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Jewish World Review
Dec. 29, 2010
/ 22 Teves, 5771
How Did This Happen?
Last time I checked my royalty statement, the smallest monthly payment listed (none of them is large) came from a website called Jewish World Review. And yet I'd guess that fully half the out-of-state responses to my syndicated column come from those who read it on JWR. It seems to attract kibitzers without regard to race, creed, color, national origin or general disposition.
For the few who still haven't heard of it, JewishWorldReview.com is a cozy little website that over the years has grown into a full, even encyclopedic, collection of conservative American opinion of every variety. The way a little pushcart, if its owner has enough gumption, and enough of a work ethic, can develop into a department store.
By now JWR's exhaustive inventory of conservative columnists extends from those so far to starboard they're about to fall overboard to the kind still open to the best of -- dare I say it? -- liberal ideas.
In short, or rather long, if you're looking for a handy-dandy compendium of opinionations of the dextral variety, JWR's got it -- not just on sale but compliments of the management. From A to Z. That is, from Albom, Mitch, to Zuckerman, Mort.
How did all this happen? There's a two-word explanation: Binyamin Jolkovsky. He's the former rabbinical student who started it, runs it, and even though it's a veritable empire of opinion by now, still manages to give it the cozy feel of the little bookstore around the corner.
How he does it -- editing, advertising-and-promoting. staying in touch with readers and contributors alike, the whole schmeer -- I have no idea. Except maybe by staying at it 48 hours a day. I worry about his health.
All I know is that when I get his e-mails, they inevitably seem to have been sent out in the middle of the night, like messages from the resistance. In this case, resistance to the received opinion handed down at properly leftish schools and universities. Not only didn't the indoctrination take in his case, he seems to have developed (and still displays) a severe reaction to any and all politically correct buncombe.
How, I asked him, did a nice Jewish boy become such a conservative? The answer, as any true conservative would know, lies in history, in this case his own.
To begin with, family. His father was from St. Louis, went to college in Texas, served in the war -- the Second World one -- and then went to work for the Defense Department. It seems to run in the family, this attachment to America and Americanism. Oh, what connections a little personal history will reveal.
His mother was born in Atlanta and sold clothes for a chain store. Her claim to fame was that she'd waited on Coretta King, and would stash away bargains for Mrs. King. (She knew the Kings weren't rich and, more relevant, she knew all the family's sizes by heart.) Yes, what interconnections a little personal history reveals.
Setting out to become a rabbi, young Binyamin immersed himself in the intense schedule of one highly regarded yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) after another. Prayers started at 7 in the morning, study sessions would end at 10:30 at night or exhaustion, whichever came later. But he got the political bug early. What spare time he could carve out was spent reading political journals of all complexions -- from, left to right, The Nation to National Review.
His religious studies, far from immunizing him from an interest in matters political, seemed only to intensify it. Talmudic commentaries from across the centuries -- a chapter from Babylon, another from Poland, ranging across time and eternity -- struck him as dealing with remarkably contemporary subjects.
It seems the ancient sages, too, were engrossed in questions of medical ethics (life vs. death) and legal principles (when and why may a long-standing precedent be overturned?). The rabbis even speculated about journeys to other planets, or at least about what religious obligations such a possibility would impose on earthlings.
Our young yeshiva student's political convictions were only reinforced by the disdain with which they were met once he enrolled in a public university. He found that he had most in common politically not with his fellow Jews but Christian students, who not only tolerated his views, but encouraged him to express them.
As for Jews of the secular variety, their tolerance seemed to stop at any idea that smacked of religious belief. And their political consciousness with the Democratic Party platform. As a sociologist once pointed out, American Jews tend to live like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans.
Young Jolkovsky's experience on campus was far from unique in conservative annals. It goes back at least to a young William F. Buckley's response in "God and Man at Yale," his first best-seller. Hell hath no condescension like a liberal spurned, and there are few better ways to produce a reactionary than by giving him a lot of liberal dogma to react against.
Next to the proliferation of conservative think tanks over the past few decades, nothing has done more to encourage the revival of conservative thought in this country than tenured liberals' domination of the academy, the way sitting ducks might be said to dominate a lake. Who couldn't resist the temptation to take a few potshots at such inviting targets?
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Here's what sealed Our Hero's determination to do something different in political journalism: He came to realize not only the desirability of having people of faith, whatever that faith, express their values in the marketplace of ideas, but the necessity of it if American opinion was to be fully representative of this ever-swirling admixture of a society.
Mr. Jolkovsky made the usual stops for an up-and-coming conservative opinionator. He was at the Heritage Foundation for a while. Then came a productive spell at the Forward, the English-language descendant of the storied old Yiddish daily, under a talented editor named Seth Lipsky. (Mr. Lipsky gave the Forward a brief respite from its kneejerk liberalism, but he didn't -- and couldn't -- stay there long. He was much too open to conservative ideas.)
Then one day, when the Internet was still in its infancy, before it became the way we all live now, our young visionary decided to start one of these newfangled things called a website. He hoped it would give old principles a new hearing, win friends and influence people. Which is just what it's done.
It's been 13 years since Binyamin Jolkovsky launched his little website, which is no longer so little. It gets hundreds of thousands of clicks a month. I hope he'll consider today's column a bar mitzvah card.
Paul Greenberg Archives
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