Are the kids all right? New Voices gives a journalist hope

It’s kooky enough to go into journalism these days. But Jewish journalism? It takes a particular kind of passion (read: insanity) to choose a life covering the niche news of a community that can read about itself as easily in the New York Times as in the local Jewish rag. Yet year after year, New Voices (newvoices.org), the independent national online magazine run by and for Jewish college students, attracts some of the best and brightest young Jews, all interested in dipping their toes into these ever-choppy waters.

Are the kids all right? It’s a question one hears a lot in the Jewish community, though it’s usually rhetorical and coming from someone who is already quite sure that the kids are not all right.  As for me, I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But I can tell you where to find out: New Voices.

Editing that fine publication from 2011 to 2013 was my first job out of college.

I graduated with a degree in religious studies and the intention of pursuing journalism. When I would tell people that, I’d get a lot of rolled eyes, the occasional panicked gasp and more than a few forced belly laughs followed by “good luck with that!”

But here I am, working at J. And, against all odds, here, too, is New Voices. The magazine has been published since 1991 by the Jewish Student Press Service, founded in 1971 to produce top-notch student-written material for what was then a lively national network of Jewish campus magazines and newspapers. Virtually nothing is left of those publications — but New Voices remains, a vital, unmitigated look at what “kids these days” do, say and think.

Of course, funding an operation like this is a perennial headache. No one censors it. No one edits it, save for fellow college students and the one recent grad who is hired every two years to run the scrappy publication with little more than bailing wire and an Internet connection. And almost no one pays for it — a few small grants and a smattering of donors (I’m one now).

My pride in New Voices was rekindled in a big way last month in D.C. at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, where I had the good fortune of meeting Chloe Sobel, the current editor. She won me over immediately. Sobel has the journalistic experience the job requires, plus the charisma necessary to keep people involved — and she’s exactly hip enough to seem credible with her peers.

I also ran into her predecessor, Derek Kwait, who took over as New Voices editor after my departure in 2013. He now works for the JFNA. I picked up a few Jewish newspapers that were floating around the GA; in many (including this one), you can find the byline of Ben Sales, my predecessor at New Voices who is now the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s man in Israel, and in the Forward, you can find the byline of Josh Nathan-Kazis, Sales’ immediate predecessor. One of my nights in D.C., I went out for drinks with my friend Zach Cohen, who wrote for me at New Voices and now works for the National Journal, a political magazine targeted at Beltway wonks.

The list goes on.

These are new voices of Jewish life in this country, but they (and I) are no longer the new voices; that distinction belongs to Sobel and the uppity, loud-mouthed cadre she has writing for her. (By the way, if the folks writing for New Voices ever stop being uppity and loud-mouthed, something will have gone woefully wrong in this world.) We, the old-timers, got started in Jewish journalism at this little independent magazine devoted to Jewish campus news, opinion and perspectives.

Sobel’s Dec. 4 piece, “Happy Hanukkah! No more Drake Christmas memes,” is a marvelous example of a perspective you will only find in that publication. It is a moving, well-articulated discussion of what it means to own one’s Jewish heritage in an ever more diverse Jewish community that doesn’t know what to do with its diversity; black Canadian Jewish rapper Drake, the product of an interfaith family, is a prime example. As a hook, Sobel uses her personal complaint about the proliferation of “Hot–

line Bling” Christmas memes. I’m 26 now, and I can barely parse the previous sentence of this column.

So, are the kids all right? I don’t know. Stop asking and read New Voices.

 

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the online editor of J. and "Jew in the Pew" columnist. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.