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Why I Created JN Magazine

Reflections on establishing a collective voice to represent Judaism’s diversity

October 20, 2015

There are literally hundreds of Jewish publications in the United States. So why would anybody in their right mind throw their hat into a clearly over-saturated market? Better yet, why did I, with JN magazine?

The answer is a complicated one, but it began with the realization that, with the writing and speaking I was doing—at campus Hillels, in departments at colleges around the U.S., in diversity training for the Jewish Board of Family Children Services—I was edging closer to that precarious position of “the” authoritative voice on (and of) Jews of color. In short, I wanted to continue to elevate and put pen to digital paper, the idea that Judaism is not a one-note monolith. But I didn’t want to do it alone.

Jews of color need a collective voice on the Jewish media landscape; we need more than a single voice, more than just my own. We’re tired of our voices being heard only when we were being told what to feel, and when to feel it. We were tired of being told who we belonged to, who belonged to us, and what our “story” was—all without our actual input on a variety of matters. Such is the influence of a one-note Judaism monolith.

We had stopped reading The Jewish WeekThe Forward, and yes, even Tablet. We needed a haven to share our thoughts and opinions which, shockingly enough, actually exist outside the context of being the designated editorial flavor of a particular month, or in response to a racially insensitive event within mainstream Judaism, or something anti-Semitic within ethnic America.

We needed a place that would make Jews of color visible and would address the problem that big tent Judaism has with object permanence, particularly Jews of color. We yearned for a publication that acknowledged our memberships in the same denominations, beliefs, and practices as the rest of mainstream Judaism, and that we too thought about Israel, religion, dating, marriage, raising children, and finding faith and losing it and finding it again.

And that’s how the tongue-in-cheekly named “Jewnited Nations” magazine—JN Magazine, for short—was born. We turned a year old last month, and it’s been a crazy ride literally the entire time.

We have found an excellent ally here at Tablet magazine, which allows us to bring issues like racial sensitivity during Purim and constructive methods of incorporating diversity at camp to a much larger audience than we would’ve otherwise not had at our disposal.

We’ve also started some amazing conversations of our back at home base. These conversations have ranged from where Jews of Colors fit in within a Holocaust-centric Judaism, to the evolution of Orthodox dress culture, to the uneasiness Jews of Color feel interacting with Jews who lived quite comfortably in White supremacist societies, such as during apartheid. We’ve written raw letters to parents over our struggles overcoming the prejudices they’ve inculcated into us, and lamented the state of Black lives in America.

And we’ve got lots more up our sleeve and a ways more to go in completing our mission “to change the monochromatic monolithic perception of Judaism.” We’re always looking or new writers, too. So stay put and keep reading. Until our next big thing, here are our top five most read posts:

An Ashkenazi Jew weighs in on her whiteness and what that means in America.
In the wake of Gaza there was no lack of calls for African American support of Israel. But what about the shoe on the other foot?

Off The Other Derech” by Tzipi Sutin

A powerful interview with “Rebbetzin” Leah Kleim, founder and organizer of the group OTD Shabbos on Facebook, connecting the formerly religious with others still looking to celebrate Shabbat.

You’re Talking To Gd Wrong” by MaNishtana

A lesson in Hebrew grammar and an oft-mispronounced name of Gd.

Being Unapologetically Ashkenazi” by Shoshana Ne’Orah Rishon

If you think “Ashkenazi”—yes, ethnically Ashkenazi—automatically means “White”, then think again.

This article is part of a collaboration between Tablet and JN Magazine, a website “here to change the monochromatic monolithic perception of Judaism.”

MaNishtana is the pseudonym of Shais Rishon, an Orthodox African-American Jewish writer, speaker, rabbi, and author of Thoughts From A Unicorn. His latest book is Ariel Samson, Freelance Rabbi.