At the turn of the 20th century the Yiddish American Press was a thriving industry with over 150 daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly newspapers.
At the turn of the 21st century it is all about the Internet. Type the words “Jewish Press” into the Google search bar and up pops 16.5 million results.
Don’t have time to view them all? One of the newest Jewish writing sites launched recently is called The Jewish Writing Project.
Founder Bruce Black of Sarasota, Fla., calls it a “one man, seat-of-the-pants, low budget (i.e. no-budget) operation.”
“It’s a way for people to share their stories and explore as a community and as individuals what it means to be Jewish,” he said.
Black, himself, has an interesting Jewish background. Raised in a Conservative synagogue in Bergenfield, N.J., he trained for his bar mitzvah with a rabbi from Yeshiva University. He took adult education classes at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, and later met and married a young woman from Chicago who was a Reform rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in New York.
“When I was younger and lived near my grandfather, I’d visit him every weekend. We’d sit in the kitchen of his Tenafly, N.J., apartment, and I’d listen for hours as he told me stories about growing up in Zarnov, a small village in Poland.”
Listening to his grandfather’s stories gave Black a real sense of his Jewish heritage.
“It was from his stories, that I got my strongest sense of what it meant to be Jewish,” he said. “I fear that those kinds of moments — even the notion of visiting a grandparent and listening to him or her tell a story — is disappearing.”
So how do people develop a Jewish identity today if they can’t hear such
“That’s the real point of the project,” Black said, “to give everyone a chance to contribute their story so that others can hear and learn from it and share in return.”
Recent posts on the site include “A Succah in Maine” and “The Sacred, Secret World of Women.”
Black hopes to reach all segments of the Jewish community, including the unaffiliated.
“I think every part of the community adds to our understanding of Jewish identity in this country (and around the world),” he said. “Think of it as a kaleidoscope, with each part of the community another colorful facet of the whole. And then imagine all those facets as stories … and then collect them in one site where you’d be able to read them. That’s what I’m hoping the Jewish Writing Project can become for the Jewish community as a whole.”
Black and his wife Susan Marks belong to a Reform congregation in Sarasota, Temple Emanu-el.
“We like to explore Judaism in different settings and have belonged to Conservative synagogues here and in Philly. We have friends who cross over denominational lines from Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative to Reconstructionist.”
After earning a master’s of fine arts in writing from Vermont College and serving as editor of children’s books at JPS, Black taught writing for children at Rosemont College’s Graduate School of Publishing, Literature, and Writing in Rosemont, Pa., and now offers a young writers workshop at local Sarasota libraries each month, also working as a freelance editor and writer.
His stories for children have appeared in Cricket and Cobblestone magazines, and his work for adults has been published in The Jewish Exponent, The Jewish Week, Reform Judaism Magazine and most recently, in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, and online at The Poetry Foundation’s Web site.
“My short range plans are simply to get the site up and running, which means letting people know about it, and asking people to spread the word,” he said. “Everyone has a story to tell, I believe. It’s just a question of finding the key to telling it. Maybe this site will help them.
The future of the site all depends on how popular it is amongst Jews across the country Black said.
“My long range plans? It depends on the number of submissions that I receive as to whether I can keep doing this as a one-man operation or if I’ll need help and decide to seek funding. Already, a few colleagues have suggested that there might be a book in the project, but I think it’s too early to tell. Mostly, I’m just hoping that we’ll find worthwhile stories to share and preserve. So the Jewish community can gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be Jewish today.”
(Dev Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)