Creating a National Minyan
I joined the board of the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) in 2004 and am now in my third year as president. For more than 90 years, the JTA has been the definitive supplier of national and international news to Jewish print publications (as the AP is to local newspapers). Today, however, our main growth is online, as we reach far more people directly via JTA.org, our daily e-newsletter and social media.
In print or online, we are the only media outlet dedicated to covering the issues and developments impacting Jews in the United States, Israel and worldwide. We do so with high-quality unbiased, non-religious, non-politically tilted reporting from journalists around the world.
JTA keeps Jewish leaders informed, which is a great and important service. But there is something even more compelling to “Wexnerites” about the JTA that is worth explaining — our ability to help keep Jews and Jewish communities connected in an age of increasing geographic, religious, political and sociological separation.
For a people whose very identity is rooted in the concept of minyan, we actually lived in ways that formed community. Before the concept was defined, we had created and made use of multiple layers of social networking. These networks did a good job of keeping us informed about communal news and evolving community customs, and, from time to time, alerted us to existential threats.
Our world has changed dramatically. Demographic studies continuously show strong patterns of disaffiliation among Jews. I won’t try here to explain the multiple reasons for this shift, but it is clear we as a people belong less and less to synagogues. Across the country, most Federations and other communal organizations are facing significant challenges. While overt discrimination has significantly disappeared, we are assimilating into oblivion.
This brings me back to JTA.org and the Wexner community. The JTA is not the sole solution to disaffiliation in our community, but it is part of the solution. If we don’t have a method for communicating or for listening and reading and commenting about our people, we will stop existing as a community, as a people. Wexner members, fellows, and alumni are leading institutions locally, nationally and internationally, leading innovation throughout the Jewish world. “Wexnerites” are experimenting with new community models, thinking about the future, and engaging the under-40s. All of this is happening within an identity that doesn’t have a central press office. There is no Vatican and there is no Vatican press.
JTA has a close relationship with the Wexner Foundation. Both of my predecessors as president, Danny Krifcher (DC 03) and Elisa Spungen Bildner (Metrowest, NJ), are alums of the Wexner Heritage Program. Many other members of the board are also Wexner Heritage Alumni (WHA’s). When the JTA board needed to find talent that could represent Canada, it was Angie Atkins, Director of Wexner Heritage Alumni, who led us to WHA Elizabeth Wolfe from Toronto I. What we all have in common – perhaps, resulting from our Wexner experience — is a profound understanding of the importance and power of information.
Of course, our community does have access to news sources that, similar to the secular press, are advocating an agenda and pushing their respective beliefs. There are voices for righties, lefties, orthos, conservos and reformos. All good and fine, but the JTA.org is a different minyan: we strive to keep Jews and Jewish communities informed and connected by providing credible, unbiased reporting on Jews of all religious, political and cultural stripes. We’re not here to choose sides, but to tell all of the stories.
The JTA board is committed to doubling its readership in the next three years. Right now, we know that our demographic is the leadership of North American organizations who generally read us on a daily basis. Our board and staff’s goal is to expand readership beyond the leadership group. We believe this is not just “nice to do.” Rather, our ability to reach a significantly wider and younger audience – to create a Jewish mechanism for communicating with each other online — is critical for each of us, to the projects we are working on, and to the greater Jewish community. We have to be able to know about each other, to talk to each other. We have to be able to go deeper than an occasional story in the New York Times and we need to hear the complete story of our people.
So help us to help ourselves. Go to JTA.org to check us out. If you don’t already subscribe to our Daily Briefing, subscribe at bit.ly/jtasubscribe. It’s free. You’ll like it. Tell your friends to subscribe too and make sure that your organizations are using JTA to tap into the bigger story of Jews today.
David Rudis, Wexner Heritage alumnus (Chicago ’99), is president of the JTA. He also serves as a Wexner Heritage Alumni Delegate. David has spent his career in commercial and retail banking. He has been active in a wide variety of Jewish communal organizations. David lives in Chicago with his wife, Pauline, and three children, but grew up in the vibrant Jewish community in Tucson, Arizona. David can be reached at email@example.com.