December 7, 2019

Grateful for the Paper in Your Hands

Let’s play a little game: What is your favorite part of Judaism? Whenever I ask that question, I’m always amazed at the range of answers. Some Jews love learning Torah; others love the culture. Some focus on Zionism; others on the pride of belonging to a people.

Some Jews love philosophy; others the rituals of the holidays. Some love the sense of “community” above all else; others prefer the mystical vibes of Kabbalah or Jewish meditation or tikkun olam (repairing the world). Some love Jewish poetry or liturgy; others literature or history. Some simply love the moral clarity of God’s commandments. The list goes on.

Many Jews, of course, enjoy more than one thing. They may prefer an area or two, but they love the fact that Judaism offers such a rich and diverse offering that there’s something for every taste, every Jew, every mood.

In fact, if you asked me to name my favorite part of Judaism, that would be it—the incredible diversity of the Jewish menu.

Just as some shul-goers love to float between different synagogues, I love to float between the myriad areas of Judaism. I might even be a fanatic about this. There’s hardly anything I come across under the enormous tent of Judaism that doesn’t arouse a part of my curiosity.

The fact that there’s so much to choose from in Judaism may be one of its greatest strengths, especially for a new generation that loves to keep its options open.

Where am I going with this? To a revelation that hit me recently: We rarely get a chance to feel the diversity of Judaism at one time and in one place.

I was sitting with a prospective donor and showing everything the Journal is doing online— our new website, podcasting network, social media initiatives, Thursday Night Live, Morning Roundtable, Daily Roundup, and so on.

But when I got to the actual paper, I struggled to find a succinct way to explain its value. So, I came up with this: “You can feel all of Judaism in your hands.”

As much as I value the expansive powers of the digital world, I admitted there’s one thing it can’t do: It can’t make you feel the richness and diversity of Judaism at one time and in one place.

One of the worst-kept secrets of the print world is that most people skim through the articles; they will read something only if it really interests them.

But this skimming is precisely the unique power of the paper: You don’t have to read every article to feel the full effect of the diversity.

Pick up a Journal and you’ll see what I mean. Go through each page and read only the headlines and highlighted quotes. By the time you’re done, whether you’ve read any of the articles or not, you’re very likely to conclude: Wow, there’s a lot going on with this tradition and community — so many voices, so many stories and subjects, so much going on.

“So much going on” may, indeed, be the secret sauce of Judaism. People want choice. People crave choice. The fact that there’s so much to choose from in Judaism may be one of its greatest strengths, especially for a new generation that loves to keep its options open.

Digital can’t make you feel the “package” and “bulk” which you naturally feel when you hold a paper in your hands.

But let’s face it — how often do Jews get to see and feel the whole Jewish buffet in one place? Most Jewish groups or movements like to push their own menu items. Some favor religion, others culture, others social justice or history or Zionism or peoplehood.

Which Jewish group is best suited to promote the Jewish buffet in one place? It’s the Jewish paper.

The smart phone in your hand may carry unlimited information, but you get this information one digital bite at a time. Digital can’t make you feel the “bulk” and substance that you naturally feel when you hold a paper in your hands.

While holding that paper, you are holding the community, the whole Jewish buffet, right there in one place, at one time. You’re seeing with your own eyes and feeling with your own hands that, indeed, there’s “so much going on” with this great tradition of yours.

One reason I’m optimistic about the future of the community paper is that people instinctively love to touch and feel things. The current revival of vinyl records speaks to the timeless pleasure and intimacy of touch.

Of course, it’s up to the paper to take full advantage of this benefit and do justice to the breadth and intellectual diversity of Judaism. Week in and week out, that is the Journal’s mission — to nourish you with a broad range of stories, voices and ideas that will “connect, inform and inspire” you.

It’s the whole megillah, and it’s all-you-can-eat.

Happy Thanksgiving.