There's a new Jewish movement springing up worldwide, and it's not another denomination. Online magazines are putting fresh spins on old ideals, making Jewish culture more accessible than ever. These cyber-periodicals - aimed at young Jews with flashy graphics and bold, sometimes controversial approaches - are not your grandmother's Yiddish newspaper. And some of them make relatively venerable sites, such as Virtual Jerusalem, look like, well, your grandmother's Yiddish newspaper.
A New "Generation"
When The Journal visited Generation J's laid-back Needham, Mass., offices back in April, a Web master was uploading graphics, while then-editor Jennifer Schulman wandered around with a Generation J latte mug in search of some fresh java.
Schulman, 30, steered Generation J - "Gen J" as it is shorthanded - for its first two years. Originally from Paramus, N.J., she worked in Boston for five years as a production coordinator for Tom Snyder Productions ("Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist"). So Schulman was an ideal choice to helm a smart, youth-oriented Jewish culture magazine.
"Yossi keeps reminding me that there must be a Jewish value in every story," she said, referring to Yosef Abramowitz, who runs Jewish Family & Life (JFL) and founded Generation J. Gen J started when JFL was contacted by the United Jewish Com-munities (UJC). "We had the same idea internally when we got the call," Abramowitz said.
Married to rabbi and author Susan Silverman, Abramowitz, 36, started Gen J as an actual magazine - as in paper - but the expensive format lasted only two issues. So he enlisted Schulman to launch it online."It was boring," said Abramowitz of her original prototype. "She said, 'I thought this was what you wanted,' and I said, 'No, you're the audience, not me.'"
Eventually, they struck the right balance. Sections on everything from spirituality to politics comprise the magazine, in which, each month, writers explore different themes: body image, homosexuality, money. Jokey headlines abound ("The Waters Split Like Bruce and Demi").
Gen J has since broken away from UJC support, and when Schulman moved to D.C. in May, Jodi Werner, another Jersey girl, took over. The 24-year-old English MFA candidate first stumbled onto the site in the course of some research.
"I was doing a project for a mag publication class, and I came up with a concept very similar to Gen J," said the Emerson student. Soon, she was writing for Schulman.
"I'm not looking to make drastic changes," continued Werner, who is building on Schulman's legacy - Judaism filtered through a pop culture aesthetic.
In addition to Gen J, Abramowitz - with an annual budget of $1.7 million from grants, including Steven Spielberg's Righteous Person Foundation and the Charles and Adrian Bronfman Philanthropy Foundation - runs several sites, including Jewish Vibrations. Whereas Gen J courts 20-somethings, JVibe - Gen J's younger sibling - targets teens, ages 13-19. Abramowitz notes that JVibe's strength is that "80 percent of the material is written by teens for teens." Ed Case, JFL's executive director, confirmed that JVibe's formula works - it was listed as a hot site in USA Today.
Since September, 25-year-old Gabi Sobel has edited JVibe, which has aggressively covered Hollywood. Alicia Silverstone, Winona Ryder, and David Duchovny have all graced JVibe's pages. Sobel's dream interview: fellow Brandeis alum/"Will & Grace" star Debra Messing.
JVibe also offers youth the chance to freestyle on issues such as violence in the media. "We call it a rant, and we'll pretty much publish it as is," Sobel said.
While he oversees the entire JFL operation, Abramo-witz does not micromanage day-to-day editorial decisions.
"I'm always asking the subtle Jewish values questions," he said. "What are we doing on this site that makes it unique? What's the vision for the month, for the section? What do you want 20-somethings to walk away with that's going to impact their life?"
One organization withdrew funding over a masturbation-themed JVibe, but if his magazines raise eyebrows or push envelopes in the process of encouraging dialogue, that's fine with Abramowitz.
"It is our goal to reconstitute and reformat Jewish life to be relevant to a whole generation that is largely disenfranchised," he said. "Our vision of Jewish life is radically different than the established norms. Our model is inclusive, accessible, life-affirming, nonjudgmental celebratory and meaningful without being dogmatic about institutional and denominational loyalties, which frankly are irrelevant for generations X and Y."
To access Jewish Family & Life's magazines, go to jflmedia.com