Tikkun, back in S.F., climbs from financial quicksand

Tikkun magazine, which recently relocated to San Francisco from New York, has received a prodigious response to an urgent written appeal for donations, according to editor and publisher Michael Lerner.

Late last month, Lerner sent a letter to supporters of the liberal Jewish magazine stating that the publication is in grave financial danger and must raise $250,000 if it is to continue publishing.

Now Lerner says he has received some $100,000 in response, with one individual contributing $15,000.

"Our readers are responding very, very quickly, very, very generously," he says.

The letter, dated Feb. 24, states that while Tikkun has a larger readership than ever — 45,000 for each issue, Lerner estimates — more people are buying the $6 bimonthly on newsstands than subscribing. Since the magazine gets only 40 percent of newsstand sales, revenues are down.

But the main reason for the deficit, Lerner says, is that the nonprofit magazine's initial grant has run out. Lerner would not reveal the source of that early financing.

Founded in Oakland in 1986 as a counterpoint to the conservative Jewish intellectual publication Commentary, Tikkun has recently undergone major changes.

After moving in 1992 from Oakland to New York — where Lerner hoped it would be easier to raise funds — the publication has moved from the East Coast to an office at 26 Fell St. in San Francisco, where an anonymous donor is providing free rent.

Because of tight finances, the magazine's staff has been reduced from six to four. Executive editor Alice Chasan has been laid off, and Lerner has assumed Chasan's responsibilities.

"I'm doing everything possible to reduce expenses," writes Lerner, who in addition to editing the magazine is also founder and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun, a new Jewish renewal synagogue in San Francisco.

Come May, Tikkun will have a new publisher, Danny Goldberg, who is chief executive officer of Mercury Records.

According to Lerner, Goldberg will coordinate fund-raising and add new writers to Tikkun's team of regular contributors, who include a range of prominent intellectuals, politicians, authors and poets. The soon-to-be-publisher has offered to match whatever donations are made to the magazine in the coming month.

Other heavy-hitters will be joining Tikkun's fund-raising efforts as well.

Author Jonathan Kozol, whose latest works are "Savage Inequalities" and "Amazing Grace," is writing a letter of appeal. Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel will attend a benefit in the fall. Meanwhile, Cornel West, a Harvard University Afro-American studies professor and co-author with Lerner of a book on black-Jewish relations, will attend a May 18 cocktail party in New York, to which donors who contribute $250 or more will be invited.

The magazine is also establishing a "Council of 100" for the hoped-for 100 donors who will contribute $1,000 or more. Council members will be invited to an annual weekend retreat with Tikkun editors and writers, and encouraged to brainstorm article ideas for future issues.

According to Lerner's letter, Tikkun's "survival plan" also includes changing the magazine's format to make it more reader-friendly. Print size will be larger, and the number of graphics will increase.

And while the magazine will continue to feature in-depth analyses of contemporary culture, social theory and politics in Israel and the Jewish world, it will also include shorter articles for people who don't have time to read lengthier pieces.

But in his letter to Tikkun supporters, Lerner stresses that such alterations will not guarantee success.

"What we need to realize is that no matter how we change the magazine, intellectually oriented media do not make it on ads and subscriptions alone," he writes.

As an example, he points to media outlets such as National Public Radio, whose listeners regularly contribute to the news service to help pay for keeping the venture alive.

"People don't pay for services; they join" such ventures, Lerner writes. "Well, we'd like to do that too — to ask our readers to join Tikkun, the community of those committed to healing, repairing and transforming the world. You don't have to be Jewish…to be part of this community and help Tikkun to survive."

Such an appeal is not new for Tikkun. Three years after the magazine was established, co-founder and publisher Nan Fink asked subscribers to become "associates": donors willing to contribute $100 to $1,000 per year to erase a $350,000 annual deficit.

From the start, the founders clearly expected their publication to confront some financial stress. At its inception, Tikkun's co-founders told the Bulletin that magazines such as theirs rarely turn a profit.

"My own expectation is that we'll never get out of the red," Lerner said. "We need [readers] who understand that Tikkun is an important contribution to the Jewish world."

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.