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Sunday, December 28, 2014

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A precious lifeline

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In this, my next to last column, I wish to look back at one of the first columns I wrote in this space.

I wrote about a conference that had been held at Brandeis University that considered some of the key issues facing the Jewish press. 

That conference, some 20 years ago, brought together some of the stalwarts and most experienced men and women of the North American Jewish press. The discussion was pointed and substantive. (Not surprisingly, it did not anticipate nor were participants asked to anticipate, the impact many years later of the digital world upon print media.) 

The most important question at the conference was framed by Gary Rosenblatt, publisher and editor of the Jewish Week of New York.

“What then, is the role of the weekly Jewish newspaper at a time when interest in Israel is waning, assimilation at home is growing and fewer people are reading newspapers? This is not an academic question. If we don’t have people who care about Jewish life, we’re out of business. So part of our job is to promote and highlight the vibrancy of Jewish life, in as many forms as possible.” 

Rosenblatt was speaking from an American Jewish context and directed his question to the Jewish social and cultural milieu of the United States. But the question was no less relevant at that time to us in Canada as well. Indeed, one can say it is even more relevant to Canadian Jews today.

Of course, Rosenblatt answered his own question about how Jewish newspapers might promote the vibrancy of Jewish life. 

One of his points was especially germane then. It is equally so today. Indeed, it will always be especially germane.

“One role that Jewish newspapers can and should place greater emphasis on is education for adults as well as children. We have the opportunity, through our pages, to inform about Jewish heritage and history as well as politics and art… There is a need not to neglect the Jewish component of a Jewish newspaper. It’s not just about Jews, but about what it means to be Jewish.”

Rosenblatt’s credo hit the bull’s-eye of “Jewish journalism”.

It is a credo that The CJN has always tried to live by and honour. 

The “J” in the “CJN” has always stood for something more than the subject matter of the stories in the paper. It has been the guiding principle, the guiding set of values and purposes by which the stories have appeared in the paper. 

Like the secure structure of a kaleidescope that offers myriad discoveries with each turn of the sphere and joining of new light, “What it means to be Jewish” is a question with many answers. 

One possible answer, at least, must include thought, concern and caring for fellow Jews. In traditional Jewish parlance, Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh (We are all responsible for each other). 

In January 1996, a relatively new editor at The CJN expressed the following thoughts. 

“In an age when news was obtained only from print or radio, the Jewish newspaper was a precious lifeline of information about a kinfolk dispersed to the far corners of the vast Earth. Indeed, many people of my generation can still recall a time when our parents and grandparents carried the Jewish newspaper around with them for most of the day, twice-folded and coddled under an arm. Until it was fully read, it was not put away.

“We can also recall a parent or a grandparent poring over every article and column for news of “the old country,” reading aloud for the benefit of the rest of the adults sitting nearby, the newspaper spread open on the kitchen table to its full storied, broadsheet breadth. 

“Today, print and radio may in fact be the last places people turn to for their news. In the blink of an eye, information now travels by electronic impulse and computer byte into the very heavens of space and back. Even the vast Earth has been brought into our living rooms and onto our display terminals.

“It therefore may be exceedingly unrealistic and sentimental to hope that The Canadian Jewish News becomes a coddled treasure under the arms of its readers. Nevertheless, it is my aspiration for The Canadian Jewish News that our readers, as their parents and grandparents before them, will look upon the paper as a precious lifeline of information about a kinfolk dispersed to the far corners of our vast Earth.”

Reading these words today, some 18 years after they were written, they do seem somewhat unrealistic and sentimental. 

But being true to the “J” in “CJN” has indeed always meant our striving to be a “precious lifeline of information” about Jews in Canada and around the world. And in this I believe we succeeded, even though, it is clear we may not also have been that coddled treasure under the arms of all our readers.

 

– MBD

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