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January 13, 2012

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PAGE 18A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 13, 2012 Media From page 1A The Jewish Channel gar- nered nationaJ attention twice in the last two months with news broadcasts that ended up metastasizing into international stories. Launched in 2007 as a subscription video on- demand channel, TJC has been touted as "a Jewish film festival in your living room." But it has been the channel's news coverage, which makes up a small fraction of TJC's overall programming and mostly is not original content that has thrust the ~hannel into the public eye. A November news report on an Israeli government- sponsored ad campaign urging Israeli expatriates in the United States to return home sparkeffan uproar in the UnitedStates, with many suggesting that the ads were dismissive of Arnerican Judaism. The Israeli govern- ment ultimately apologized and ended the campaign. And in December, TJC landed a sit-down interview with Newt Gingrich in which the Republican presidential candidate suggested that the Palestinians are an "in- vented" people. Gingrich's remarks drew headlines and criticism from GOP rivals, including Mitt Romney. Steven I. Weiss, the direc- tor of original programming and new media at TJC as well as its news anchor, credited the channel's success to "hard work and good luck, and doing the hard work until you get lucky." While TJC officials de- scribe their channel as a Jewish HBO, Shalom TV--a free on-demand channel launched in 2006--de- scribes itself as a Jewish version of C-SPAN and PBS. Shalom TV features educational programming, including Hebrew lessons, as well as videos of Jewish events, lectures, debates and speeches. This month, the network will begin operating as a linear cable channel, with programming throughout the day, ~iccording to Mark Golub, Shalom TV's founder and CEO. Golub said that five small cable systems across the country wil! carry the linear channel initially, while three larger Cable systems have committed to picking it up once it is up and running. The programming also will be streamed online. Jewish Life Television, which launched in 2007, already is operating as a 24/7 linear channel. It airs a variety of programming, from music videos and cooking shows to religious services and entertainment news. JLTV appears on cable systems across the country, and recently joined DIREC- TV to be broadcast in all 50 states. In December. JLTV broadcast and streamed online President Obama's speech at the Union for Reform Judaism's biennial conference. Officials at all three chan- nels say there are distinct challenges in creating a television network aimed at a broader American Jewish audience. "If you're reaching Rus- sian, Chinese" audiences, you can rely on language barrier to make people have to watch your material," TJC's Weiss said. "With the Jewish audience, everyone speaksEnglish." Golub said itwas an uphill fight to sell cable companies on Shalom TV and the con- cept of a Jewish channel. "No one had ever been able to-convince a major cable system to launch a Jewish network. There was every kind of ethnic, Haitian, Russian, Spanish television. There was Christian, but no Jewish," Golub said. "No cable system would say that we're going to devote server space to feature a Jewish channel in its own lineup of channels alongside MSNBC, the Cooking Channel. We convinced them." In addition to Shalom TV, Golub is president of the Russian Media Group, which produces two of its own Russian-language chan- nels and also distributes a package of satellite channels aimed at Russian speakers. Golub is a co-creator of the company's flagship Rus- sian Television Network of America, a 20-year-old cable and. satellite chan~el that targets immigrants from the former Soviet Union, most of whom are Jewish. Representatives of all three English-language channels cast their proj- ects not as luxuries but as necessities in the Jewish community. "If the Jewish culture was not a rich culture, you could say there's no place for Jew- ish television," Weiss said. "But in a community that produces as many cultural pieces as we produce, as much fascinating political news discussion and as .much fascination with Is- rael that culture needs a TV channel, it wants a TV channel and it deserves one." Weiss told JTA that TJC has 50,000 subscribers who pay $5 to $7 a month. He said the channel expects to begin turning a profit sometime this year. Phil Blazer, the founder of JLTV, says his channel's audience has grown on DI- RECTV to nearly 2 million households monthly. Based on that figure, he estimates that an additional 1 mil- lion viewers are watching on other cable affiliates. Blazer attributed the rela- tively large viewership to the channel's appeal to Christian audiences inter- ested in Judaism and Jewish culture. Shalom TV says that its on-demand programming is accessed by 40,000 to 50,000 households monthly. Shalom TV says it tracks audience using the media organization RenTrak; JLTV uses Kantar Media. TJC de- clined to say how it tracks its numbers. None of the channels provided original tracking documents, and JTAwas un- able to independently verify their viewership claims. Blazer says that JLTV, which is a for-profit com- pany, generated $2 mil- lion in gross advertising revenue in 2010. He also is the president of the Jewish Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supplies some of JLTV's original content. According to IRS filings, Blazer draws no pay from the foundation. Blazer told JTA that he also does not receive a salary from the channel itself. Golub. Shalom TV's CEO, also does not receive a salary, according to the channel's IRS filings. The channel, Golub added, is a nonprofit that has been funded by him and his brother to the tune of "seven figures" over the past four years. Shalom TV raises additional funds through outside donations and by selling DVDs of its programming. Golub said he is starting to seek additional funding. "We wanted to prove that a Jewish television network was viable anti could have an impact before we talked to the foundations about funding," Golub said. Sanderson, however, was less optimistic. "I'm sure some of the programming has redeem- ing value," he said. "The question is is it worth the cost and will it succeed and will it make an impact and will it penetrate the Jewish American community in ways that are successful? ! think history doesn't lie in this particular world." Lew From page 1A run Obama's re-election cam- paign and Shapiro is now in Tel Aviv as ambassador. That left a perceived gap in the White House--one that Lew would fill, although Jewish officials stressed that they did not expect the atten- tion from a chief of staff that they received from mid-level staffers. "That's not the role he's going to play," said Abraham Foxman. the national direc- tor of the Anti-Defamation League, referring to the regu- lar conference calls that Ross and Shapiro had with Jewish community leaders. "He will be an adviser to the president " on all things and a gatekeeper, but to the extent the president will turn to him for his view, he has an understanding of the community and of its views." The Obama administration clearly wanted to push across the Jewish message; Shapiro Tweeted the news in Hebrew to his followers. Israeli ambas- sadors don't'usually make a big deal of the appointment ofaWhite House chief of staff. Obama stressed Lew's man- agement savvy in announcing the appointment on Monday. "Jack's economic advice has been invaluable and he has my complete trust, both because of his mastery of the number~, but because of the values be- hind those numbers," he said. Lew has become something of a go-to Obama administra- tion speaker and guest for the organized Jewish community, particularly among Orthodox Jews. Most recently, he lit the "national menorah." the giant chanukiyah that graces the National Mall and is orga- nized by American Friends of Lubavitch. "As an American Jew, I can't think of anyone who has a deeper commitment to the United States as well as his own Jewish identity at the same time." said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who heads the Chabad group and noted that Lew occasionally stops by for Shabbat services. "His appointment obviously gives the White House an envoy to the Jewish community who is eloquent, respected, even beloved across the Jewish spectrum. That's probably an added bonus rather than the core qualification." Lew maintains a reliable shtick in his interaction with Jewish audiences: How he balances the 24/7 demands of being a top government official with the 24/6 Sabbath- observant lifestyle. One incident involves a Shabbat call he received from President Clinton. He came home from synagogue and the phone rang. As was his practice, he'waited until the answering machine clicked on to see if it was urgent enough to pick up. As it happened, it was a White House staffer telling him to ignore the earlier message from Clinton, who had been phoning from overseas and had forgotten that in Washington itwas still Shabbat. The matter was not urgent enough to interrupt Lew's observance, Clinton told the staffer to tell Lew. Going out of his way to keep Lew from breaking the Sabbath was a sign of the re- spect the president has for his observance, Lew tells people. Another favorite line dur- ing his 1990s stint, when he lived in Washington his family is now based in New York was ~n exchange with clergy at Beth Sholom, a synagogue in Potomac, Md. Nathan Diament. who directs the Orthodox Union's Wash- ington office, recalled that a rabbi would suggest jokingly that Lew might want to run for shul treasurer. Lew would rejoin that directing the OMB was complex enough, thank you very much. It's a shtick that suggests a corny, old-fashioned sense of humor, but friends say it's also one that is emblematic of his humility and cordiality. "Everyonewould recognize that Jack's management style and personality is noticeably differenl( from that of the previous Jewish White House chief of staff," Diament said, a reference to Emanuel's abrasiveness. An open question is how much harder it will be for Lew to balance family and Shabbat observance in his new role. He stays close t9 his daugh- ter. Shoshana, who works at the Obama administration's Interior Department, but his wife and married son remain in Riverdale, N.Y., where they are active in the Hebrew Insti- tute of Riverdale, in the Bronx borough of the city. His previous stints in addition to the OMB post, he was also a deputy secretary of state under Obama--involved managing a 9-5, Monday-to- Friday bureaucracy. Aides say there were occasions that necessitated work on Shab- bat for instance, during negotiations with .Congress last year aimed at averting a government shutdown. Running the White House, however, means dealing with crises that have a bad habit of happening on weekends. "It's a reflection of this administration's comfortwith him and his being Jewish," Foxman said. "This is a job that is 24/7but if there's respect, it works." Bima From page 2A complained about the lack of spirit in the Torah reading that Storahtelling is trying to address. "The slow and repetitive nature of Jewish prayer is out of sync with our expectations of rapid change,"Wertheimer said. "What it comes down to is whether synagogues are counter-cultural institu- tions." Rabbis and teachers who have signed up for Storahtel- ling training say they hope the training will help~them inspire their congregants to not just sit and let the weekly portion wash over them, but to instead wrestle with it by seeking out commentaries and alternative transla- tions, considering different characters' points of view and reflecting on how they themselves would teach it. "Our Torah text is not stagnant," said Rabbi Cecilia Beyer, assistant rabbi at the Conservative temple Beth Shalom in Roslyn Heights, Long Island. "I create my own midrash (commentary); teach it to them and then give them the opportunity to do that themselves." Here's how Storahtelling training works: Trainers in- troduce their students to the concept of the "maven," the translator and commentator ~ho for 2,000 years rendered the Hebrew chanting into the local language. Storahtelling invites rabbis and teachers to assume that role, teaches them how and charges them with the mission of passing the "maven method" on to their congregants and students. The method demands that its students, many of them clergy, temporarily put aside some of their formal training. "We try to move away from preaching," said Aviv. Rabbis in particular some- times struggle towork in this new mode. "They can find it harder to play outside of those areas, and explore new pos- sibilities," director Shalev said. "They're coming in with a lot of context that's very hard to shed." Some natural overlap helps in this regard. Many of the Storahtelling trainees have theater backgrounds, and rabbis are often in some sense in front 0fan audience. After all, the Modern Hebrew word for "stage" is "bima." Still, learning to be a maven isn't easy, Shalev said. The organization uses auditions to control quality. Potential trainees prepare a short monologue based on specific biblical verses. Storahtelling works hard to put everyone at ease. "This is a safe space, with a lot of permissions," said Less, the education director, at the beginning of the Nov. 21 session. "Permission to chal- lenge, to play and hopefully to not know." Any emotional or intel- lectual risks are worth it, trainees say, because the method has so much peda- gogical potential, especially, but not only, for those who can't understand the chanted portion. "For some of our congre- gants, just sitting doesn't do it for them. They have limited knowledge and limited un- derstanding," Beyer said. "It's reaching people we might not reach and also reaching everyone in a different way." It's not as natural a fit for liturgical traditionalists. The New York trainees' af- filiations were a mix of Re- form, Reconstruetionist and Conservative. One Orthodox participant had signed up, but couldn't attend because of a scheduling conflict, Shalev said. The original Storahtell- ers often deploy tools such as musical instruments and amplifiers that violate traditional Shabbat norms, but the rabbis and teachers learning the method will be careful to transplant a version that is in keeping with their institution's sensibility. Synagogues pay no more than $2,500 per person for the training; 15 different in- stitutions are participating in the New York sessions. In its most recent fiscal year, Sto- rahtelling's annual budget was $558,000. The group lost its official nonprofit status due to "administrativ~ snags" after founder Lau-Lavie stepped down as executive director, butwill be reinstated as a 501c3 soon, Shalev said. "We don't think this is the be-all, end-all. We don't teach you Hebrew. You need more. But this is what we can do," Shalev said, adding, "Wewant to change attitudes about what it means to be Jewishly literate, so that people can learn their whole lives." For their part, the rabbis who undergo Storahtelling training take care not to throw the congregat!ons into too much maven method. too soon. Beyer said she might start using questions and discussion within the Torah service right away, but probably won't step into a character until the spring. "There are some core congregants that are more traditional and less adept- at change." said training participant Joshua Strom, rabbf at Temple Shaaray Tefila, a Reform congrega- tion on the Upper East Side. "But at the same time, if it's with .ahigher purpose shem shamayim there shouldn't be too many long-lasting holdouts." Helen Chernikoff is a staff writer at The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission.