The Role of Periodicals in Jewish Life: Rob Eshman’s “Why We Write”

I read a fascinating essay in The Jewish Journal today.

Publisher-about-to-go-on-sabbatical Rob Eshman relates a recent visit he had with young Israelis, when he had the opportunity to explain why Jewish newspapers have had such a prominent and consistent role in the life of Jewish Americans.

The major reason Eshman highlighted was the importance of communication between communities and unifying them to promote certain, common agendas. He also touched on how this role has changed, from an institution what taught Jews how to become good Americans–find jobs and acclimate to their new environment–to an institution which “teach[es]Americans to be Jews.”

Teaching Americans to be Jews

This latter element particularly struck me. As Eshman mentioned, many Jewish magazines and newspapers exist primarily on the web. In fact, that’s where they now find the majority of their readers.

Jews who live outside major Jewish communities–due to geography or due to a lack of affiliation–can now access information about their co-religionists via websites like The Jewish Journal‘s, The Forward‘s, Kveller, and so on. Need a latke recipe? Look online. Need advice about how to handle the funeral of a relative? Look online. Such sites bring community to people who previously felt excluded.

In the Orthodox world, even, you find magazines devoted to Jewish cuisine, divrei Torah (words of Torah, including all of Tanach, the Oral Law, and commentaries), inspiration, and advice from the Jewish standpoint.

What’s your favorite Jewish magazine or newspaper? Why? What role do you think periodicals have in contemporary Jewish life? Please share your comments.

How Texans lost their accents and the newly religious found one

How do we place a person? Partly by the way they talk. But the accents that we use to locate people are constantly in flux.

Apparently Texans are losing their distinct accents. Still others have mastered mainstream American dialects as well as their own distinct drawl and codeswitch according to the demands of the situation, a recent study at the University of Texas asserts. The L.A. Times article on the subject explains some of the reasons, which include exposure to mass media and immigration to Texas from a variety of sources.

The article piqued my interest in part because I happen to be reading Sarah Bunin Benor’s new book Becoming Frum which contemplates the ways the newly religious adopt the language and cultural markers of Orthodox Jews. Like with the Texans discussed above, some use of the in-group dialect is conscious, while other use is not. But in either case,  it marks the users of certain types of speech as members of a distinct group.

What this means to writers: A sprinkle of regional dialect or in-group word choice can help establish a character in the social landscape of our story/book and make them sound authentic. But misuse of language based on out-dated understandings of a community could annoy readers just as much as heavy-handed overuse. Pretty soon, we might not be able to write characters with Texan drawls anymore without sounding ridiculously retro. It’s good to have a handle on these nuances of language use before jumping in to this writing strategy.