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Jewish Journal

Stuart Matlins: Visionary for the People of the Book

Posted on Feb. 26, 2010 at 11:37 am

As seen in The Jewish Week

In light of our status as the People of the Book, there is no doubt one of our Top Jews is the visionary Stuart Matlins. An accomplished businessman, Matlins left a lucrative career in management consulting to create Jewish Lights Publishing (www.jewishlights.com), which is now a major force in Jewish publishing. Visit jinsider.com to hear Matlins’ insights on Judaism, the Jewish community and Jewish books. Here are some of the highlights:

Why be Jewish
God said to us, “You should be a light unto the nations,” and so part of my reason for being a Jew is to help bring light to the world – in our values and understanding of the responsibility to help repair the world. While all that is important and intellectually interesting, the emotional side, the irrational side, is: “I feel that’s who I am – that’s part of my destiny. Here in my kishkas, I am a Jew.” And it’s very important to me and to Antoinette, my wife, that we help other Jewish people have this connection too.

Relevance and Meaning
Outside of the Orthodox world we do what we choose to do, and if we don’t find relevance, and if we don’t find meaning, and if we don’t find satisfaction in it, we don’t do it out of obligation. I make no judgment as to whether that is good or bad – it just is.

So [Judaism] has to be relevant to everyday life, has to be accessible, has to have meaning. Those things don’t work in the same way for everybody. What I find relevant is not going to work for some 25-year-old. So the first thing to recognize is that the old models – and this is hardly news – don’t work in the new world that we have created and in which our children live. So we have to make Judaism accessible in a variety of ways. There are financial issues involved as well: The cost of day school, the cost of synagogue dues, the cost of living in a particular neighborhood are all difficult things for many people. I have no universal solutions, but heightened awareness will help us address the issues.

At the same time, while the Jewish community is focusing so heavily and appropriately on our young people, let’s not forget the rest of the Jewish world. Let’s not forget their parents – the 40+, the 50+, the 60+. And I’m not talking about social service needs. I’m talking about spiritual needs and Jewish involvement that is relevant to their lives at their stage of life. They will model Jewish behavior for younger people. So a variety of entry points is key.

The Purpose of Jewish Lights
The primary purpose of Jewish Lights is to help Jewish people understand the relevance of Judaism to their lives and to provide the resources they need both to understand that relevance and then to live a Jewish life.

Jewish Lights Book Publishing Strategy
At the beginning we focused on what we saw as the greatest immediate need – and that was to create for the unique Jewish community in America a spiritually based body of work, an inspirational literature that was intellectually interesting, emotionally satisfying, and spoke to the relevance of Judaism to life, and of the personal relationship between people and God. We are not shy about saying that God is a central part of Judaism. It’s not just ethnicity. It’s not just gefilte fish and other things that are hard to digest. It’s about us and the Master of the Universe and what God wants us to do with our lives in this world.

Vital Stats

Jewish Lights
Year started: 1990
Total Books Purchased: Almost 3.5 million books and LifeLights(tm) pastoral care booklets

Best selling Books:
Children’s – “God’s Paintbrush” by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Religious Life – “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah” by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin,
Jewish Life – “I Am Jewish:  Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl,” ed. by Judea and Ruth Pearl
Prayer – “My People’s Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries,” series ed. by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, PhD

Stuart Matlins
Favorite Jewish food—My mother’s sweet-and-sour stuffed cabbage, but a pastrami on rye with a Dr. Brown’s diet cream soda at the 2nd Avenue Deli is a close second.

Favorite Jewish or Yiddish phrase—People plan and God laughs.

Favorite ritual—Welcoming Shabbat at home, candle lighting and Kiddush (but that’s only because there isn’t a ritual and blessing for finally finishing all the work that goes into making a book and sending it to the printer)

Guilty pleasure—Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

Favorite movie – “Casablanca”

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