I call historian Deborah Dash Moore Monday morning, July 26, 2004.
"How would you compare the current Arts and Culture section of the Forward to when it was under Jonathan Rosen?"
"Jonathan's was great. This is more squishy. Every so often, some interesting things come up that I find myself using and clipping. I wish they would do more book reviews. I know that J.J. is working hard on trying to get something good."
"How would you compare the Forward now under J.J. to the Forward under Lipsky?"
"Oh God, I like it much better. I never read any of the front matter under Lipsky, except for laughing at the headlines. It infuriated me."
"Was that purely a matter of the political perspective?"
"Yeah! The politics were slanted [Right]. I went back to the Arts and Culture pages and read that. It was a very slanted paper. I subscribed because I thought it was important and worth supporting."
"Do you think under J.J. it is down the middle politically?"
"Yeah. For my taste, it could be more Left. I've had this conversation with J.J. and he wants it to be a paper for everybody. His sense of what everybody is is slightly different from mine."
"Any other Jewish weeklies you read with interest, such as The Jewish Week?"
"No, I don't read that regularly. I scan it. They pile up. I don't read Sandee's stuff much on culture."
"What about The New Republic and Commentary?"
"Oh God. I stopped reading Commentary 25 years ago. I used to subscribe to The New Republic but I found it was piling up and I wasn't getting to it. I haven't subscribed to the Nation. Perhaps I should. Trouble is their politics are further to the Left than I am.
"I subscribe to Lilith, Tikkun and Shma. I think Lilith has gotten better and better. They had an issue on teenagers and sex and Bar Mitzvahs as occasions for oral sex for kids. I thought that was great. I thought that was important coverage. The community ought to be aware of it. They had a thing on Shlomo Carlebach and issues of abuse. Susan Weidman Schneider.
"Shma, I usually read because it is quick."
"Is it as good as it was under Rabbi Eugene Borowitz?"
"No, I don't think so. Gene invited sharply different points of view -- Orthodox debating Reform debating secular. It was an argumentative journal. It's moved more towards spirituality. Though the debate is still there, it's not nearly as sharp. It tends to be just diverse."
"Oy! Tikkun I read very selectively. It has such a controlling hand about the politics of meaning. Every so often they have an interesting book review or Op/Ed piece that isn't quite the politics of meaning. I don't know how, year after year, this is the only thing the magazine is interested in.
"I get Hadassah magazine. It's popular. It's a quick read. I found nuggets of stuff in it. I should go back and check it out. It picks up on interesting issues in an accessible way.
"I used to subscribe to Moment. I don't anymore. Under Leonard Fein, it was very good.
"The American Jewish Committee used to have a magazine called Present Tense, when they were trying to get a more Jewish alternative to Commentary."
"Do you think that if anything happens in Jewish life, it is going to end up in The New York Times anyway?"
"No. I think The New York Times has cut back drastically on reviewing Jewish books. It used to be, when the book review was fatter, that every issue would have one Jewish book. Then it became once a month.
"I also get The Jerusalem Report. I'm an old-fashioned person. I don't read stuff online."
"How do you feel about the adjective dull applied to Jewish weeklies outside the Forward?"
"From the ones I've seen, in general, I'd say that's probably true. Shouldn't be. It's a literate population. Jews do subscribe to magazines."
I give Dr. Moore this quote from J.J. Goldberg: "The biggest obstacle is that most Jews don't want compelling journalism on American Jewish life. The Jews who look to Jewish journalism tend to want to be anesthetized."
She laughs heartily. "That's really interesting. Huh. Well, it may be. I don't know. There are all kinds of young people interested in writing and doing journalism. There's funky stuff out there like Heeb, which makes one think there are some people who want to see compelling journalism.
"I also subscribe to Bridges, a lesbian-feminist quarterly. It's a voice for Jews who don't make it into the regular papers, not even into Lilith. It focuses on radical political issues and creative writing."
"What do you wish you were getting on American Jewish life and are not getting?"
"I would like to have a really good review of Jewish books, that's critical and engaged in the way of the New York Review of Books. There's a lot of interesting publishing. I don't get to read it all but I'd love to read an article instead. I do get the Jewish Book Annual. They give you competent summaries of the books. It's not intellectually engaging. I'd like to see more alternative kinds of political coverage. The Forward is doing some of that. When they translated the [Avraham] Burg piece, that was fantastic. And more discussion of crossover phenomena, things that are sorta Jewish, not labeled as Jewish, but deserve our attention as Jews. What is considered Jewish is far too narrow."
"What are some good books you've read lately on American Jewish life?"
"Torn at the Roots by Michael E. Staub. Coming out Jewish by Jon Stratton. A book that got me angry was New York Jews and the Decline of Urban Ethnicity, 1950-1970 by Eli Lederhendler. I think he's wrong. It's a Zionist/Diaspora attack on American Jewish life. An essay that has influenced me lately is an essay on New York as a capitol of photography by Max Kozloff."
"Do you frequently fear that you could die for being Jewish?"
"Die for being what?"
"Die for being Jewish?"
"Die? No. I'm an American. Americans don't worry about such things. I'm an American. I'm an American historian. We go back lots of generations. No. I don't feel that way. Probably silly, but...
"I try to explain to my students, who also don't understand, how a sense of paranoia came to exist in Jewish life. I teach the Zionist attack on the galut mentality."
"Do you often think through the prism of - is it good for the Jews?"
"Not often but on occasion. The recent debate about these neo-conservatives and Iraq. I imagine the scenario that would be disturbing, where Jews get blamed for the failure of the war."