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An Unshakable Commitment to Telling the Jewish Story
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Jewish Week Turns a Page

An Unshakable Commitment to Telling the Jewish Story

The Jewish Week's former publisher and editor in chief on the labor of love that is community journalism.

Gary Rosenblatt is The NY Jewish Week's editor at large.

The very first e-mail I received after The Jewish Week posted its announcement that the print edition was going on hiatus at the end of July was from a longtime devoted reader I know and admire. It read simply: “How do you expect us to read it on Shabbat?”

Of course, I empathize with the gentleman, and the many others who were upset to receive the news. You didn’t have to be a Sabbath observer to look forward to holding and reading The Jewish Week on the weekend.

My many years at the paper have been a labor of love, and the loss of the print edition, at least for now, feels like losing a friend. But looking back on the last 27 years, I take pride in having been part of an effort — risky, but I believe vital — to both cover the Jewish community of New York and help build and sustain it. And I am ever grateful to have worked closely over these many years with a talented and caring staff, led by managing editor Rob Goldblum and associate publisher (and most recently, publisher) Rich Waloff, with the generous, encouraging support of The Jewish Week’s board of directors.

We saw the paper’s role as being an integral part of the community, not just looking in from the outside. In that spirit, we launched a range of educational projects with an emphasis on Jewish engagement. Projects like Write On For Israel, Fresh Ink for Teens, The View From Campus, The Jewish Week Forums and The Conversation have touched thousands of lives, and every effort is being made to assure that they will continue.

As an independent newspaper, our mandate called for honest, in-depth reporting, sometimes casting light on issues that some would have preferred to remain in the shadows.

I often wrote about my own struggles to be both a loyal member of the community and an independent and sometimes critical voice. Along the way, I learned to accept that almost any issue we advocated for would be criticized by those who disagreed. Most strikingly, our reports on rabbinic sexual abuse over the years brought awards and praise from some quarters while being attacked by others as displaying an anti-Orthodox bias.

I always thought that such work — seeking to protect children from those who would harm them — was in keeping with, rather than in violation of, Jewish values. But our commitment has always been to give voice to all sides.

I’m confident that The Jewish Week’s allegiance to the highest journalistic values and a deep commitment to community-building will continue under Andrew Silow-Carroll as it has during his 10 months as editor. His leadership in providing daily, vital coverage of the Covid crisis in recent months speaks to his instincts as both journalist and citizen.

What saddens me deeply, though, is the financial reality that can no longer sustain a weekly print edition. I’ll miss the exciting challenge of weekly deadlines, the buzz of the newsroom and, most especially, the skills, diversity and personalities of loyal colleagues and friends no longer there, the victims of major downsizing.

Every effort was made to keep the print edition afloat; for now, it’s not possible. But the commitment to tell the Jewish story remains. It is one that continually requires new modes of transmission — from the stone tablets Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai to the pages of our ancient texts, and from books and newspapers to the computers and personal devices we carry with us now.

Those of us who grew up with and came to love the experience of holding a newspaper in our hands have come to realize that print media, and especially community newspapers, have been disappearing at a frightening rate across the country in recent years. Revenue sources like local and classified advertising have cratered, and according to a recent article in The Atlantic, “fewer than one in six Americans subscribe to a local newspaper, in either print or digital form.”

Like so many other media companies, The Jewish Week was in trouble even before Covid hit. But the economic impact of the pandemic was dramatic and had an air of finality. The cost of paper, printing and postage had already become prohibitive. And then, starting in March, businesses were closed; events were canceled; there was little to advertise in our paper. The options became stark: go digital or go home.

Amidst this sobering reality, we all know that challenges also present opportunities. And Jewish history is one long lesson in adaptation, creativity and resilience.

As we observe the Fast of Tisha b’Av (July 30), the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, marking the destruction of the Holy Temple, one can only imagine the sense of utter despair and defeat among the remnants of an ancient people decimated by war.

How could Judaism survive without the majestic structure in Jerusalem believed to contain God’s spirit on earth? Yet our sages faced the reality of the dire situation and came up with a solution that has lasted thousands of years. In place of animal sacrifices in the Temple, they instituted prayer — a completely portable and accessible form of personal and communal worship — that sustains us today.

Let me be clear: I’m not trying to compare the loss of Judaism’s holiest site to going without the print edition of The Jewish Week. But the point is that our people have always found a way to find a way. And the current crises — medical, economic and communal — call for creative responses.

Fortunately, since 1997 The Jewish Week has had a free, robust website that now contains far more content than the print edition and is constantly refreshed. If you haven’t already, I invite you to read  www.thejewishweek.com as we strive to expand and deepen our coverage. (And you can always print out stories before Shabbat.)

The story of the Jewish people has never been stagnant. It’s a dynamic saga with twists and turns, triumphs and tragedies, and more questions than answers. In the almost-half century I have been reporting on contemporary Jewish life, there have always been those who view the trends of American Jewish life with alarm. They fear for its survival, pointing to the increasing assimilation among the masses and disenchantment with Israel among many of our youth. But there are others who see renewed energy coming from both a revival of engagement among young Jews committed to social justice through the lens of tikkun olam as well as the dramatic growth of charedi Orthodoxy.

The Jewish Week has been covering these generational struggles, and much more, as our people have grown more diverse and complex. As the voice and chronicler of the New York Jewish community, seeking to cover and connect its divergent parts, we’ve given increasing attention in recent years to gender issues, LGBTs, Jews of color, the growing divide between young American Jews and Israel, and more.

Like the community itself, The Jewish Week is at a critical juncture now, with an uncertain future. We mirror, inform and sustain each other — the community and its journalistic voice. I’m hopeful that the emerging iteration of The Jewish Week will continue to enlighten and engage — sometimes enrage, and on a good day, inspire — today’s readers and future generations in the world’s greatest Jewish city. I encourage you to stay tuned and stay connected.

The story of the Jewish people goes on, and with your help, The Jewish Week will continue to find ways to tell it.

Gary Rosenblatt was editor and publisher of the paper from 1993 to 2019.

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