JWR Eric BreindelMona CharenLinda Chavez
Jacob SullumJonathan S. TobinThomas Sowell
Robert ScheerDon FederRoger Simon
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / March 3, 1998 / 5 Adar, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

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IT'S A HARD SELL but effective nevertheless. "Please write about us," pleads Binyamin Jolkovsky, the originator of the Jewish World Review web site (www.jewishworldreview.com). "I'm a colorful character, and the site needs more publicity."

Is he a colorful figure? Well, not in the literal sense. Jolkovsky is a self-described "traditional" Jew, which means he sports a long beard and side curls and favors long, Jolkovsky black coats. Color is not really the style of the very observant.

But there is nothing about his religion that Jolkovsky has not thought about deeply, and costume is no exception. While not all traditional Jews (he shuns the word "Orthodox" because of its nationalist and extremist connotations) wear distinctive clothing, many do. Jolkovsky believes that the Jewish habit limits the wearer's opportunities to bring shame on himself or his community. "Dressed this way," he explains, "it would be impossible for me to enter a brothel or to cheat at business." It is perhaps the same consideration that governs the dress of Catholic priests and nuns.

But while Jolkovsky's clothing would permit him to fit comfortably into the 19th century, his latest enterprise is emphatically modern -- a web site aimed at young Jews in search of spirituality.

While there are at least 5,000 web sites geared to Jews and Judaism, Jolkovsky hopes to inject the missing ingredient that he finds absent in much of modern American Jewish life -- God. When Jolkovsky interviewed young Jews who had intermarried or otherwise abandoned their Jewish commitment, he found a hollowness in them. Their experience of American Judaism had been bereft of the most joyful and rewarding aspects of the religion and heavy on politics and paranoia.

As Elliott Abrams (author of "Faith or Fear") and other critics of Jewish community life have noted, there is a strange lopsidedness to Jewish education. Many synagogues, youth groups and camps instill in their children the idea that Judaism is an outlook, not a religion. Many Jewish kids are raised to believe that the essence of Judaism is open-mindedness and liberality -- leading to the well-advertised "crisis of continuity" in which more than 50 percent of Jews are marrying people of other faiths and drifting away from Judaism.

Two other aspects of organized Jewish life, Jolkovsky believes, cry out for contradiction. One is the relentless focus on anti-Semitism. He regards the United States as the most "gracious, benevolent" nation the Jews have encountered in 3,000 years of turbulent history. To focus on anti-Semitism so aggressively in these circumstances seems like ingratitude. But beyond that, there is the question of what such a preoccupation does to Jews themselves. After all, if anti-Semitism is hiding under every rock, is that not an argument for apostasy rather than commitment?

His web site is designed to introduce Jews to the richness of their heritage -- a feast they might have missed even living in New York or Los Angeles. Most Jewish magazines and newspapers are struggling along with subscriber lists dominated by the over-65 crowd. Jewish World Review is aimed at younger people. At the click of a mouse, the site takes its customers from the Jews of China (believe it or not!) to the traditional prayers parents recite over children -- usually with a hand on each head -- on Sabbath evenings. All of the prayers are offered in Hebrew and English, along with English transliterations of the Hebrew.

There are rabbinical commentaries on the Torah portion of the week, ideas for games and arts and crafts for the children, advice for parents on food safety, recipes, reminiscences, interviews, holiday lore, stories, and even syndicated columns (including some by yours truly). But the heart of the web site and its raison d'etre is traditional Judaism: a God-centered life full of song, prayer, ritual and warmth. The "Dear Rabbi" column encompasses all of the most pressing spiritual issues people face -- the challenges of religious practice in the modern world, the pain of family tensions and the suffering and death of children.

Jolkovsky hopes the computer, that emblem of the 20th century, will help people rediscover enduring treasures from an earlier time.


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2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
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1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
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1/9/98: The Dead Era of Budget Deficits Rises Again?
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
12/30/97: The Spirit of Kwanzaa
12/26/97: Food fights (Games children play)
12/23/97: Does Clinton's race panel listen to facts?
12/19/97: Welcome to the Judgeocracy, where the law school elite overrules majority rule
12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.