From the Deputy Editor | Why We Must Have a Jewish Fourth Estate

One perk of working at a Jewish magazine is getting Jewish publications from all over the world in the office mail. When I started at Moment more than ten years ago, a steady stream of magazines and newspapers would flow in weekly, and I loved grabbing a stack to read over lunch and learn about Jewish life in Texas, Ohio or Germany. But over the years the stream has dwindled to a trickle, as only a handful of those publications remain.

Print media were already suffering before the coronavirus, and Jewish print media are no exception. The shifts in how people read and consume news, along with changing business models, have decimated many print publications—even while interest in the news remains high. COVID-19 made publishing even more challenging. Papers such as the New York Jewish Week went exclusively online; others such as Boston’s Jewish Advocate stopped publishing. The Jewish Journal in California announced a print hiatus with hopes to resume after synagogues reopen.

I hear people say that the market is doing its job. After all, if there is no interest in a product, it’s time to move on. I disagree; there is an interest, and there is a need. Closure of these publications should worry those concerned about the health of the Jewish community and its future. At its best, journalism has always served as a watchdog, holding the powerful to account. The press is called the Fourth Estate for a reason; it’s a critical check on people and institutions that might otherwise be opaque. We need that Fourth Estate in the Jewish world as well, to make sure Jewish institutions and high-ranking members of the community—both national and local—behave responsibly and ethically, and to call them out when they don’t. We need a press to shine a light on issues from a Jewish perspective and to cover what cannot and will not be covered by the mainstream press. We need reporters experienced in covering the Jewish terrain who understand its nuances and can reveal a full, accurate picture of the Jewish world.

Publications in the Jewish world also serve as a place to explore and test out Jewish ideas. In a time when we are all stuck in our personal media echo chambers, they are more important than ever: They function as the proverbial “village square,” where you can hear viewpoints from those you might not interact with in your daily life.

Perhaps most disturbing, the loss of these publications creates a vacuum that is filled by other, less reliable content. We have seen this occur nationwide as local news outlets shut down. Websites pop up in their place masquerading as local news, but they are in fact funded by partisan groups or public relations firms pushing specific agendas. These sleek sites look identical to news sites you trust, complete with mastheads and mission statements describing unbiased reporting. In some cases, these pseudo-publications also have print editions.

This is happening in the Jewish space as well. Not all of these sites are necessarily nefarious; some serve as content mills for press releases, others are vanity projects of the wealthy and opinionated that are specifically designed to gently (or not so gently) sway the reader to one ideology or another. It is vital to understand the difference between these sites and trustworthy journalistic outlets and to ensure they don’t dominate the media landscape.

That is why it’s crucial that Moment remain an independent voice dedicated to providing accurate reporting and thoughtful analysis on issues affecting the Jewish community. Moment strives to give you the context you need to understand the present while also introducing you to new ways of thinking. You may not agree with everything you read, but you know that we care deeply about exploring ideas and curating essential conversations. You know we have dedicated people editing our print issues, online content, newsletters and books.

This issue is no exception. Journalist Larry Kohler-Esses takes us to the streets of Crown Heights and into the complicated relationship between the Lubavitch and Black communities who have lived there side by side for decades. In Jewish Word, Senior Editor George E. Johnson explains how the Kaddish might not have been associated with mourning if not for a 12th- or 13th-century folktale about redemption in the afterlife.

In Perspectives, Samuel C. Heilman describes the quandary faced by Hasidim trying to convince their community to take COVID-19 seriously. Naomi Ragen looks at how both Haredi and secular Israelis’ flouting of lockdown rules helped lead to Israel’s recent COVID-19 spike. Letty Cottin Pogrebin wonders, in the wake of #MeToo revelations, who should be included—or excluded—in a modern Jewish canon. Irwin Cotler, a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, makes the case for why we—Jews in particular—must act to help the Uighurs in China. In Moment Debate, we examine whether today’s police need to be reimagined and if so, how. And to close out our 45th anniversary year, we are republishing a satirical piece from Calvin Trillin that appeared in Moment’s inaugural issue.

On top of all this, we’ve prepared a special “Big Question” for music lovers. Musicians and music scholars choose pieces that they believe capture the Jewish experience. The answers are engaging and range from the traditional (“Shalom Aleichem”) to the more unexpected (“Highway 61 Revisted”). You’ll find an expanded presentation at momentmag.com, complete with Spotify and YouTube playlists.

In anticipation of Hanukkah, we ask our rabbis whether Jews believe in miracles. And in Talk of the Table we present the ultimate latke topping showdown: applesauce vs. sour cream, although I have to admit my unsophisticated palate has always preferred ketchup.

Speaking of Hanukkah, please give subscriptions to Moment to family and friends this holiday season. It’s one important way that you can support our work. Happy holidays—and please stay safe as we enter these winter months.

 

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