April 2, 2020

Holding Judaism 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 Talmud; 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 the activism of tikkun olam (repairing the world). Some love Jewish poetry or liturgy; others literature or history. Some simply love the ethical 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 virtually for every taste, every Jew, every mood.

In fact, if you asked me to name my favorite part of Judaism, that might 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. Each new area is an adventure. There’s hardly anything I come across under the enormous tent of Judaism that doesn’t arouse a part of my curiosity.

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 reviewing what the Jewish Journal is doing online— our new website, podcasts, social media initiatives, blogger network, Thursday Night Live, Morning Roundtable, Daily Roundup, and so on.

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

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 hold 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 well-known realities 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 the articles or not, you’re very likely to conclude: There’s so much happening with this tradition and community — so many voices, so many stories and subjects, so much going on.

“So much going on” may, in fact, 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 assets, especially for a new generation that loves to keep its options open.

Digital can’t make you feel the bulk and substance that 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 ideally suited to consistently 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 deep and broad 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. And today, we’re all looking for ways to slow down. Paper helps us slow down. 

Of course, it’s up to individual papers to take advantage of these benefits and do justice to the great diversity of Judaism. Week in and week out, that is our  mission — to nourish you with a wide range of stories, voices and ideas that will “connect, inform and inspire” you and, in the process, elevate the communal conversation.

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