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 to teach people while you entertain them: Modern-day Moshels

To those unfamiliar with the term, a “moshel” is the Hebrew term for a parable, a story told with the intent to illustrate a lesson (usually a moral or theological one). I equate moshels with the soda your mom would offer you as a chaser after taking whatever foul-tasting medicine the doctor had prescribed you. It makes it easier to get the lesson down, and you might even look forward to the next dose.

Moshels–particularly those of the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and the Ben Ish Chai–are familiar to most readers with a Jewish education. They often appear in Rabbis’ drashos, and they sometimes make their way into children’s books. Several authors have recently attempted to update classic moshels and make them more appealing to tweens and teens–most successfully, perhaps, Steve Sheinkin in his entertaining Rabbi Harvey series, which take place in the Old West. One of the most challenging aspects of this genre is that you want to convey the lesson accurately without sounding pedantic, boring, or preachy. Also, some of the settings and situations detailed in traditional moshels don’t appeal to contemporary readers, or (more often) are so unfamiliar as to complicate comprehension of them.

I have my own spin on the Modern-day Moshel that I’ve been trying to market, which I’m not sharing here (because, like many authors, I’m terrified of people copying my idea before I can sell it myself–see this post). However, I thought I’d provide a heads-up to my readers what I’m thinking about right now.