So there I was, minding my own business at the American Jewish Press Association’s Freelancers and Editors workshop, listening to former Reboot project director and current VP of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Foundation Roger Bennett talk. Bennett’s doing some great stuff (see also Guilt & Pleasure salons and Slingshot), and is constantly cited as a source on Jewish identity projects. I knew, at least according to Rabbi Yonah and CK, that Bennett was â€œbummedâ€ that he couldn’t make it to Jewlicious @ the Beach 2 last month in Long Beach. But I had no idea how big of an impression Jewlicious had made on himâ€¦
Bennett had begun the speech talking about how his family evolved in terms of their identification with Judaism, and, cognizant that he had a captive audience of Jewish journalists, many of them either freelancing for or editing the contents of Jewish newspapersâ€”many of which are financially beholden to Federations or other kinds of community supportâ€”progressed to a discussion of how to engage the tech-obsessed, affluent group of Jews ages 18-25, the so-called (not the SoCalled) Generation Y.
â€œThe Jewish community is not on the precipiceâ€, he said, as he predicted a huge reclamation of Jewish identity. â€œWhat we have to do is develop some sort of angle which leads to a network [Bennett mentioned blogs as a method for outreach and networking]. He mentioned that once upon a time, the New Republic was very influential, â€œbut today the New Republic is irrelevant because of blogs.â€ (Weighted words, from someone who had just told us that his friend Frank Foer had just been made editor at the New Republic.)
â€œYoung people do want content that’s intelligent yet accessible,â€ said Bennett, pointing to the Matisyahu phenomenon as â€œa fascinating indicator of the mammoth audience, if we can get our product right. It could be Jewlicious or the Boston Advocate.â€ (My head jerked upwards. That’s odd. Did Roger Bennett just say â€œJewliciousâ€ at the AJPA conference? Huh. Must have been hearing things.)
â€œNot everything new is good,â€ he continued. â€œMore people have a respect for authentic tradition, but we need to speak in the language of the internet. There’s enough cool stuff in people’s lives today, we don’t have to repackage Judaism as coolâ€”it’s intrinsically cool. They need something steady and accessiblyâ€”we don’t have to give Judaism a hair transplant. Kids see right through a comboverâ€”they know a bald dude when they see him.â€ (Fad-hipster Judaism as a bald guy in denial. I LOVE it.)
â€œThe Jewlicious guys amaze me,â€ Bennett said. â€œThey have an intelligent, accessible product and are as talented a group as I’ve ever met.â€ (There! There it was! He said it again! Good thing I’d shown my colleagues the Jewlicious site during my session, otherwise, the assembled would have just assumed he was drunk and slurring the word â€œJewishâ€ multiple times over the course of the speechâ€¦)
â€œHey,â€ someone yelled, pointing at me. â€œThat’s Esther from Jewlicious.â€ Which was great, because that meant they hadn’t slept through the blogging session I’d just led. Kyle’s Mom was there too, and she interjected: â€œMy son is Jewschool and Orthodox Anarchist!â€ After an acknowledgment of KM as the mother of Jewschool, Bennett continuedâ€¦
â€œAt Jewlicious, they love Israel and give great love to Orthodoxy and the opposite of Orthodoxy in equal measure. Jewlicious realizes that they have something bigger than the blog. For young Jews ,Judaism is not a fad. There’s a great difference between relevant (tradition) and cool (a fad, with little responsibility to the past)â€”authenticity shatters cool.â€
â€œWe have the ability to engage the [Gen Y] audience,â€ Bennett concluded. â€œWe can be intelligent and accessible and be a medium for original change.â€
By this point, I was totally kvelling and shepping nachas at the same time while battling my urge not to cry out of happiness, which is all incredibly taxing. I felt incredibly lucky to be part of such an eclectic group that’s doing work that has been independently acknowledged as good, valued and important, in front of my colleagues in the Jewish press.
That said, I’d very much like a raise.
Shabbat shalom from icy New York.