The current economic downturn has hurt people in nearly every sector of life – “From Wall St. to Main St.” has become the de rigueur headline for newspapers across America. The print media has been hit hard, as we have seen mainstream publications CosmoGirl and The New York Sun shut its doors. And, according to Rebecca Spence in The Forward (which is safe), the Jewish media is no exception. Many magazines that have tried to piggyback on the recent “cultural renaissance” of the Jewish community have now failed. But this isn’t a problem just for writers and editors – it has created a void for young Jews, especially the unaffiliated, who looked to these publications as an entry point to the Jewish community.
Rebecca cites the success of the magazine Heeb and the record label JDub as having spurred a greater interest in Jewish cultural identity. She spoke with Roger Bennett, senior vice president at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and a founder of Guilt & Pleasure, a quarterly journal of Jewish ideas, who said:
From the startup of record labels, to a slew of unbelievable novels, to a cluster of new, differing voices in the form of magazines — young people were hungry to make meaning and reinforce Jewish identity and experience community on their own terms.
Jewish Living and American Jewish Life were both born out of this progression, and now they are both out of business. These magazines were designed to reach across the Jewish spectrum and speak to both the affiliated and unaffiliated members of the community. Jewish living, which was supposed to be an answer to Martha Stewart Living, aimed to speak to everybody “from the Modern Orthodox to the intermarried.”
But it was the younger generation of Jews that were the targets of these publications. “These magazines all came about as a younger generation of Jews began to identify with their Judaism through culture — including music, literature, or art,” Rebecca writes. At JOI, we know how hard it is to create programming that resonates with Jewish young adults – and these magazines were something of an outlet. There are still websites like Nextbook and Jewcy, but the fact that these magazines had circulations in the hundreds of thousands demonstrates their effectiveness. It also shows that there is an “apparent hunger for Jewish culture” among younger Jews.
Towards the end of the piece, Rebecca writes: “And for every energized, culture-hungry young Jew, there are just as many — if not more — who are unaffiliated.” Jewish magazines that speak to Jews of all stripes offer a great, low barrier way to not only help strengthen Jewish identity, but also attract and engage the unaffiliated. It’s impossible to say if these magazines were indeed reaching and engaging the unaffiliated members of the community, but high circulation points to evidence that they had found a certain success. We’re sad to see these magazines go out of business, and we hope they will return when the economy turns around.