Letter from the (New) Editor

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February 26, 2013

Zeek is back.

After a stint of recalibrating, we’re rolling out a new incarnation of Zeek, and I’m both proud and a bit giddy to be taking over as editor in chief.

My biggest hope for Zeek? That our readers (you!) will find an online magazine that’s unlike any other — one that showcases the people, ideas and conversations driving an inclusive and diverse Jewish community. One that’s smart, progressive, and Jewish. The kind of magazine that engages people. Inspires action and innovation. Isn’t the least bit shy about rabble-rousing or kickstarting debate.

So here’s what to look for: an online magazine that’s unabashedly progressive, covers the vitality and voices of a growing movement, and profiles and promotes the ways Jews pursue justice in America. We’ll tell the kinds of stories that make clear and urgent the links between social justice and Judaism, while keeping a sense of humor.

From "Now Is Better, 2012." HD video, 1 min., 40 secs. In collaboration with Matthew and Erik Huber. © Sagmeister & Walsh.

“Six Things: Sagmeister & Walsh” opens at the Jewish Museum on March 15, 2013.

Social change is sociable. It can be fun, inspiring, and transformative, and Zeek will mirror this. We’ll focus on the positive. We’ll try new models/platforms at the intersection of journalism and Judaism, social media and social change, activism and art, engagement and collaboration, innovation and ingenuity. We’ll look to Upworthy, Good and Schlep Labs as models, along with mission-directed online magazines like Colorlines and the Frying Pan.

This means great writing in a variety of styles and voices, original thinking, and accessible content. Each week, we’ll feature three articles or posts, some short and snappy, others long and thoughtful, along with reviews, profiles, Q & As, analysis, roundups and more. Our focus will be national, our discourse civil, our content online only. We’ll integrate new tools to help make Zeek a gateway to real-time campaigns and a vital part of a growing movement. And as our capacity expands, we’ll include more reported pieces, info-graphics, visual storytelling, and multimedia offerings, revamp our website and expand our social media, events, outreach efforts.

At the same time, we’ll advance Zeek’s longtime mission to be a catalyst for conversations about the Jewish tomorrow. We’ll remain fiercely independent, while being grateful to the Forward for our online home, support and respect for Zeek’s complete editorial independence. And we’ll build on Zeek’s reputation for original, ahead-of-the-curve (award-winning) Jewish arts, culture and spirituality content, incubating emerging voices and artists, as well as established ones.

Grace Paley once said that the “only recognizable feature of hope is action.” It’s hard not to be awed by the breadth and depth of ways this hope manifests itself among American Jews. Personally, I have tremendous faith in all the people who engage with social justice through small choices or big actions, personal decisions or public campaigns across the entire United States. For so many, these acts are essential threads of Jewish identity. These are Zeek stories, from sacred to secular, Orthodox to Occupy Judaism.

The American Jewish community is ever-evolving. Founded in 2001, Zeek is the world’s oldest Jewish online magazine, pushing forward cutting-edge ideas, including special editions that reshaped the conversation on social justice, the healing movement (2010), the minyan movement (2007), and the food movement (2006), among others. Like so many of the issues and projects Zeek has advanced, these have morphed into mainstream aspects of the Jewish community, one that’s better for it. Consider how far the conversations around indie minyanim, the environment, labor practices, fair pay, economic justice, acceptance of difference have shifted.

Since then, our tools and technologies — including social media and crowdsourcing — have transformed the way our culture shapes and reshapes itself. We’ve seen independence as an ethos shift from being a rebellious act to being normalized. We don’t just seek solutions. We create them. We don’t just rage against the machine, we create the models we want to see mirrored. We reach out across party lines and personal practices, religious streams and race, economic divides and class differences, generations and genres to find ways to tackle problems as collaborators and allies, giving our actions greater depth and resonance. These are the stories we’ll tell, the conversations we want to kickstart, why we want Zeek to be a hub for the Jewish social justice community — more than a magazine, a platform for participation, education, engagement, one that celebrates the ways social justice is sociable.

Personally, I’m thrilled to be getting more involved with Zeek. It feels like the right time to bring together the stories of progressive Jews from around the country and to connect the dots between them — activists and communal professionals, artists and performers, journalists and poets, rabbis and congregants, organizers and philanthropists, unaffiliated Jews active in the progressive movement, chronic volunteers, policy wonks and design wizards, and, of course, secular, observant or spiritual seekers of every stripe.

Days before Hurricane Sandy, I committed to taking on Zeek. While nothing’s gone up on the site since, a lot has gone down. I’ve sat down with journalists and artists, leaders and activists, funders and do-gooders, my daughter turned 2, and I saw my city transformed into a disaster site while everyone from kosher soup kitchens, Reform congregations, to Occupy Judaism responded, proving how nimbly we can come together to mobilize in the face of urgent need (faster than a FEMA minute) while looking at long-term rebuilding and recovery, including pushing forward conversations around inequality and economic justice.

During this transition, I’ve been grateful for the support — and extreme menschiness, brilliance and generosity of spirit — of the Zeek board of directors (Jay Michaelson, Jo Ellen Green Kaiser and Steven M. Cohen), and to everyone who’s taken time to share insights, especially those who’ve agreed to be part of Zeek’s advisory board (new masthead coming soon). I’m grateful to so many of my former colleagues at Jewish Funds for Justice/Bend the Arc, National Council of Jewish Women and (in even more ancient history) the Forward for helping me hone my skills and understand how strategies for change complement each other, and for bearing with me while I’ve learned that some of the most valuable lessons about leadership have to do with personal practices like sustainability, mindfulness, and patience. And to family, friends, and allies who have let me pick their brains to a pulp. And of course, I’m grateful to everyone who’s shaped Zeek, giving me food for thought for a dozen years, and now this exciting opportunity.

So really, this is a longwinded way of asking for you to be active participant in Zeek’s latest incarnation. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll do a little happy dance (but not a Zeek take on the Harlem Shake) every time you read, share, comment, collaborate, #TweetforZeek, like, donate, submit story ideas or reach out to get more involved. Please do!

Erica Brody , Incoming Editor in Chief, Zeek

PS: Help us celebrate this new incarnation of Zeek with a much-appreciated tax-deductible online donation via our fiscal sponsor, the Foundation for Jewish Culture.

PPS: There will likely be some kinks, especially in the first couple weeks as my learning curve smooths out.

ZEEK is presented by The Jewish Daily Forward | Maintained by SimonAbramson.com