Saturday, February 18, 2006

On Jew-blogging

DovBear sent me here for a report on what we all do:

Can we blog? New way to talk about Jewish issues
By Rachel Silverman

At times, the chatter between American Jews can seem hushed, even silent.

While questions about assimilation, Israeli politics and Jewish identity swirl overhead, many American Jews maintain an arms-length complacency about it all.

But a post, click and hyperlink away, the burgeoning blogosphere offers a forum for Jewish conversation.

Jewish blogs, or Web diaries, run the gamut from kosher cooking to Israeli advocacy. They include leftist rants, dating melodramas, rabbinic ruminations and secular musings from all corners of the globe.

Last year, the Pew Internet and American Life Project estimated that 8 million American adults had created blogs. Though the number of specifically Jewish blogs is unconfirmed, those with knowledge of the blogosphere say the pool is substantial.

"I'd estimate the number of active blogs at some several thousand," says Steven Weiss, who currently blogs about religion (, food ( and the Jewish college experience (

"Among young, highly-affiliated Jews, J-blogs are very popular," the 24 year- old New Yorker continues. "As you move up the age brackets, the popularity drops off somewhat, though many in the organizational and rabbinic establishment have started paying a lot of attention to them."

"The amount of interest in blogging has just gone through the roof," confirms Alexis Rice, the RAC's communications director. "I think the Jewish community is more connected now than ever before.

"A rabbi used to give a sermon and it was heard by 200 people in services Friday night," Rice continues. "Now he puts the sermon on a blog, and thousands of people access it."

What exactly are these Jewish bloggers seeking on the Web?

Some, like 30-something New York blogging guru Esther Kustanowitz, say the blogosphere connects them to a larger, global Jewish community.

"I started looking at other Jewish blogs to see if there were other people like me out there-single, Jewish and blogging," she explains.

Alternatively, some blog to seek community with or build bridges to 'the other.'

In addition to helping his congregants stay connected during a difficult period, the blog attracted significant media buzz.

"At first I was saying, 'who's going to read my musings about this or that?' " Zamek recalls, laughing. "But something caught the eye of the office of presidential speech writing, and I was invited to the White House Chanukah party."

The blogosphere is not just a feel- good forum. In many instances, it's a place for real debate and democratic engagement.

One thing's for sure-this wrangling free-for-all is not the mainstream media.

That's because blogs assume a vastly different tone and style than their journalistic counterparts, online communications expert Diane Schiano says.

"There is this loose, free-floating, casual, even intimate approach to writing blogs," explains Schiano, an adjunct professor at Stanford University. "It's like teenage angst is being poured out."

Take 'Aussie Dave,' the moniker behind Israellycool ( His blog acts as a symposium for issues of Israeli politics, pop culture and news.

"When you have people reading you and listening to you, it's like you have your own little soapbox," the 31 year- old Beit Shemesh resident says. "It empowers the individual."

Some claim blogs still act like an insiders' club, however.

"The people who spend time to sit down and write on blogs have very strong opinions," explains Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute. "You might have unaffiliated lurking on these Web sites, but they don't feel confident enough to comment."

Others admit the blogosphere tends to attract wannabe journalists, who see the Web as a viable marketing tool.

"A lot of writers use them to test the waters for their writing," Schiano said. "It's a new form of publishing."

Where exactly this blogging phenomenon is going remains unseen.

Schiano, for one, predicts a continuously evolving blogosphere.

"I think there will always be this room for grassroots voices on the net," she says.

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