New Moon’s Guiding Light

A new Jewish listings monthly, New Moon, appears on Thursday. A sort of Jewish Time Out, it sets out to appeal to the younger generation of Anglo-Jews whose needs and interests have remained unanswered by the official face of the community.

Whether this initiative will be translated into financial stability is another question. The Jewish Herald, the late unlamented freebie, expired two years ago after a series of owners attempted to challenge the Jewish Chronicle’s virtual monopoly. Yet this time it may be different, since the appearance of New Moon (the Jewish month is lunar) may prove to be a watershed in the changing agenda of communal policy due to the advent of the post-war generation.

The longevity of the Jewish Chronicle, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, is due to a combination of shrewd business acumen and an understanding of the levels of “Jewishness” of the Jewish community. In spite of a wealth of talented younger journalists, its coverage of important issues in recent years has been uninspiring. It has attempted to be all things to all Jews and to adhere to a fifties-style communal agenda which has gradually become unacceptable to perhaps a majority of British Jews.

Survivalism became the central purpose of Jewish existence after the Holocaust — defending Israel, bashing the anti-Semites, rescuing Soviet Jews. Important and worthy activities, but little more.

The dedication in chasing the ghosts of the past was genuine but the survivalist agenda snuffed out any meaningful creativity and imposed a mental state of siege. The destruction of the past essentially hindered the construction of the future. The Jewish Chronicle often reflected this mentality and was an integral part of its manifestation.

New Moon, according to its editor, 29-year-old Matthew Kalman, hopes to address the cultural grievances of a broad section of the lost generation of 18-40 year-olds. He believes that there is a potential readership )f disaffected younger Jews of some 70,000. “Dustin Hoffman as Shylock is of more concern than Dustin Hoffman as ‘Footsie,” he remarks.

He believes that most young people do not buy the Jewish Chronicle: “They only read it on Friday nights at their ‘ parents’ homes to see who has got engaged”. The antics of official Jewry are regarded with extreme disdain. And it is this strong reaction to the hatch, match and despatch superficiality of Jewish life which he hopes will secure New Moon. Indeed, a thousand subscribers on the basis of a pre-publication leaflet is no mean achievement.

Changes have also taken place at the Jewish Chronicle. Ned Temko produced his first issue as editor last week. Like Kalman, he is a product of the post-war generation and similarly espouses a greater openness. He will no doubt have the strong backing of his journalists in attempting to transform the paper.

The Jewish Chronicle has a readership of around 50,000, considerably less than 20 per cent of the Jewish population in this country. This is supplemented by a legendary pass-on rate such that the total readership may exceed the actual purchasers by tens of thousands.

Although the pages are filled with advertisements, a central question facing Temko is why those extra readers resist being transformed into purchasers. If they are the disaffected young who are now climbing the so-do-economic ladder, then there would be pressing financial reasons for changing the image of the Jewish Chronicle.

An insight into the type of JC buyer can be inferred from a recent poll of 500 of its readers. The paper concluded that a majority were “tough” on intermarriage and “hawkish” on Israel. The annual National Survey of American Jewry for 1989 under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee suggests that these opinions are indicative of older people, the more religiously observant and the under-educated while the majority are more open-minded and liberal in their outlook. If this is true of Western Jewry as a whole, it would seem to suggest that the Jewish Chronicle attracts the older, more conservative Jew as a purchaser.

WITH a new Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, who also advocates a willingness to argue “for the sake of heaven rather than for the sake of victory”, new radio Jewish programmes on Spectrum and GLR, it is clear that rapid changes are on the horizon. Even the Jerusalem Post’s international edition will be challenged shortly by the Jerusalem Report, a Newsweek-style weekly. The Jerusalem Post’s take-over by the Hollinger Corporation led to a walk-out by 30 of its best journalists and a decline in its standards of journalism. It has also swung to the right with breathtaking speed — Shamir’s former speechwriter now writes the editorials. All this has led to the disillusionment of the Post’s traditionally liberal readership and possibly opened the way for the new Jerusalem Report to make headway.

All this is a far cry from the days when my predecessor on the Jewish Quarterly was forced to resign through a campaign instigated by Eric Moonman, a candidate in the current electoral race for the presidency of the Board of Deputies. The offence had been caused by a Jewish Quarterly editorial which questioned the actual dangers of anti-Semitism today as popularly viewed by Jewish leadership. Today, in the prevalent spirit of Jewish glasnost, the opposite may occur — it is more likely that Jewish leaders will be asked to step down from office by a freer questioning Jewish press.

Guardian 10 September 1990

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