I first read about Jew-ish.com in the pages of Seattle’s Jewish paper, the JTNews. On my first attempt to visit, the site wasn’t up yet. But I just noticed that someone visited this blog and Jew-ish.com was their referral URL (thanks for linking to my blog!), so I went over to visit again. I was astonished by what I found. It is one of the first attempts I’ve ever seen to create a full-fledged Jewish communal website. There may be others, but I haven’t seen them. By full-fledged, I mean that the content really covers the waterfront of Jewish interests and life: a community forum, synagogue and restaurant reviews, cultural news, profiles of newsmakers, etc.
Here’s how the editor describes its purpose:
The point of Jewish.com is to get us together virtually to offer perspectives on the Jewish world — mostly locally but also beyond — as well as act as a central point where Jews and their friends can meet for a night at a show or a party — or a trip to synagogue. It’s a way to make you think about where Judaism fits into your life, but also a way to become a little bit more active in whichever way you are most comfortable. No pressure from your parents, no requests for donations, no obligatory matzoh ball soup with schmaltz.
To make Jew-ish.com work, however, we need it to be a community effort. That’s why our bloggers will rotate in and out every few months, it’s why we invite you to create event groups with people inside this virtual community, and it’s why we ask you to submit milestones for most any event in your life, whether it’s your wedding, a new baby, or running your first marathon.
Not the most compelling mission statement. But I think it has a lot of promise.
All this is the work of JTNews. Now, I find JTNews, the print newspaper and website to be a useful, if stodgy piece of Jewish journalism. I joke with my wife that the most common front page photos always seem to be of the first baby of the Jewish or general New Year. Perhaps I’m being unfair since I haven’t seen such a front page photo in some time. I don’t mean to say JTNews is a bad paper. It has some quite interesting features and good writing. But you won’t generally find the depth and serious content you’ll find, for example, if you read New York’s Jewish Week. Admittedly, that paper has a much larger readership and staff and so a comparison is perhaps unfair. But who’s to say that a small paper can’t produce the highest quality journalism?
Just as an example, I never felt that JTNews addressed the online world adequately. There has been an explosion of Jewish content on the web (and not just blogs like this one). But I didn’t see much evidence of this in the pages of that print publication. There have also been an explosion of Jewish blogs; and I never saw that phenomenon addressed adequately in the JTNews.
One of my pet peeves, and JTNews is the least of the offenders here, is the woeful lack of interactivity on media websites. The best newspaper websites are some of the least technically savvy. Why shouldn’t you be able to comment on virtually every article in an online news media site? Why shouldn’t such a site link to external sites, especially ones linking to their articles? Why shouldn’t such sites have community forums for discussion?
Well, the good news is that Jew-ish.com goes a long way to addressing some of my issues. It features its own series of rotating blogs: The Jew-ish Street, I Love to Read, and Almost Kosher. It gives readers a chance to sound off on topics of their choosing in the community forum. It allows readers to post community events and other milestones. In short, it brings a touch of democracy to our community.
But I do have one question that verges on criticism: why isn’t Jew-ish.com integrated into the JTNews site? There are no cross-links between the two. It’s almost as if they’re divorced from each other. I’d think that you’d want the two site very closely integrated so that they can feed readers and content back and forth. Further, I see no reason why some of the interactivity of Jew-ish.com shouldn’t be featured at JTNews. For example, why shouldn’t people be able to comment on articles at the news site?
I do have a few suggestions for the Jew-ish.com site. Currently, the only feature which accepts reader comments are the blogs. I think virtually every page of the site should accept comments especially the About Us page which explains what the site is about. You can dialogue in the community forum, but in my opinion the forum is too many clicks away from the site content for that to be an easy and fluid task.
While the site has some good content up now, I still think it is a little thin and needs more.
I’d suggest that one of the first features Jew-ish.com should do is a profile of Seattle’s Jewish blogging community. Perhaps, it should feature a blog each week or one large feature about the most interesting ones. I’d also like to see a feature about Jews who blog about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (my own pet project). There should definitely be an ongoing feature about Seattle’s Sephardic Jews which is one of the most distinctive aspects of our local community. There should also be a community links page/s.
Jew-ish.com is an ambitious and laudable attempt to bring the web to Seattle’s Jewish community and vice versa. It seems to start with a premise that typical Jewish community newspapers will not continue to attract readers as they have for previous Jewish generations. It recognizes that young (and not so young) Jews, like all young people, are turning to the web for all manner of things that they value. Why shouldn’t Jews express their Jewish identity on the web? And why shouldn’t the Jewish community be part of that?
I wish them luck in their venture.