As Rosenblatt prepares to step down from The New York Jewish Week, he emphasizes the increased responsibility of Jewish journalists in an era of change.
By Gary Rosenblatt
It’s not often one gets to read his own obituary.
Many of the key issues are the same — assimilation, the quest for Mideast peace, the cost and content of Jewish education, efforts to promote Jewish civility, etc. — but the context within those discussions has changed significantly. Israel, once the glue that connected Jews with pride, increasingly divides us. Does loyalty to the Jewish state require ignoring threats to its democratic values?
Closer to home, the biggest growth in recent years has been in the Orthodox community and the “nones,” those younger people with no Jewish affiliation. That makes the growing divide between the Orthodox and the rest of American Jewry, on a range of issues, all the more severe. As assimilation increases, interfaith marriage is no longer decried from liberal pulpits; instead, rabbis compete in ways to reach out to engage such couples in meaningful ways.
In addition, a community that defined its success by the numbers of those who affiliate with synagogues and Jewish organizations now focuses on providing engaging experiences for unaffiliated young people who may otherwise drift away. The older generation is obsessed with the fear of a dwindling Jewish community even as many of their children and grandchildren are defining their Judaism through social justice, commitment to the environment and other critical, but less parochial, issues.
Jewish life isn’t dying; it’s evolving. But how long can we continue to call ourselves one community?
Perhaps the most surprising change is the re-emergence of anti-Semitism as a serious concern, not only for European Jewry but here at home. Who would have thought 25 years ago that we would need armed security at Shabbat services?
Jewish journalism has never faced a more difficult environment — and never been more needed to bridge the gaps among us. Writing about communal challenges and flaws from within is always tricky. Indeed, it’s far more difficult to be seen as fair to all in this moment of deep distrust and dismissal, one side against the other. But that’s why serious Jewish journalism is more important now than ever. The work is not just an exercise in reporting a story; it’s an opportunity to have a say in the destiny of a community.
At the end of the first column I wrote in July 1993, I noted that a mainstream journalist “knows that the answer to ‘If not me, who?’ is ‘Somebody else.’ The Jewish journalist knows there is no one else. And s/he serves a community that deserves, and requires, better. That can make Jewish journalism far more than a job; that can make it a calling.”
It was true then, as it is now.
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