Arts & Culture

The Big Jewcy: Gabrielle Birkner, Editor at the Forward

When I contacted Gabrielle Birkner at the Forward to get her bio, this is what she sent me: "Gabrielle Birkner is the Forward‘s Web editor, and the founder and the editor of its women’s-issues group  blog, The Sisterhood, which launched … Read More

By / June 9, 2010

When I contacted Gabrielle Birkner at the Forward to get her bio, this is what she sent me:

"Gabrielle Birkner is the Forward‘s Web editor, and the founder and the editor of its women’s-issues group  blog, The Sisterhood, which launched in 2009. Prior to joining the Forward, she worked as a reporter and features editor at The New York Sun and, before that, as a staff writer for The New York Jewish Week." What she doesn’t mention is how radical The Sisterhood blog really is.  Yes, Gabrielle is an editor at one of the world’s longest-running Jewish newspapers, but she is also one of the few women already writing for Jewish audiences that has made it a priority to make room for other female Jewish voices in that same sphere, with a special emphasis on new media.  On the blog, Gabrielle and her sisters shed light on subjects that receive little consideration elsewhere: the political implications of new fertility technologies in Israel, parenting in the IDF, modesty, modern feminism, and that’s just to name a few standouts.  

I was lucky enough to have a chance to ask Gabrielle more about the project:

The Sisterhood blog —  how did you get it started?  Did you meet any resistance or did anyone in particular help you out? The idea was to provide a safe place for smart, Jewish women — of all ages, denominations, political persuasions and sexual orientations, in the U.S., Israel and around the world — to share what’s on their minds. The Sisterhood was launched in the spring of 2009, a few months after I started as web editor at the Forward. Since then, our bloggers have weighed on everything from Elena Kagan’s nomination to Sara Hurwitz’s ordination to Ruth Madoff’s culpability to Rachel Berry’s role on "Glee." I met no resistance from within the organization. The support and guidance of Forward editor Jane Eisner, who cares deeply and writes passionately about gender inequity in the Jewish community, was instrumental to getting the blog up and running. The excellent contributions from Debra Nussbaum Cohen, who was the first Sisterhood contributor, and thoughtful entries from Elana Sztokman, Rebecca Honig Friedman, Sarah Seltzer and many other Jewish women (and, occasionally, from Jewish men and from non-Jewish women) have been key to The Sisterhood’s success. Do you think Jewish women are underrepresented both in the Jewish community and in Jewish media? Yes. In the past year the Forward has reported on the scarcity of female executives at Jewish organizations and on the substantial salary gap that separates male and female communal leaders. We’ve also looked at how few Jewish workplaces offer family-friendly policies, such as parental leave and flex-time — policies that have been shown to promote women’s professional advancement. Women remain under-represented in the Jewish media, too, but judging by the composition of the Forward newsroom, we’re gaining ground; four of our seven current editors are women. Do you think there are Jewish conversations that could benefit from more female voices?  Which ones? Generally speaking, I’d like to see more women represented on panels at Jewish gatherings and on the op-ed pages of Jewish newspapers. Specifically, I’d like to see more women given more of a chance to be heard on issues of communal funding priorities.  And I think we need more female cultural critics to help guide the conversation on Jewish-interest literature, music, theater and art. The Forward is one of the longest running Jewish publications in the United States, yet it maintains a more cutting edge multimedia and online presence.  Besides The Sisterhood, you also feature regular podcasts and work with radical artists like Jeremiah Lockwood and Eli Valley.  As the web editor, do you think The Forward has been focusing more on digital content in order to bring in younger or more tech-savvy readers? A growing number of readers — particularly younger ones — have come to expect news organizations to provide their brand of journalism across media. Our focus is on how a story can best be told. In the past year, more and more of the articles on our website have related interactive components, such as streaming audio or video, slideshows or Flash animations; that’s, in large part, thanks to Web staffers Allison Yarrow and Nadja Spiegelman. If you had one piece of advice to other traditional Jewish media outlets, what would it be? As far as blogs are concerned, find subject areas that deserve more coverage than they’re getting — and become a central address for reporting on those issues. JTA has done that with its philanthropy blog (The Fundermentalist), The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles with its entertainment-industry blog (Hollywood Jew), and the Forward with its women’s issues blog (yup, The Sisterhood).