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Jewish Journal

Reading ‘Jewish’

by David Suissa

January 18, 2007 | 7:00 pm

I heard recently that some people have complained that this column is too "Orthodox" -- that there's too much focus on the frum and kosher side of Judaism. Since this column is about an Orthodox neighborhood, that's like complaining that a hockey writer spends too much time writing about hockey, but nevertheless it got me thinking about how Jews read about other Jews.

This was on my mind when I walked into Delice bakery the other day and saw a copy of Jewish Life magazine. Jewish Life is a monthly published by The Jewish Journal to appeal to religiously observant Jews. I'm not here to critique it or promote it, but it struck me that the magazine is like a microscopic view of the world that I write about every week.

If you think this column is too religious, wait until you see Jewish Life. If I snorkel into observant Judaism, then it goes deep-sea diving. If this column is "the hood," then Jewish Life is the hood on steroids.

Take the latest issue. At first glance, it looks like another general-interest magazine with a self-help cover story: "Why Aren't We Happier?" But open it up and you'll see the kind of things that matter most to observant Jews.

On Page 4 of the first column (Ask Dr. T, a parenting advice column), a reader worries about the "chronic" problem of what her children should do with their Chanukah gelt. (Dr. Sara Teichman gives a six-paragraph answer to this "complex" problem).

In the next column, Marriage Matters, a "lovely single girl in her 20s" laments her single status: "The wait is killing me. It feels never ending and hopeless. Isn't there something I can do? I mean, I know I have to daven hard, network with people and hope for the best, but isn't there any more?"

Below the article is a little section on a new book titled, "Shidduch Secrets," which includes practical advice on using one's time productively while waiting for one's beshert.

On the next page is a column called Shirmas Halashon with the headline, "Beware: Words Can Hurt" and this announcement right below: "With this column, Jewish Life begins our regular column on Hilchos Lashon Hara." Below the announcement are these untranslated words: "Lilui Nichmas Masha Ruchama bas Shmuel." The author of the column -- across from an ad for Frumster.com that has a picture of a happy-looking newlywed couple ("Idith and Eli, match No. 93") -- is the dean of Valley Torah High School.

As you continue flipping through Jewish Life, you see these kinds of headlines: "What Exactly Is Mussar?" (Hint: it's a system of ethics, not a new kosher hair gel), "The Advent of Chasidism" under the column History L.A. and in the society gossip column is the headline "A Tzadik Pays a Visit," about Rav Yitzchak Grossman's visit to Los Angeles.

In the food section, there's a "Grateful Letter From a Duncan Hines Fan," thanking my former employer (Procter and Gamble) for bringing back Duncan Hines pareve cake mixes ("They are a great resource for us here in the Orthodox Jewish community"), and a recipe called "Nat's Brownies/My Frosting."

In the Kashrus Concerns column, you'll find a series of announcements from the Kosher Information Bureau, such as: "Salad Mate Salad Dressing is no longer under CRC certification," "Flora Foods Italian Breadcrumbs bears an unauthorized OU," and "Sandy Candy Co. now produces cotton candy sugars certified by the Star-K."

The last section, Kosher Road Trip, is on travel, and here you'll see a column by a homemaker and mom named Cinnamon Shenker on winter trips, with the headline: "Grab Your Sled and Head for the Hills." She even quotes Tehillim to help make her point that it's "a glorious thing that we can experience snow and ice first hand, rather than just look at pictures."

So you can see I'm not kidding when I tell you that Jewish Life is the Jacques Cousteau of Orthodox Jewish reporting in Los Angeles. But there's another side to this story.

If you read Jewish Life without any preconceptions about Orthodox Judaism -- out of simple curiosity, for example, or even a desire to learn something helpful and interesting -- it will probably surprise you.

For example, once you get past the annoying absence of translation in the beginning of "Beware: Words can Hurt," you can't help but be moved by the life-changing possibilities of the message, whether you are ultra-Orthodox, Reform or even a Zen Buddhist.

The same can be said for several articles in Jewish Life, like the idea of "living in the moment without acting on impulse" in the cover story on happiness, or the universal system of ethics developed by our very Orthodox sages, called Mussar.

Even the reader's question on the "chronic" problem of what kids should do with Chanukah gelt -- which I poked fun at -- actually led to an incisive take on the complicated relationship between people and money.

That's why I'm ambivalent about this whole notion of having different publications for different Jews. There is so much we can learn from each other, why can't we all read the same paper?

The marketing side of me -- the one that learned at places like Procter and Gamble the importance of "market niches" -- understands why having different publications makes good business sense. People like to read about themselves.

But the "Jewish unity" part of me would love to see Jews of all denominations show more curiosity towards one another, whether it's nonobservant Jews reading about Orthodox ideas, or Orthodox Jews reading things that have nothing to do with Orthodoxy, but that are still very much part of the Jewish experience. It's like the interest you would show toward a beloved family member who has a completely different lifestyle from your own.

And of course, the self-absorbed part of me would love to see every Jew read this column, even if it's a little too, you know, Orthodox.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

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