For years, young Jews have voted with their feet after their bar or bat mitzvahs, with about half of those in non-Orthodox synagogues' religious schools leaving before the 12th-grade confirmation.
Some synagogue schools are starting new, nontraditional programs to bring teenagers back to tradition, but one media company thinks all they need is a good magazine.
Despite declining Jewish ties among young Jews and the financial risks of magazine startups, Jewish Family & Life Media, a nonprofit organization based in Newton, Mass., is launching a print version of its Web site JVibe, which is aimed at Jewish teenagers between 13 and 16 years old.
"JVibe is supposed to help kids maintain a Jewish connection with the community, post-bar mitzvah, through pop culture, by weaving in Jewish values and morals," said Stewart Bromberg, the group's director of development.
Slightly more than a year ago, Jewish Family got a $125,000 grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund of San Francisco to do market research on these teenagers to figure out what they thought about JVibe. The same fund gave $75,000 to help bankroll JVibe in the heady dot-com days of 1998.
At a time when teens hardly are considered People of the Book, a series of focus groups conducted over the past year revealed a surprise.
"What came out is that they wanted a magazine, something portable so they could share it with friends, read it on the bus or in bed at night," Bromberg said.
That comes as other publications backed with private money or public funding have struggled to find an audience.
In the late 1990s, the San Francisco-based magazine, Davka, which featured Jews with tattoos, provocative articles and beat poetry, folded after a few issues -- though it did give birth to the term "Generation J" to describe young, alienated Jews.
A more recent survivor is Heeb, a magazine aimed at hipster Jews in their 20s and 30s -- though its circulation has been less impressive than the media coverage it received.
Now a group of young Jewish philanthropists in Los Angeles, the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund, has awarded Jewish Family $125,000 to redesign JVibe's Web site and launch a print version as a pilot program. The Web site currently attracts 20,000 to 25,000 visitors a month, but Bromberg said the new online version will be linked thematically to the magazine. The magazine will include advertising and features such as a CD-ordering club.
In the eyes of Jewish teens, the ads "legitimize" the publication, he said.
The 32-page JVibe magazine hopes to reach 20,000 teens in its initial print run, with several hundred free subscriptions to youths in the Los Angeles area, Bromberg said.
The plan is to publish six times per year, with updates and added features going online, he said.
Planned content includes a celebrity column about Jewish pop guitarist Evan Taubenfeld, who plays with Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne; what movies to watch after a break-up; and a teen philanthropy page sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
JVibe "seeks to create relevant and entertaining content that inspires a connection between Jewish teens and the Jewish community," Bromberg said.