A Letter From Our Publisher

Dear Sh’ma subscriber,

You are the reason we do what we do. Over the 40+ years Sh’ma has been publishing, the payoff has always been engaging with you on your Jewish journey. So, first and foremost, we want to say: thank you.

I am writing now because Sh’ma is embarking upon some major changes – changes that embody the possibility of a vibrant, more impactful future – and, as a loyal digital subscriber, we want to share these with you in advance. We also want to let you know that as an outgrowth of these changes, beginning in March 2015, Sh’ma will be taking a break from its normal publication schedule. Our goal is to re-launch a new, more far-reaching Sh’ma around the High Holidays next year. Our vision, building on our time-tested core strength as a curator of pluralistic Jewish content, is todevelop a new tool, Tabletalk by Sh’ma, that blends both content and experience – at once authentic, meaningful, and truly unique in the contemporary Jewish media landscape.

More about that shortly. First, some background.

As you probably know, Sh’ma published its first issue in 1970. The journal has survived extraordinary changes in the media marketplace over the past 44 years, and, while it has been tweaked at the edges, it remains remarkably similar in shape and form to its earliest iterations under Rabbi Eugene Borowitz. We are today what we have always been: a Jewish, theme-based publication, singularly committed to pluralism as represented by the idea of elu v e’lu, both these and these are the words of God.

Several years ago, working with a top researcher at USC, we commissioned a reader survey that told us in no uncertain terms what we had come to suspect: our subscribers’ reading habits were changing as rapidly as the world around us. Many readers told us that, while they truly valued Sh’ma as a fair and honest curator of wide-ranging, diverse Jewish ideas, they no longer read it the way they once did. The very notion of a “deep dive” ten times a year, they shared, was increasingly out of step with the way they consumed media in the digital age.

This prompted a period of soul-searching at Sh’ma. (Both internally and publicly; see, for instance, this article about our charted path in eJewishPhilanthropy: http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/updating-a-deep-dive/.) In the end, instead of simply slogging along with our heads in the sand or making snap judgments about digital versus print, we opted for a more thoughtful yet radical path. We decided we are going to try to take the best of what we have always been and re-imagine Sh’ma for the Jewish era and digital age we are all living in today.

Our approach to this work has been, we believe, quite unique. Not content to just give our best guess as to what the future Sh’ma might look like, we decided to work with a world-class team employing the most current “design thinking” to ideate our new vision. That is, we are building low-fidelity prototypes, putting them before our various audiences, learning all we can about what does and doesn’t work, and refining our model based on real data “from the field.” Our goal is to find the sweet spot between what we do best and what the Jewish community – including select institutional partners – wants and needs. It’s a very energizing proposition for the Sh’ma team!

If you are interested in receiving mockups of our prototypes as they are developed (before they are unveiled to the public-at-large), please email us at OptInShma@Cambeywest.com.  We’d love to keep you in our loop as we move through our development process!

Because this reinvention is so completely immersive, and because the Sh’ma staff is so small, it requires our full time and attention. It also necessitates the interruption of our normal production schedule. We simply can’t reimagine the journal while also soliciting new manuscripts, editing, working with writers and bloggers, and keeping to monthly publication deadlines. It is for this reason that the February issue on “chosenness” is the last we can guarantee at this time.

If you have thoughts or questions, I’d personally love to hear from you. Please email me at jrolnick@shma.com.


Josh Rolnick