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Oh, Hey, Jewcy Launched

In what’s apparently an attempt to get as little publicity as possible, Jewcy (nee a middle version of Jewsweek) has gone live with its “beta” version, while telling seemingly no-one except Dylan Stableford and the newswire only Stableford reads.
Jewcy, for which I’ve submitted some stuff that may or may not get published, was being pitched in late ‘05 as a Jewish version of Slate, and I was very enthusiastic about the idea. Slate’s great, has transformed Web content in too many ways to count, and is a fantastic model for creating content on more specialized areas than its national beat. I didn’t get the sense then or now, though, that Jewcy is really aspiring to what makes Slate good: the way it brings together smart people saying smart things, so that when people leave the second-read publication, they’re smarter than when they left their first. Jewcy seems more interested in dumbing down, in making issues murkier rather than clarifying them, and doing that dreaded of all dreadeds: trying to be cool.
The press release, and the site, announce a slogan of “What matters now.” Well, not Jewcy, that’s for sure.
Sure, there are the items you’d expect, from the blatantly ignorant, the blogs that seem more masturbatory than informative, and the first person pieces that laboriously detail the lives of people you couldn’t care less about.
And the stuff by writers from whom you’ve learn to expect good things feel like toss-offs. Lauren Grodstein’s got a relatively interesting story about how Jews are perceived…from 1998. Somehow, even Neal Pollack’s stuff isn’t all that great there.
There’s a debate about atheism vs. belief, but it’s between Dennis Prager and Sam Harris. Might as well turn on whatever shout-fest’s on CNN. Of course, that shout-fest goes on for 120 seconds, while Prager and Harris are duking it out with hundreds of words each day for a whole week. One of the pluses about watching a car crash, if you’re into that, is that it’s here and gone.
And through much of the content, you’ll probably wonder, “what makes this Jewish?” And a lot of it doesn’t have much Jewish going for it. Pollack’s kid is named Elijah, and the main blog touches on Judaism only every so often. What this says, more than anything, is that Pollack’s Jewishness isn’t interesting enough for us to hear about, and that the only way to sell Jewish content is to wrap it in a lot of other-stuff paper. Now, those both may be true, but then as a reader I’m left wondering why I’m going to see this stuff on a Jewish Website when I can see Pollack on Slate or Salon, where his apparently-better pieces get published, or Gawker, where the pop-culture rundown is far better. What’s left only somewhat less obvious, is that just like so many Jewish institutions you’ve come across, Jewcy’s trying to sell you on Judaism.
One of the red flags that stood out to me in the press release was the publication’s promise of “a new sense of Jewish pride.” That’s, I think, a basic disconnect between the publication and the Jewish sensibility it wants to talk to, which is evident in various pieces. If you can’t leave your Jewish pride at the door, you can’t engage this new Jewish culture that’s developing.
Take, for instance, this look at anti-Semitic Websites by a non-Jew rating their ability to “turn me into a Jew-hater.” It’d probably be a decent read if they let the guy write it, instead of filling out forms. But what’s more wrong with it is that it takes the opposite approach that it should for finding a new Jewish identity. There’s nothing ideologically novel about showing Jews what anti-Semitic Websites say. If Jewcy wanted to be adventurous, interesting, engaging, and really break loose from the moorings to create something we haven’t seen, they’d have had Sauer take a look at Jewish sites and explained what about them makes him feel anti-Semitic.
And I think that kind of brings together all that Jewcy perhaps could be, but isn’t. If it got past the idea that Judaism is cool, fun, and interesting, it could produce content that is cool, fun, and interesting. Jewcy reads like an alternative Jewish publication the Federation would want you to keep tabs on. And I already get Fresh Ink.

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