Arts & Culture

Surprise, It’s New Jewish Media

For several years, I’ve had a writing relationship with Pakn Treger, the magazine of the National Yiddish Book Center.  This began a while back as a steady gig profiling celebrated Yiddish writers of the past, and offering my own brief … Read More

By / May 12, 2009

For several years, I’ve had a writing relationship with Pakn Treger, the magazine of the National Yiddish Book Center.  This began a while back as a steady gig profiling celebrated Yiddish writers of the past, and offering my own brief translation of exemplary passages of their work.  Only recently has it come to include the occasional feature.  

I spent several of the months that made up last summer and fall putting together a piece for them on the state of the new Jewish media.  It was a lot of fun to write.  I chatted with the familiar cast of characters, who gave me retrospectives as well as assessments of the present and visions of the future.  In talks with foundation people, I also got a chance to piece together an understanding of how the Jewish old guard was reacting to all of this upstart activity.  It was this relationship that interested me most: the marriage of questionable convenience between the young people who wanted to throw pie in the face of the establishment, and the older folks who were willing to endure it because it heartened them to see so many young Jews getting together to throw pie.  

The article finally came out this week, and I submit it for your perusal, though in the end a number of circumstances have conspired to undercut most of the relevance it might at one time have aspired to.  The Book Center had to hold off running it for close to six months, because of money problems, even as the same economic contraction changed the circumstances of a number of the new media organs I had reported on. The version Pakn Treger is running is also scaled down from the version I submitted, excising in particular a lot of the blunt money talk that I found so interesting.  (And the title wasn’t my idea.)  

Also removed are a couple of zesty citations, including Jewcy founder Tahl Raz agreeing to be quoted calling the establishment Jewish media a "cesspool of mediocrity," awash in a "perfect storm of shit", and a less scatalogical analysis from Elise Bernhardt, of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, on the relationship between cultural producers and potential funders.  "If art is a vehicle," for the outreach agenda of donors, she said, "they need to understand that it’s attracting people for a lot of reasons they don’t necessarily want to deal with.  The job of artists it to ask a lot of questions, and the job of institutions is to hold the fort.  So I think there is always tension."

In the end, this piece might just be a belated image of the new Jewish media landscape, as it appeared last fall in the days right before the stopper was pulled out of the economy, and all that water started swirling down the drain.  And last fall, in and of itself, was already pretty late in the game–the only people expected to be surprised, in November of 2008, that a magazine called Heeb, for instance, exists are precisely subscribers to the magazine of the National Yiddish Book Center.

If nothing else, at least now I can say that they’ve been warned.