Reading, Writing, and a New Periodical For the Jewish Home
The badchan at Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter’s wedding observed that the choson had learned in Satmar, Vien, Brisk and Lakewood, whose roshei teivos (sovel) indicated that he was a man of tolerance. Many people would regard serial immersions in such different cultures as equivalent to jumping rapidly between the hot mikvah in Boro Park and the frigid one. Thinking about it is enough to give people a migraine. Yitzchok Frankfurter (YF), however, found it exhilarating – and it shaped the mission statement of the new Orthodox glossy that is moving into markets across America and Canada.
Together with his wife, Rechy, he runs Ami from a non-descript building in Brooklyn’s frum heartland. Waiting for my wife to conclude last-minute preparations before the chasuna of our son, I battled traffic and impatience to meet them in person. They had both been with Mishpacha prior to starting their own publication. I had dealt many times with Rechy in the past. I had become a strong fan; it is hard not to be overwhelmed by a mother of seven who personally presided over multiple sections of a large weekly, sends you emails at 2AM, and brought a level of technical and literary excellence to Mishpacha unmatched in the haredi world. I wanted to meet this powerhouse, and she graciously consented to an interview with herself and her husband.
The main Situation Room at Ami is what you imagine the newsroom of a busy metropolitan daily to be like, just on a smaller scale. It is awash in so much adrenalin, you want to put on boots to wade through it. Much of the exuberance is communicated by the Frankfurters themselves, who preside over the madness with smiles and patience. Their charm and warmth are irresistible. It is impossible not to take an instant liking to them.
YF’s varied educational background may have opened him up to the value of difference and diversity under the big tent of Torah Judaism, but it was Yerushalayim itself that had the greatest impact upon him. There he could observe and learn to appreciate the different groups that lived side by side with each other. Rather than choose one over the rest, he decided to identify with the entire demographic cholent. Shouldn’t this city be the model for Jews around the world, who ought to learn to appreciate the contributions and styles of multiple subgroups? He was impressed by a vort of the Kaliver Rebbe, shlit”a, who said that although Klal Yisrael crossed the Yam Sof through twelve different paths, what separated them was transparent. Despite their separation, they stayed aware of and in sight of each other.
What should we expect of Ami Magazine? First of all, said YF, faithfulness to that image. He wants Ami to celebrate all the flavors and streams of Orthodox Judaism. It will go further in its inclusiveness than others, he pledges. It will not do so from a sectarian position, i.e., endorsing one brand while gingerly exploring some others. Furthermore, he believes that good, intelligent writing will sell. Citing Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s success, he argues that crisp, sharp writing can and will be a bridge to people outside the Orthodox community, even without pandering or diluting our own values.
Some of us, myself included, believe that one of the most damaging and stultifying features in parts of the Orthodox world is the insistence upon monolithic uniformity. Diversity of opinion and viewpoint is simply not recognized by many institutions, with horrible effect upon many people. YF’s promise is a significant one. Delivering on it could provide the breathing space that some people are gasping for, choking on the fumes of intolerable Sameness. His track record at Mishpacha gives us reason to be optimisitic. While at Mishpacha, he was responsible for two of the most controversial articles in contemporary haredi publication: positive treatments of Rav Hershel Schachter, shlit”a, and of Chabad shluchim. Ami will be well worth the trouble if he can open up more of us to the contributions of Torah Jews outside of our personal universes. (The magazine has not yet reached Los Angeles, so I cannot yet judge its success. Inquiring of my NY relatives, they all argued that Ami did seem to take both openness as well as graphic design to the next level up.)
One article that we are not going to see in Ami has a dividend for concerned parents – a story about the Frankfurters themselves. You seldom meet two spouses so equally passionate (and capable) about the very same pursuit. Both Yitzchok and Rechy love writing, and love making good writing available to others. Neither one converted the other to the cause; each developed it independently, yet under similar circumstances. That both of them did this while living well within the Satmar community makes them even more remarkable.
Neither of them has any formal higher education – no degree, no courses taken on the sly. They did not attend schools noted for the rigor of their secular education. Native ability clearly is a component of their achievement, but not the entire explanation of their success. It was their parents encouraging them to read that actualized their potential – and compensated for what they did not get in the classroom.
YF says that he loved writing as a child, and began writing in Hebrew before he tried his hand at English. His parents- and some rabbeim – encouraged his habit. He read voraciously. Rechy reports that her home was fully a Satmar experience, although pushing the margins a bit. The New York Times was part of her growing up, and she used to camp out at the public library, with her parents’ permission. The Frankfurters did not turn their backs on this flexibility, extending it into the next generation A married daughter edits one of the several weekly sections of the magazine.
Many of our parents quietly agonize over the abysmal standards of general education in our schools. They would not even consider trading away some of the passion for Torah that is nurtured in the schools to which they send their children, in return for a better secular education. Yet they still worry about their kids’ futures, and wonder why schools could not offer excellence all around. The example of the Frankfurters should offer them some comfort. No secular skills are as important as verbal skills, and children can make huge strides if their appetite for reading is encouraged by guided visits to the library. (Some of us can even recall Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky’s zt”l encouraging parents to regularly take their children to the public library.)
We can wish the Frankfurters well in their new undertaking, but much of their contribution has already been made simply by their example, and the hope that they can offer parents who must compensate for what their schools are unwilling or unable to offer.
The example of the Frankfurters should offer them some comfort. No secular skills are as important as verbal skills, and children can make huge strides if their appetite for reading is encouraged by guided visits to the library. (Some of us can even recall Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky’s zt”l encouraging parents to regularly take their children to the public library.)
While this may be true, it seems to offer false hope to your average yid. Every society has its autodidacts and gifted athletes, but to hold out hope that the percieved shortcomings of a system will be solved for one’s children (and this is about all children, not the exceptions) in this manner, is imho a painkiller, not a solution. Better imho to say the system works as designed to accomplish the will of hkb”h, we have to live with the percieved shortcoming;, or try to change the system.
I too was impressed by the positive treatment of R Herschel Schacter. (Personal note: try identifying all the students pictured gathered around the Rav ztl in the article.) However, the ability to deal with modern orthodoxy in its own terms is something yet to be exhibited. Satmar, Vien, Brisk and Lakewood are not quite the entire tent. As you note, Jerusalem is a broader place; going from a shiur at Pardes to a tisch in Geula with shiurim at a number of places along the way, I continue to wish we were more united.
After a relative left a copy of Ami on our coffee-table last week, i was yet to be convinced and given the demographics of the audience, I remain skeptical of who will make it into the tent and how completely they will be described; what is omitted in any article is also note-worthy. Let’s hope the subsequent issues mature with success; target – market realities cannot be discounted and even more so early-on.
How can we get a sample copy or subscribe?
[YA – You can find subscription information here: http://www.amimagazine.org/Ami.html ]
“the positive treatment of R Herschel Schacter’ led to a backlash and the depature of the Frankfurters from Mishpacha.
““the positive treatment of R Herschel Schacter’ led to a backlash and the depature of the Frankfurters from Mishpacha.”
That sounds juicy, yet inaccurate. I am fairly confident there are no details to offer on this speculation, as there is no meat to it.
So far I have liked what I have seen in the main portion of the new magazine except in one key area, medical/health reporting. In a community that takes health issues seriously this is not a minor responsibility. Therefore I have been extremely disappointed to see an extreme bias towards alternate medicine and a tendency towards belittling the general medical community. I think our community deserves fact based medical reporting instead of unverified anecdotes. The stories of a woman in Australia nursing her dead baby back to life and the idolizing of a woman in Monsey who refuses to vaccinate her children are not what our community needs. My wife is hesitant to even allow the magazine in our house as a result of these stories. If their fact based reporting is so weak in this area, how do we know it is any better in other areas?
I disagree with ‘dr. bill. I think there is a move to widen the tent so to speak, but it will be in more subtle ways. For example in last weeks issue there was an article about singles living in NYC and I was happy to see a nice mention of a number of modern orthodox shuls and neighborhoods in Manhattan. I have never seen mention of an MO shul in the competing magazine.
asked Mishpacha.Joe Hill is right.
Have there been any issues which detail the lives of any gedolim who don’t wear black hats during the week? If so, I’d be very interested in buying copies of said issues.
Why would you not want to read the issues about “Gedoli who wear black during the week”? Do you have a bias against balck wearing gedolim? If you wanted to read about gedolim it should make no difference, otherwise you are showing a bias at least as great as you are implying exists at these publications.
Perhaps this explains the comment offered by Mr. Oberstien. A rush to pass negative judgment on a publication or institution that self identifies as chareidi by those who exclude themselves from the chareidim.
I agree that the differences are not spelled out but fairly subtle. They had a few issues with therapists as subjects which is definitely the typical subject. I would like more articles with achdus. Practically speaking, it’s going to be difficult to stick to their mandate when the world is becoming more and more narrow and close minded but I commend them from trying to bring more achdus between groups.
I find that many publications attempt to include everyone but in practice their reporting ends up giving a skewed picture that looks a lot more homogeneous than it really is. Improvements have come but it takes time and you risk a lot of backlash.
It’s very much like how the color black has become so prevalent in women’s clothing. We need to bring back the colors, both in clothing and in recognition that we’re one people but with different groups and different minhagim and an embracing of the wonderful diversity we have. There should be a way to do this without one’s own identity and hashkafa being threatened or compromised.
Ami is a great magazine so far. Maybe couples like the Frankfurters, who “beat the system” by self-educating themselves, will influence the current yeshiva system and parent body to provide a solid secular education to the average chassidish/yeshivish yeshiva boy. In todays economy, education is no more a plus, it is a vital necessity.
Mishpacha is not allowed into my house. We think it is worse than the Internet, in the same way that a non-kosher Jewish school is somehow worse than a goyishe school. The Internet you know you have to filter and block images. Mishpacha pretends you don’t. But you do. Underneath all the stories about how Mashiach is really just around the corner beats the magazine’s real message: gashmiut, buy me now, must have this…It is a direct attack on our lives in kosher clothing.
“the hope that they can offer parents who must compensate for what their schools are unwilling or unable to offer”.
The average child is not supplied with basic and necessary skills (verbal and writing ability, science and historical facts, civics, work ethics, etc.) to survive in the world of today outside of the ‘self-imposed’ ghettos.
Ami Magazine is well-written, interesting and information, to say that it has opened its doors to the diversity in Judaism (how? by interviewing Rabbi Genack) is quite an OVER statement. On a personal level, if both editors have basked in an all-inclusive Satmar background, I would imagine that understanding, comprehending and appreciating those of American lineage, connected to the Young Israel/OU movement would be difficult to say the least.
I guess the advantage the charedi press has over the others is that the more isolated a group is , the less they read the other papers. Hamodia is huge, the Jewish Press is not huge. Why? Hamodia readers get all their news from a frum site, JP readers, Jewish Action readers,Jewish Week readers, also get their news from non filtered, non scrutinized for inappropriate news sources. There is a fiction that the fum public will believe and accept only what is written in the approved news sources. I think that this is wishful thinking on the askanim’s parts. Everyone knows if there is a juicy machlokes or scandal ,even if the authorized media ignore it. From time to time, there is even a broadsheet condeming a certain web site or frum newspaper because it didn’t toe the line, but I wonder how effective the bans are. In other words, frum journalism operates on two levels, the paper you let into your house and admit to reading and the other sources of news that are more discreet.