boat, contribute to making what is an even better version of what can be.


    NuttreePriestess · December 29th, 2009 at 10:47 pm
  9. Turning Jewish community papers into ideological war zones, the way Jewschool, is irresponsible. They are Jewish community newsletters, informing people about events relevant to the local community. Why is “newsletter” a derogatory term in this respect? In my experience, as people get older and have children, their patience for verbal violence declines, and their desire to participate in and be informed about community life increases.

    Personally, I think local Jewish papers should do LESS international and non-community stories, not more. Who are they kidding trying to compete with real newspapers? The only interest I have in following their “international” offerings is observing the bias in editorial decisions which led to one story being published and not another. Their niche is the Jewish community. They should stay there and enrich community life – the reason why they exist in the first place.


    Avigdor · December 29th, 2009 at 11:28 pm
  10. Mobius and BZ are correct to point out that I did not wish the Jewish press or NJJN death. I posted a comment on ASC’s blog explaining by the same token that Jewschool doesn’t deserve to exist. And in the way that Jewschool was saved from death only by the concern of a minority to fix it, so too do I and others care to fix the Jewish press, community and peoplehood before they’re all driven into the ground. I care that there is vibrant debate and a journalistic contribution that is probing and prophetic. Somebody will do it — via blog, Twitter or whatever else is next.

    Reb Yudel, on my personal blog I voiced my beef on the skewed politics of Jewish press. But I wanted to keep that separate from my thoughts on its future, because they are separate issues. Rightist politics on Israel are driving young people from Jewish life, yes, certainly. But publishing a leftist columnist isn’t going to suddenly bring them back. The matter is broader than just that.

    Meir Eynaim, actually Jewschool’s individual readership will always be a poor judge. But let’s add up the young readership of Jewschool.com, Jewlicious.com, Jewcy.com, Jewneric.com, SocialJewstice.com, JCarrot.org, JSpot.org, and that of all the blogs of the people who comment on them — then indeed, we’ll have a pretty compelling measure of whether “this media” reaches young Jews better. But I think the research has already ended that debate. To answer your question however, we have between 20K-30K unique readers a month.


    Kung Fu Jew · December 30th, 2009 at 12:27 am
  11. NutTreePrincess describes the mission of the Jewish press as the “responsibly explore what’s wrong — and what’s right — about the Jewish communities that make up this vibrant reality in which we are fortunate to live.”. I think that is a wonderful mission, however as a regular reader of the jta and the forward, I do not find much investigative news reporting that addresses the key elements of what is wrong. KFJ said he wanted to keep politics out of this post, but I don’t think they can be ignored every single article I read in the jewish press takes Zionism for granted. Until the Jewish press stops seeing the world through blue and white tinted glasses, they will serve only as propaganda. I’m not talking about hawks and doves. Yea, we’ve got that rather narrow spectrum covered. I’m talking about coverage that takes seriously alternative narratives and politics that dissent from the Zionist line.


    Chorus of Apes · December 30th, 2009 at 2:13 am
  12. Zionism as a narrow, secular political movement, is long dead. Today, there are religious Zionist Jews, which in 1948 was an oxymoron in terms. Zionism today is a broad concept that encompasses Jewish sovereignty itself. By “dissenting” from the “Zionist line”, you are implicitly challenging the survival of the Israeli state, and it’s millions of residents. That puts you on the distant, blood-soaked, radical fringe of the human community, not to mention the Jewish community, and your perspective should receive no more voice in a Jewish publication than that of radical Islamists.


    Avigdor · December 30th, 2009 at 3:30 am
  13. Not to get political…


    Avigdor · December 30th, 2009 at 3:30 am
  14. Here’s a NJ Jewish News article referencing a miracle because a woman started lighting shabbos candles. Keep in mind — this isn’t a Hanoch Teller book — this is reported as news:

    began to light Shabbat candles and stopped working on Shabbat, although she didn’t know where she would find other work. Within minutes of that decision, she said, her cellphone rang and she was offered her old job back — with longer and better hours.
    www.njjewishnews.com/njjn.com/022609/cjOutreachGroupMarks.html

    Here’s a hard hitting story assuring us that NCSY’s JSUs are nothing to fear at all, they just want to build identity and the are SO DIVERSE! They even have a club member in USY.

    www.njjewishnews.com/njjn.com/031209/njJewishStudentGroup.html

    “There is one student here who is very active in USY” — the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth — “and we use her materials,” said Katz. “This is a nondenominational group.

    Nothing about how they recruit public school kids into NCSY proper.


    DK · December 30th, 2009 at 5:04 am
  15. Very interesting post. However, one passage in particular stood out for me:

    “50% of us under 30 have a non-Jewish parent. Articles and op-eds about “intermarriage solutions” are a great way to lose my loyalty. A lot more interesting would be articles on dealing with racist assholes in the Jewish world who hand-wring about the former topic.”

    Racist?? How is this racist? I don’t begrudge anyone’s personal decisions – if they want to marry outside the faith, that’s cool. But facts are facts. While individual exceptions exist, by and large, a mixed marriage family is a poor way to assure continuity. If passing on one’s Jewish identity to one’s children is a priority, then marrying someone Jewish is a darned good way to start. Marrying someone non-Jewish puts you at a statistical disadvantage. If passing on your Jewish identity to your children isn’t so important then by all means do whatever you like. Of course marrying someone Jewish is just the beginning. A commitment to significant Jewish education and a tangible Jewish family life is also a good way to foster Jewish identity. These are facts and have nothing to do with racism.

    Judging by the statistics, if, as you say, 50% of under 30 Jews have a non-Jewish parent, then less than a third even identify as Jews. Putting aside denominational and other definitions of who exactly is a Jew, this might serve as another explanation of why the Jewish Press is failing – there just aren’t that many of us left out there any more to read it.

    That’s not racism. That’s truth.


    ck · December 30th, 2009 at 7:24 am
  16. Time has come, it seems, to open up a new front in the discussion started by KFJ with his karate kick in the chops to mainstream Jewish media.

    It wasn’t any particular secret (but then, it wasn’t particularly widely announced, either), that a group of “major” Jewish newspaper/media executives met on the sidelines of the General Assembly in Washington, DC, last month (Nov. 2009) to discuss Jewish journalism, the Internet, the future, and the like.

    This gathering of “Elders of Zion Media” (wink, wink) contained representatives of (mostly) established media (many mentioned in the original post, as well as in subsequent comments) and a few new generation online Jewish media types (some of whose names also are mentioned above).

    Frankly, even though I put a lot of effort in organizing the meeting, I had low expectations. And, again, frankly, it seems that little has or will come of it, except for one or two side projects. One of the key reasons has also been mentioned above: no one was willing to sacrifice/merge his/her old/new brand and independent operation into some kind of “Super Jew” portal. Fair enough, in retrospect. Some of the brands at our meeting and others mentioned above have equity, whether within their own communities or in the larger Jewish world, and each has staff, positions, status, and (some?) security they are not likely to want to sacrifice for the “greater good.”

    Yet there are options out there these days – technical/marketing/social – that can do something, IMHO, to spread the word around, expand the pie, raise the boat (pick a cliche) for all.

    Let me put my institutional and personal bias right out on the table for all. I would love to see commentary and scholarship from the Hartman Institute, my employer, reach a wider audience. Bigger and better Jewish media would help achieve that goal.

    However, the reason why I personally made it point to sit everyone together is that I would like to see greater dialogue and cross-community conversation. Why not have a “modern” (accepting) discussion of the reality of intermarriage alongside traditional commentary bemoaning the situation.

    Why not have the advocates of and experts in (pick one or more) secular, New Age, Renewal, Modern Orthodox, Chabad, Aish or (add your own label here) other “forms” of Judaism discussing Hanukkah, Rosh Hashana, 10th of Tevet, siddurim, halakha or God on the same web page? Maybe, just maybe (am I a naive, idealistic, freyer at the advanced age of 55?) people might listen to and learn from one another.

    To paraphrase someone (Menachem Fisch) from Hartman Institute (pardon the plug, but I think it’s relevant): True pluralism doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other. We won’t ever come to a single understanding of a single issue. But we should be able to and willing to sit down and listen to one another.

    As far as bemoaning the weakness of Jewish journalism, KFJ has a point. With a few exceptions here and there – the aforementioned Forward, the new Tablet, and some widely scattered journos (see the latest Rockower Awards for impressive projects of 08/09) among them – Jewish journalism is proving itself inadequate to the challenges Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are facing today. That’s nothing new. However, struggling Jewish media must be seen within the context of ongoing changes in the larger journalism world (far too many to get into here; most of you know the basics).

    However, one thing that struck me at the meeting I helped convene (I’ll email a detailed report to anyone who writes to me personally) – conversely – gave me the inkling of an idea about how to work our way out of the hole. All of the media organizations at the table were non-profits (and by that I don’t just mean they are not making a profit). They don’t have the almighty buck as their main goal.

    That provides an opening for one possible new way to organize the situation – including, among other options, foundation, philanthropic, and social venture capital/entrepreneurship funding. Many of the newer Jewish media are already products of this approach. In fact, even as the mainstream media begin to explore this route in various combinations (business and foundation funding together, etc…), Jewish media can be a trailblazer. Believe you me, I know all of the pitfalls of philanthropically funded journalism. Yet there are examples of it working today – and many, many more projects are in the works or just getting going.

    KFJ, rants are fine and necessary. They are the province of the young. As a Baby Boomer (don’t throw me out with the bathwater yet) my memories of rants against the “Establishment” and “The Man” are still fresh. But now what? The time is ripe for creative, fresh, positive thinking about Jewish media in the US (and don’t forget English and Hebrew media in Israel and elsewhere – it’s a global village). The passion is there. The tech is there. The need is there. Who wants to participate?

    alan.abbey@gmail.com


    Alan Abbey · December 30th, 2009 at 10:38 am
  17. Dan and KFJ: As far as wishing me ill — KFJ’s “so be it” and Dan’s “I don’t care one way or the other if the NJJN continues to exist” sounds callous and selfish, however you spin it. I care a lot whether other media thrive — from blogs like Jewschool to news services like JTA to whatever new venture you’re in the process of planning. I want folks to have plenty of choices, and media that serve their particular interests. And I think you do care more than you let on: I can’t imagine with your political passion you would really like to see all Jewish news coverage in the U.S. subsumed under the umbrella of JTA or the Jewish Week. I thought progressives consider media monopolies bad for democracy?


    ASC · December 30th, 2009 at 11:01 am
  18. ck writes:
    While individual exceptions exist, by and large, a mixed marriage family is a poor way to assure continuity. If passing on one’s Jewish identity to one’s children is a priority, then marrying someone Jewish is a darned good way to start. Marrying someone non-Jewish puts you at a statistical disadvantage. If passing on your Jewish identity to your children isn’t so important then by all means do whatever you like.

    The problem with this (all too common) line of argument is that it mixes correlation and causation with abandon. If passing on one’s Jewish identity to one’s children is a priority, then the odds are good that one will marry someone Jewish, whether told to or not, simply because one will be drawn to someone with similar values. And if passing on one’s Jewish identity to one’s children is priority and one marries someone non-Jewish, then the odds are good that one will still find a way to pass on one’s Jewish identity to one’s children – it happens all the time. And if passing on one’s Jewish identity to one’s children is NOT a priority, then there is no guarantee that it will be passed on, even if one’s partner is Jewish.

    That is, no one will be persuaded by Jewish continuity arguments to marry someone Jewish unless they already care about Jewish continuity, but if they care about Jewish continuity, then they’ll manage to have Jewish kids regardless of whom they marry.

    So the relevant variable that determines whether your children will have a Jewish identity is how important Jewish identity is to you — NOT whom you marry (even if that happens to be correlated) — and therefore efforts to get Jews to marry other Jews (and ostracize Jews who marry non-Jews) are useless at best, and alienating (to the people in the second category above, who want to be part of the Jewish community) at worst.


    BZ · December 30th, 2009 at 11:28 am
  19. Hmmm. Corelation and causation indeed. I still can’t help but note that study that showed that in families where only the Father is Jewish, only 19% of the children identified as Jews. I mean I meet lots of people who say they are proud Jews. Proud! Proud of their culture, history, heritage and traditions. And yet, when asked further they say that it’s not a priority for them to marry someone Jewish. OK, cool. They declare their Jewish pride but really, it doesn’t amount to much when they declare their willingness to engage in a course of action that usually leads to assimilation. One has to question the extent of and meaningfulness of their pride. And in fact I usually do. I ask them to simply admit that they’re not really THAT proud. That it’s not really such a priority to maintain unbroken that link that allowed them to be the beneficiaries of the precious legacy that is Judaism. And that’s my point. Just admit it. It’s not really that important to you.

    And why should it be when Judaism manifests itself as a culinary tradition, an inordinate bent towards higher education and professional careers, an irrational and unquestioning attachment to Israel, a necrophiliac obsession with the Holocaust and hyper sensitivity to anti-Semitism. Is that all there is? If that were actually the case I’d drop Judaism like a fucking hot potato. But when that’s all you know, yeah maybe you’re proud of grandma’s blintzes, but really, pass on non-mosaic booty for that? Fuck no.

    As more and more “proud Jews” continue to make these personally enriching but communally devastating decisions, is it any wonder that the Jewish press has less and less readers? At this rate, the conventional Jewish Press will go the way of the Dodo. Look for Vos iz Neias to take over the Jewish Week’s offices…


    ck · December 30th, 2009 at 1:05 pm
  20. ck wrote,

    “Just admit it. It’s not really that important to you.”

    Okay, I admit that for me, Jewish continuity isn’t worth fundamentalism and literalism of narratives.

    “Look for Vos iz Neias to take over the Jewish Week’s offices…”

    I’d rather have Unitarian grandchildren than Monsey chassidim. You know why, ck? Because they are closer to the paradigm of my ancestors than these fundies. And that’s something you will never admit to understanding. Keeping kosher, a strict shabbos, taharas mishpacha are less important to many of us than the deeper, universal messages within Judaism. And frankly, those deeper messages appear to be utterly lost in today’s black hole of fahfrumpt.

    If Bait Shammai is set to utterly take over Judaism — and that could be the case — then the path of Hillel must be adhered to outside the tents of Jacob.

    So be it.


    DK · December 30th, 2009 at 1:23 pm
  21. ck writes:
    Hmmm. Corelation and causation indeed. I still can’t help but note that study that showed that in families where only the Father is Jewish, only 19% of the children identified as Jews.

    Right. That’s called correlation. But this would only imply causation if we knew that, all things being equal, the fathers of the other 81% would be having Jewishly identified children if those fathers were married to (similarly committed) Jews. More likely explanations are:
    * Most of the fathers of the 81% just weren’t that into Judaism in the first place (and even if they had been married to Jews, still wouldn’t be).
    * Intermarried families (particularly those where the mother is not Jewish) are unwelcome in many Jewish communities, and so some of them who might have had some Jewish interest drift away from Jewish identification.

    And why should it be when Judaism manifests itself as a culinary tradition, an inordinate bent towards higher education and professional careers, an irrational and unquestioning attachment to Israel, a necrophiliac obsession with the Holocaust and hyper sensitivity to anti-Semitism. Is that all there is? If that were actually the case I’d drop Judaism like a fucking hot potato.

    I agree 100%. And that’s why the focus should be on the substance of Judaism, rather than on marriage. When the focus is on marrying Jews and having Jewish babies, without regard to the content of Judaism, then the message is that Judaism is all about passing along the aforementioned fucking hot potato and nothing else. Why would anyone find that convincing?


    BZ · December 30th, 2009 at 1:41 pm
  22. So the relevant variable that determines whether your children will have a Jewish identity is how important Jewish identity is to you — NOT whom you marry (even if that happens to be correlated)

    Well said, BZ, and complementary to what ck is saying – having two Jewish parents statistically increases the likelihood that Jewish identity is important enough for an individual to continue passing it on.

    KFJ has written on the subject of intermarriage with a very different take, however, and quite passionately. He makes the argument that intermarriage strengthens Jews by allowing more people, particularly non-Jews, to identify with certain Jewish cultural traditions. This, then, would translate into a greater affinity in the wider culture for all things Jewish.

    There are two essential strains of thought I can identify in this outlook. As a product of intermarriage, and after being told by the dominant Jewish culture that intermarriage is the bane of Jewish life, it is natural for an individual who is a product of intermarriage to invert this and stake intermarriage as actually beneficial, as a way of asserting their mixed identity.

    The second, which is something I’ve noticed KFJ mention several times in other contexts, is self-preservation. It appears that KFJ, and others, believe that issues like anti-Semitism can be addressed by intermarrying, thus increasing the general affinity for Jewish culture among the general population. At least, that’s the idea.

    Anyway, this isn’t really a post on intermarriage, though we haven’t had a good one of those in a while…


    Avigdor · December 30th, 2009 at 2:04 pm
  23. * Intermarried families (particularly those where the mother is not Jewish) are unwelcome in many Jewish communities, and so some of them who might have had some Jewish interest drift away from Jewish identification.

    This is an interesting point. I just want to point out that Chabad gets a lot of flak for accepting and working with mixed families, including on the pages of prominent Jewish publications.


    Avigdor · December 30th, 2009 at 2:11 pm
  24. It appears that KFJ, and others, believe that issues like anti-Semitism can be addressed by intermarrying, thus increasing the general affinity for Jewish culture among the general population. At least, that’s the idea.

    What are you talking about? We are a mere 2% of the population, and do not suffer serious anti-semitism in this country, despite ADL fundraising histrionics. Why in hell would this speculative plan ever be a priority for the Jewish community?


    DK · December 30th, 2009 at 2:22 pm
  25. Perhaps I’m mischaracterizing KFJ’s position, or perhaps not. Here are two of the many articles he has written on the subject, on whose totality I am basing my summary of his position:

    MASA TV Commercial: Intermarried Jews are lost

    Had it up to here with multifaith family stereotypes

    As I don’t subscribe to this position, DK, you’ll have to address KFJ directly, if this is what he believes.


    Avigdor · December 30th, 2009 at 3:05 pm
  26. Chabad gets a lot of flak for accepting and working with mixed families
    Only if they’re mixed properly (i.e. the mother is Jewish).


    Amit · December 30th, 2009 at 3:20 pm
  27. Today, there are religious Zionist Jews, which in 1948 was an oxymoron in terms.
    Nonsense. There were two religious signatories to the Israeli declaration of independance (Rabbis Warhaftig and Fishman). The religious parties (i.e. Mafdal and Aguda) in the first Knesset had 12% of the vote, or 16 mandates. Assuming Aguda had less adherents in 1948 than today (pure demography) we can safely say there were 12 mandates worth of religious-zionists in Israel in 1948, or exactly 10% of voters. (Not counting all those religious people who voted Mapam or Mapai or Herut).


    Amit · December 30th, 2009 at 3:28 pm
  28. [...] I guess this is a follow-up of sorts to KFJ’s recent post here at Jewschool Shooting the Jewish Press. [...]


    And the award for the tackiest fundraising message of 2009 goes to… | Jewschool · December 30th, 2009 at 3:50 pm
  29. not to mention Rav Kook had been around and had already left the world by 1948


    Justin · December 30th, 2009 at 3:53 pm
  30. Avidgor wrote:
    “By “dissenting” from the “Zionist line”, you are implicitly challenging the survival of the Israeli state, and it’s millions of residents. That puts you on the distant, blood-soaked, radical fringe of the human community, not to mention the Jewish community, and your perspective should receive no more voice in a Jewish publication than that of radical Islamists.”

    That’s crazy. Israeli survival is no more connected to Zionism that the survival of France is to French nationalism. Unless….

    Wait. Is your thesis that ideological conformity is an essential ingredient of Israel’s survival? If that’s true, it would point to a major weakness. Talk about undermining faith in Israel. Poor little weak state!

    Didn’t use to be that way; noted non-Zionist Albert Einstein was even offered the presidency of Israel at one point.


    Jew Geuvara · December 30th, 2009 at 4:29 pm
  31. Just to get us back on track…

    CK asks “Judaism manifests itself as a culinary tradition, an inordinate bent towards higher education and professional careers, an irrational and unquestioning attachment to Israel, a necrophiliac obsession with the Holocaust and hyper sensitivity to anti-Semitism. Is that all there is?”

    I would answer with a resounding no. That is not all there is. And yet with some important exceptions (Jay Michaelson’s and Leonard Fein’s columns in the Forward come to mind) that is exactly the picture of Judaism and Jewish culture one would get from reading the Jewish press.

    Reguarding Avigdor’s point, yes, I question Jewish soveignty just as I question all ethnic nationalism. I do t think this imperils lives, becuase it is the nationalism that is fomenting all the killing in this conflict. I don’t need the jewish press to only promote this view, but yes, I would like to see the strong tradition (and contemporary movement) of Jewish opposition to Zionism become a plausable position in the Jewish press.


    Chorus of Apes · December 30th, 2009 at 4:49 pm
  32. The Jewish press is probably smarter for catering to their current (albeit dwindling) readership rather than trying to reach out to new readership among the fringe, youth, and (sometimes) left. Can you imagine the outcry and acrimony if a Jewish paper endorsed a Black Muslim candidate for the House of Reps over a White Jew? Oh wait, you don’t have to.
    blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2006/09/american_jewish_world_endorses.php


    ML · December 30th, 2009 at 4:50 pm
  33. I’m a Jewish grandmother and just serendipitously read your article. Wow! Am I ever sorry. And alarmed. It’s time for you guys to grow up. Maybe the problem with your generation is that you wait too long to get married and are, therefore, kids for a much longer time than my generation. I was married at 20 (yes, did pick up a degree at Rutgers) and had four kids by 30. So while I share the liberal values that most Jews believe in, I also: abhor intermarriage (sorry, but that’s how I feel. It’s the death knell of our peoplehood.), love Israel and am totally intolerant to the need to bash it. Sure, Israel is imperfect. Who isn’t? Please let me know. I also, btw, think that using profanity in a news publication (online or otherwise)is very declasse. I’m not a prude but surely you are educated and can find appropriate language that’s a tad more refined.

    Now to NJJN. I have been reading that paper since childhood. It has accompanied me throughout my life. I used to read the Bar Mitzvah announcements. Continued with engagements/weddings. Then to new arrivals. Now I’m in trouble! It’s obits. So for me, as a lifelong community member, the paper fills a void. It lets me know the events in my community and neither the Forward or the Jewish Week or any other out of area publication can do that. In addition the editorials of ASC are usually brilliant and I often find them picked up by the Jerusalem Post. No one thinks the NJJN is a way to learn the news. Obviously we are all news freaks and get instant news from a vast variety of media. No weekly could or should compete. I wish the NJJN long life!


    Rosanne Skopp · December 30th, 2009 at 6:00 pm
  34. Ok, just today the Forward published a great oped that requires me to take back my previous comments. Stuff like this is rare, but I’m proud of the Forward for publishing it.


    Chorus of Apes · December 30th, 2009 at 8:32 pm
  35. I’m with Avigdor and Roseanne. I personally read my community paper to find out about lectures and community events, see who’s married/bnei mitzvahed, and read a review of a new kosher restaurant or community business. The news they publish is stale. The opinions have been hashed out on blogs and in the Forward.

    Curious, if you don’t subscribe to your community Jewish paper, how do you find out about events and simchas in your community?


    Siviyo · January 2nd, 2010 at 8:00 pm
  36. “Curious, if you don’t subscribe to your community Jewish paper, how do you find out about events and simchas in your community?”

    Facebook, email, websites, word of mouth. If someone wants me at their event, they’ll promote it on the internet in some shape or form.


    ML · January 2nd, 2010 at 11:12 pm
  37. [...] produced Israel’s robust response to the new blood libels. So to circle back around to the conversation that was taking place here at Jewschool this past week about the relevance/importance/whatever of Jewish journalism and local Jewish [...]


    Yesterday’s News Tomorrow | Jewschool · January 3rd, 2010 at 12:48 am
  38. Rosanne – what does “death knell of our peoplehood” even mean? Does it mean Jews will no longer be a “people”, and they will have to become adherents of an ideology to be Jews? Or that we are all going to die if people continue to marry others that they love? Something like Iran? Please unpack that statement, because as it stands now, it has no meaning at all.


    Amit · January 3rd, 2010 at 11:48 am
  39. [...] of change. Its institutions reject bold, smart ideas for the safety of orthodoxies. Sacred cows wallow in an abundance of funds, while social incubators and fellowships expect one to be a trust [...]


    31 days, 31 ideas | Jewschool · January 4th, 2010 at 2:03 am
  40. Curious, if you don’t subscribe to your community Jewish paper, how do you find out about events and simchas in your community?

    I find it curious that your community is largely defined by a geographic location. Mine isn’t. I’m rather all over the place.


    Kung Fu Jew · January 4th, 2010 at 11:50 am
  41. Chorus of Apes: Not sure why you characterize as “rare” the appearance of that piece in the Forward. I guess you don’t read the Forward?

    As I stated up top, NONE of this criticism applies to that paper. This whole critique — the original post and many of the comments — may apply to some (or even most) of the local market Jewish papers such as the New-Jersey-whatever, but to paint the Forward with this brush is frankly bizarre.

    I can only conclude that you people don’t actually read it.


    rootlesscosmo · January 4th, 2010 at 10:45 pm
  42. Shorter Roseanne:

    Why are times changing? This scares me.


    B.BarNavi · January 6th, 2010 at 6:07 am
  43. So let’s take a look at today’s New Jersey Jewish News, shall we?

    Rabbis and cantors urge action on gay marriage

    Thirty-two New Jersey rabbis and three cantors were among 120 clergy members urging state legislators to debate and vote yes on a bill approving same-sex marriage.The list of Jewish signers includes clergy representing the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements, but not Orthodoxy. Orthodox rabbis from Lakewood and the Orthodox Union have spoken out against same-sex marriage, calling it a “radical change to a timeless institution.”

    ‘Tribe’ hunts an elusive cohort: Generation X

    They sat in Rebecca Missel’s Morristown apartment, packing toiletries and signing Hanukka cards — enough for 15 boxes to be sent to American troops serving overseas. There were about a dozen people in their 20s and 30s, drawn by the opportunity to gather with other folks their age and do something good in the world.

    There were no grants, no sponsorships, no connection to larger umbrella organizations. And that’s just how these GenXers say they like it.

    The Dec. 8 gathering was the first for Jersey Tribe, a social and service network created by and for young Jewish adults.

    Women and intermarriage:
    A NJ native’s surprising thesis about Jewish identity and child-rearing

    In her 2009 book, Still Jewish, Princeton native Keren McGinity argues that the organized Jewish community has gotten the implications of intermarriage for women wrong for most of the last century.

    Rather than serving as the “lightning rod” for unhappy marriages and divorce, not to mention a catalyst for the increasing assimilation of Jews, her book suggests just the opposite: that if the marriages of Jewish women who intermarry unravel, that happens for the same reasons as do other marriages — financial stresses, shifting values, infidelity. Moreover, she says, Jewish women who intermarry not only often raise their children as Jews, they in fact sometimes gain a deeper hold on their Jewish identity.

    “The basic assumption the book dismantles is this idea that a Jew who intermarries must not take Judaism seriously or otherwise ceases to identify Jewishly, won’t ever become more Jewishly engaged, and won’t raise Jewish children,” McGinity said in a phone interview from Ann Arbor, Mich. “What I found was that women did not cease to identify as Jews. Although some women dabbled in other religions or otherwise adopted dual identities in the early 20th century, increasingly over the 20th century they became more adamant about identifying Jewishly and more proactive about raising Jewish children.”

    I think this compares quite favorably to Jewschool’s reporting over the past week.


    Reb Yudel · January 6th, 2010 at 10:10 pm
  44. [...] We argue over and over again in this blog about how the Jewish institutions of the past (from newspapers to synagogues to movements) don’t meet the needs of as many people as they once did. Who knows [...]


    Jewschool: The Vort: Vayechi – Endings and Beginnings | untitled itsdlevy project · December 28th, 2013 at 1:16 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik