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Jewish Journal

Opinion: The big picture

by Rob Eshman

September 21, 2011 | 6:25 pm

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman

Patrick Goldstein writes “The Big Picture,” a column for the Los Angeles Times.

A few years ago, after a mutual friend introduced us, Goldstein proceeded to tell me that he reads The Jewish Journal every week. He discovered it at Fromin’s Delicatessen in Santa Monica, one of our distribution points, and started picking it up each week on his way to his son’s Little League game. 

In fact, Goldstein told me, reading The Journal is the extent of his “organized” Jewish life.

Depending on how you look at it, this is either heartening or alarming.

For generations, members of Goldstein’s family were pillars of the Jewish community. 

“My grandfather was president of every temple he belonged to,” Goldstein said. “In Memphis, Atlanta, Miami. During the High Holidays they’d ask him to recite something from the bimah. I remember he read Hebrew in a Southern accent.”

Goldstein moved west to live his own life, and, by his own admission, has a more distant relationship with his faith and his community. A pessimist would point out that Goldstein’s story is typical of the ills threatening Jewish life, a literal and figurative moving away. 

At the same time, Goldstein, the father of a 13-year-old boy, is drawn to learning about Judaism and the Jewish community. 

“I read The Journal because it’s a forum for stimulating ideas and debate,” he told me in a more recent conversation — because I asked. “There’s a real engagement with ideas.”

Synagogues don’t speak to him, and the over-the-top materialism of the Westside bar mitzvah circuit turns him off more, Goldstein said. But something of his people — the values, issues, history, community, mystery — something strikes a chord. An optimist would point to that inchoate desire as opening enough. 

So which am I, pessimist or optimist?

I’m the pragmatist.

The paper you hold in your hands — or the Web site you’re now reading —is the most practical, pragmatic solution to the Goldstein Dilemma. People who are disconnected want a way to connect, and The Journal offers the easiest, most affordable, most reliable and most transparent way in.

Easy and affordable because all a person has to do is pick up a free copy from the local library or grocer or deli and flip through it. Reliable and transparent because the fundamental mission of The Journal is journalism. Its only agenda is to inform and enlighten, to engage us with the ongoing story of the Jewish world in all its aspects, from as many points of view as possible. We don’t push a single agenda. You bring to your reading whatever kind of Jew you are or aren’t, we’ll provide a way to learn about and connect with all the other kinds.

My belief in this medium to connect, build and shape community is one reason why I’ve been at The Journal for 17 years. And it’s why I’ve never been more excited about its future.

For at least some of those years, Jewish journalism was a running joke. Many years ago, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise called the Jewish press “The W-e-a-k-l-i-e-s.” The great Jewish papers of the turn of the century had devolved into house organs pushing like-minded blather.

But three things have happened to move Jewish media from being the nebbish of the Jewish community to one of the central forces. 

First, the news happened. Bush/Gore. 9/11. Osama. The Arab spring. The Tea Party. It turns out that the issues that form the bread and butter of Jewish journalism — religion and politics, religion and civic identity, fundamentalism, the Middle East — all have become central conversations in American life. Religion is no longer a tangential subject; it is one of the defining issues of our time. 

Second, the hierarchy of Jewish communal life shattered. A generation of Goldsteins has made the core postwar institutions and leadership less central to Jewish life. Media can now step in to connect, inform and even shape the communal agenda.

Finally, the world digitized. As media fractured, the hold of general newspapers collapsed and a billion Web sites bloomed, the Jewish press has proved its ability to speak to a core, committed audience. I tell people that we were “niche” before “niche” was cool.

So Goldstein reads us in print during the slow innings of his son’s game, and, with a professional eye, follows the Hollywood Jew blog at jewishjournal.com. By launching what LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick calls “something like 10,000 or 20,000 blogs” on subjects like Howard Stern, religious single life or Nice Jewish Doctor — our medical advice blog — we have a Web site that not only delivers news, but also mirrors the irrepressible, opinionated diversity of the larger Jewish world. And it can, thanks to search engines like Google, reach people far more disengaged than Goldstein. 

And it was to help realize our potential that, just a couple of weeks ago, I accepted the position of publisher. And it’s why my friend David Suissa — whom I all but begged to come on board for several years before he accepted — joined our superb team as president. We both see an unprecedented opportunity to reach, connect, inspire and engage Jews with their tradition, with their community and with the world.

We are urging you to support us — with your ideas, your readership, your financial contributions, your advertising. This old medium has become new again.

Goldstein represents the rule, not the exception. Every Jew can walk away from community, or walk in. The paper you hold in your hands right now, the Web page before your eyes, is the best, most effective and most cost-efficient Jewish outreach there is, bar none. All people have to do is open or click on our pages, and a great big picture unfolds.

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