The Column | We’re not just relics of the past

Klaudia Klimek is the kind of young activist any Jewish community would want. At 25, she has founded an online Jewish news site, she is president of a major Jewish organization in her city, she is working on her Ph.D. in Jewish studies and she flies all over the world to promote Jewish innovation.

Too bad she lives in Krakow.

Too bad not because Krakow is a bad place — quite the contrary. It’s a lovely, culturally vibrant city. But it’s in Poland, too far away for most American Jews to care about Klaudia or her dream of bringing the real story of Jewish life in Europe to the rest of world Jewry.

I heard Klaudia speak last month in Seattle at the annual conference of the American Jewish Press Association. She was given a half-hour slot right before lunch, which shrank to 10 minutes when the previous session ran over. I felt badly for her as she stood before the half-empty room of mostly middle-age editors of American Jewish newspapers, trying to explain — in English, not her native tongue — why they should care about a bunch of young Jews in Krakow, Kiev and beyond who are writing stories and posting videos about Jewish life in their cities.

“I was fed up with the image the foreign Jewish media puts out of Jewish life in Eastern Europe,” she said. “All you hear about is the ‘renaissance’ of Jewish life, or about anti-Semitic attacks. It’s the same narrative all the time.

“We are not just relics of the past. But in the imagination of Jews who left Europe, we are just the ‘Jews of Kazimiercz,’ dirty and poor.”

There’s much going on today in Jewish life east of the Elbe, and she wants to see it reflected. “I want to bring a fresh view to the American Jewish community, and give voice to the citizen journalists who know best what’s really happening.”

That’s why two years ago she created Jewrnalism.org, an ad-hoc news site populated by young Jews, unpaid and untrained, living in a handful of European cities. Now she’s trying to sell the content to the American Jewish press — and I mean “sell” in the metaphoric sense, because at least for now, she’s offering it for free, just to get it out there.

I saw people checking their watches. We’d been in workshops all morning.

Later I sat down with Klaudia on my own, and grew more and more impressed with this dynamic young woman who is pursuing her project despite  formidable logistical challenges.

Jewrnalism.org was launched in August 2011 as an incubated project at Paideia, a Jewish studies institute in Sweden, and receives fiscal sponsorship and technical assistance  from Jumpstart, an L.A.-based nonprofit that promotes Jewish innovation. Jewrnalism’s initial funding has dried up, so Klaudia told me she was on a monthlong American tour (sponsored by ROI Community, an initiative that supports next-generation Jewish innovation) to drum up more. All this while she runs the site, serves as president of the Krakow branch of the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland, sits in the European Jewish Parliament and works on her doctorate about the New York Times’ coverage of the Holocaust.

She hasn’t had much success with distribution. The L.A. Jewish Journal gives her blog space, and Klaudia has begun sending stories to other Jewish publications,  but it’s an uphill battle. While the concept is strong — young European Jews documenting their own experiences — the writing is hampered by the from-the-streets ethos she’s trying to promote. They need better translators, and for that, they need money.

“We made lots of mistakes,” she admitted, noting that the site’s original stable of 20 “citizen-journalists” has been pared down to six. “We are not professionals. Often the English is not up to par, or our stories are not of interest to Jews in the United States.”

That’s because they’re about Europe. It’s so sad watching a European intellectual confronting American parochialism for the first time.

Later, I checked out the site. In the past two months they’ve posted stories on Poland’s ban on ritual slaughter, a Muslim-Jewish conference in Sarajevo, the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem, Israeli tech entrepreneur Gal Friedman  and the disputed legacy of a Holocaust-era Ukrainian Jewish artist.

The English is awkward, but there’s a vibrancy and passion for Jewish life and ideas that should be part of the global Jewish conversation.

So don’t be surprised to see Klaudia’s writing, and that of her colleagues, in j. They have something to say.

Sue Fishkoff is the editor of j., and can be reached at [email protected]

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor emerita of J. She can be reached at [email protected].