It’s been two years since we last checked in with Binyamin L. Jolkovsky, editor-in-chief of JewishWorldReview.com – two years during which he’s added new columnists, broken important stories, and seen JWR finish first in two “favorite website” polls of Monitor readers.
In a Jewish Press profile in 2002, JWR was characterized as “chock full of timely, intelligent and provocative insight from internationally recognized columnists, essayists, rabbis and communal leaders…read daily by a large, eclectic mix of academics, politicians, journalists and just plain folk with hearty appetites for knowledge and information.”
That description still stands, as does the observation that Jolkovsky somehow manages to oversee his vast project (JWR’s roster of editorial contributors now numbers more than 200) on a shoestring budget and at considerable financial sacrifice.
Incredible as it may seem, Jolkovsky – despite being lauded by the likes of radio titans Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and profiled or cited by a slew of publications including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe – only recently was able to start paying himself a salary, albeit one he says he’d never accept were he working for someone else.
What makes Jewish World Review unique in the Internet universe is the way it defies easy categorization. Heavy on political commentary, the site also devotes a great deal of space to reflective first-person accounts, lifestyle features, and articles on all aspects of Judaism – from the intricacies of Jewish law to the fundamentals of holiday observance.
JWR’s regular readers include political leaders and Capitol Hill staffers as well as print- and electronic-media journalists and producers. (Jolkovsky has appeared on numerous nationally-syndicated radio talk shows and on various Fox, MSNBC and local television news programs.)
“JWR really serves as a bridge between secular and religious, Jew and non-Jew,” says Jolkovsky, who has turned down several offers from Orthodox publications interested in hiring him as a consultant based on his success with Jewish World Review. “Should a proposal come along that I thought was doable, I might reconsider,” he says, though he admits it would be a difficult decision given the reality that JWR functions as a one-person operation.
Jolkovsky routinely get calls and e-mails from editors and reporters working on stories that require them to get the Jewish nuances just right. Just recently he was contacted by a nationally syndicated radio personality who was scheduled to appear before an Orthodox group and wanted background information on what to say.
He also hears from traditional-minded Americans who tell him that they’d never realized there are Jews who believe in G-d and champion biblical values.
And then there are the unaffiliated and searching Jews who reach out to Jewish World Review for advice and assistance: the Jewish mother whom Jolkovsky convinced to give her son a bris; the woman in her 90’s from Texas who’d just discovered she was Jewish and wished to learn more about Judaism; the dozens of people who each year respond to JWR’s offer to find a Passover seder for Jews who are traveling or otherwise unable to find one on their own.
It’s this outreach and educational aspect of JWR that Jolkovsky finds particularly fulfilling, says web developer Yitzchak Relkin (Relkin.com), who’s helped Jolkovsky with technical matters almost from the beginning.
“Binyamin had a vision about the power of the Internet in reaching Jews,” Relkin adds, “and the fruits of that vision are evident in the e-mails that constantly arrive from all over the world.”
The one abiding frustration for Jolkovsky is Jewish World Review’s tight financial fix, which on several occasions has forced him to consider shutting down the website.
“That we’ve managed to survive, and to win accolades along the way, can’t help but make me wonder how much more we could be doing with some real financial backing,” he says.