Jason Maoz at the Jewish Press has an interesting strategy for making his blog relevant — picking fights with me. I suppose he figures if he pisses me off often enough that I’ll keep driving traffic to his dinky little weblog and increase the Jewish Press’ share of the jblog market. So I’m gonna throw him his last bone here just to make a salient and long overdue point.
Call it my Al Gore moment — an unsettling moment of hubris if you must. But the sheer fact of the matter is that the Jewish Press now has a weblog because of me and everyone else’s other favorite blogger they love to hate, Steven I. Weiss.
I have been blogging on Jewish issues since before any single reader of Jew School had ever even heard of a blog. Hell, I was blogging before even I’d heard of a blog — the term hadn’t been coined yet. I launched my first online journal in 1998, during my freshman year of college. In fact, if you look back through the Orthodox Anarchist archives, which began with my move to Blogger in 2001, you’ll find ruminations on Judaism from nearly the outset.
Jew School and Protocols (Weiss’ original blog and the first ever Jewish group blog), it should be known, debuted within a month of each other (after I’d decided to split my blog up into three sites, Jew School, Jakeneck and SHTV). Weiss focused on the YU scene, and I focused on the burgeoning “New Jew” revival that was then just beginning to take off in NYC. When we started out, Weiss hated me actually, and used to pick fights with me too. Now I’m his webmaster, responsible for the design and hosting of Canonist and CampusJ, as well as the configuration of Iconia and Jewess. Protocols has long since folded, yet Jew School continues to reign as the longest-lived and still-relevant and going Jewish weblog, six years on.
Weiss’ sites reflect only a small percentage of the number of weblogs I have either launched or helped launch in the course of the past six years, and I can hardly tell you how many Jewish organizations contact me in a given week asking for help in getting started in the blogging world. Many of the most popular jblogs that exist today are, in fact, sites that I either inspired or was hired to build due to my experience in the field.
Here’s a trivia question: Do you know why Jewlicious, the most popular and prominent of Jewish megablogs, exists? As CK himself revealed to me, and then affirmed in his ynet interview two years back, he began Jewlicious to stick it to me. He was trolling the threads on Jew School at about the time I started opening up to leftist views on Israel and decided he needed to provide a counterbalance to what he felt was the damaging impression of Israel I was promoting. (He likes to say “other Jewish blogs” — but at the time, Jew School was the only left-wing Jewish blog online, period.) Actually, the first ever reader comment posted to Jewlicious was written by Douglas Rushkoff, who at the time was contributing to Jew School (and who, by the way, despite being a technoculture enthusiast, only began blogging after my repeated insistence that he do so). Likewise, since Jewlicious began, I have been the repeated subject of posts there, both flattering and unflattering. Suffice to say, my biggest competitor is only successful because he took the model I pioneered and sought to do it “better” than me.
Thus, the truth is inescapable: Jew School set the gold standard. We developed the jblogging genre. We taught the Jewish world how to blog. We set the agenda.
And while everyone else was murmuring about this whole Internet thing being a drop in the bucket and totally irrelevant, we were pushing the limits of Jewish content, design aesthetic and web technology, opening up a world that today comprises the jblogosphere as we know it, with practically every Jewish organization and rabbi on earth now jumping on the blogging bandwagon. There’s hardly a jblogger out there who isn’t familiar with Jew School. And even if they despise everything we’re about, they have defined themselves in relation to us — even Maoz is defining himself in relation to us. We are the rule by which all other jblogs are measured. And man, do they love trading on our success by picking fights with us.
Sure, we have our flat months. The site isn’t always great nor does it always measure up to what I aspire for it to be. And certainly our content and our viewpoints are not for everyone. But nonetheless, we paved the road. We made jblogging relevant and an integral part of the Jewish community. We made it matter.
So, Mr. Maoz — and anyone else for that matter — can talk all the trash they like and pick all the fights they want with me, but there’s a reason the Jewish Press is now launching a weblog and I’m not, for example, launching a shitty newspaper. He can be as smug and condescending as he likes. The sheer fact that he feels the need to contend with us proves beyond a doubt how much we matter, and how much we continue to matter.
Sociologist Steven M. Cohen has said “What impresses me most about Dan Sieradski and the other young creative people at Matzat (Jew School’s parent organization) is that they obviously ‘get it’ — they know how to communicate effectively to Jews of their own generation, with the right issues, language, aesthetics, and technology.” Likewise, Jewish historian Ari Kelman has said that Jew School is “the most important thing happening online in the Jewish community.”
We paved the foundation Maoz is building on. We went from being nobodies to an “obvious target” for the Jewish Press — one of America’s most “established” Jewish newspapers — who have seemingly felt it incumbent upon themselves to bust us down a notch no less than three times since their site launched no more than two weeks ago.
If that doesn’t speak to the power of Jew School, I don’t know what does.
To Jew School’s loyal readers: I love you, and we couldn’t have come this far without you.
Oh, and to Jason — I may be an advocate for the decriminalization of marijuana (which apparently is indicative of being an irresponsible stoner in your book), but hey, at least I don’t protect sex offenders by attacking their accusers, nor do I employ convicted slanderers like Steven Plaut. Or rather, if this is what I have accomplished while stoned, you should fear that which I’m capable of when fully sober.
Carl Sagan, stoner astrophysicist, rest in peace.