A Note from the Publisher: The Bridge is Now Completed

Dec. 23, 2020

The Canadian Jewish Record was born at a fraught time in the history of Canadian Jewish journalism. Our lofty goal in April 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, was to be a bridge between the recently shuttered Canadian Jewish News and its hoped-for return.

Despite nay-sayers who predicted that our fledgling news/opinion service would stand little chance of success, we persevered and became exactly what we strived for: An outlet for Canadian Jews to receive information of Jewish interest, news that touched both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, and opinion from all sides of the Jewish thinking world.

We did all this, as they say, on a hope and a prayer. A few Jewish philanthropists donated some start-up funds. We developed a utilitarian but ultimately well-liked platform, and then began to ask Canadian Jewish journalists, many of whom were out of work because of COVID, if they would write for us…pro bono. And without hesitation, many did.

Some of the top names in Canadian Jewish journalism gave of their time and considerable talent to help create and sustain the CJR. Co-founder Ron Csillag (I was the other) took on the onerous responsibility of editor. He worked tirelessly, up to nine hours a day, to make sure our content read professionally, was properly edited, and error free. He assigned stories, sought out commentators, got pitches almost daily, and dealt with spokespeople, flacks, and the odd irate reader.

Zack Babins was our techie. He ensured that our daily allotment of stories and columns were posted to our website and on social media, and did so with unfailing good cheer. Zack was also among our stable of new young writers who gave the CJR a fresh tone. More on this later.

Barbara Silverstein used her vast knowledge of food and cooking to produce one of the most popular items on our site: a weekly blog that highlighted recipes, often timed to coincide with Jewish holidays, and goings-on in the worlds of local eateries, world-class chefs, and cooking classes.

Michael Marmur of Pinpoint National Photography was our photo editor. He ensured that every picture you saw on our site was fresh, crisp and uniform. Irv Osterer was our talented graphics editor who designed our unique banner and all other sketches and graphic illustrations.

Carol Elman helped balance the books. Her competency with numbers and dollars kept us in the plus column, while lawyer Jordan Cohen took care of legal affairs, ensuring that i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.

Suanne Kelman, retired from 21 years of teaching at Ryerson University’s journalism department, and Josh Tapper, a former reporter for the Toronto Star, currently completing a PhD, rounded out our editorial board with sage advice.

And then there were our columnists. It’s no secret that Jews are rarely speechless, and our opinion writers covered the waterfront – left, right and centre. They included well-known writers and pundits like Dahlia Lithwick of Slate and MSNBC fame; Canadian columnist Andrew Cohen; and McGill University professor and international pundit Gil Troy.

It was unavoidable that some readers would decry the opinions the CJR carried (but did not necessarily endorse). Other praised us for opening the opinion pages to a diverse array of viewpoints – refreshing for a Jewish publication, but frankly easier if there are no donors or advertisers to offend.

That was the other thing: The CJR did not have advertising to clutter the site. We made an early decision not to accept any, despite synagogues, organizations and even governments seeking to advertise. Monetizing the site was not in the cards.

One of the really beautiful aspects of the CJR was the chances it gave to young and aspiring writers. The opportunity to submit one’s own creations to a professional editor and become published for the first time can make young hearts sing. Old ones, too.

Speaking of singing, one of our most popular columns was “On the Record” by David Eisenstadt, who provided deep dives into the worlds of often little-known Canadian Jewish musicians.

“Rabbinic Reflections” from Ilana Krygier Lapides was one of our more popular regular reads. By the time you read this, Ms. Lapides will be days away from being ordained as Rabbi Lapides.

Many of our weekly editorials were reprinted in other Jewish publications, as well as the National Post and the Toronto Star.

Much gratitude to each and everyone who made the CJR their success and gave Canadian Jewry news, opinion and information during a very difficult time. It was a labour of love and a deep chesed, an experiment that could only happen in a Jewish community like Canada’s.

It was a good run and we are all proud of the part we played keeping Jewish news and opinions alive. As we hoped, The CJN has returned. The bridge work is done and we can finally rest. We wish CJN editor Yoni Goldstein and his team hatzlacha, and hope that some of those who found their Jewish writing chops in the CJR will find a new home at the CJN.

We are indeed all Am Yisroel. We thank you for joining us on this journey and look forward to reading the new CJN with you.

– Bernie Farber

Canadian Jewish News Returns Next Month

Dec. 14, 2020

The Canadian Jewish News is returning, again, starting in January.

The CJN plans a comeback beginning next month, but with no weekly print edition in the works. A new direction is planned.

“It’s going to be a lot more multifaceted,” promised Bryan Borzykowski, the new president of the board of directors.

Bryan Borzykowski
Bryan Borzykowski

The flagship weekly newspaper and its website folded in April amid declining advertising revenues, with the COVID pandemic’s economic fallout providing the final nail in the coffin.

The CJN’s demise left Canada’s estimated 390,000 Jews – the fourth, possibly third largest Jewish community in the world – without a national voice.

The Canadian Jewish Record went online in May to serve as a national outlet for Jewish news and commentary during The CJN’s absence.

It was the second time The CJN went under. The paper folded in 2013 but revived after a groundswell of community support. Yoni Goldstein became editor in early 2014. He will continue in that role.

Yoni Goldstein
Yoni Goldstein

“Before the closure, we had been talking about revamping the website and e-newsletter, and Yoni was already doing some interesting things with podcasts,” said Borzykowski, a Winnipeg-based business journalist and consultant who wrote a campus column for The CJN when he was 19.

“But the fact that it went on hiatus allows us to speed a lot of the previous plans up. Now we can start with a clean slate.”

With the traditional media model increasingly a relic, content these days “is wide-ranging and you have to meet people where they are,” Borzykowski said.

That will translate into podcasts, electronic newsletters, a website, video, events, and even print – not a newspaper, but more in-depth, twice annual magazines at Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

There may even be forays into books. The CJN, working with the Lola Stein Institute, put out a coffee table book, Northern Lights, around the time the paper shut down.

Plans call for a new website in the next few months, though the old one may be used for content in the meantime, Borzykowski said.

It will be a slower, careful re-launch.

“While we have big plans, we’re also not busting out of the gate in the first week of January,” Borzykowski said. “We’re thinking of ourselves as a startup in a way, with a more nimble and entrepreneurial staff.”

There is a fresh board of directors and new donors; Borzykowski won’t say how much money is on the table. The publication is speaking to foundations for support, and a major breakthrough came when The CJN was granted charitable status, meaning donations will be tax-deductible.

Fundraising will be a bigger part of The CJN’s culture, Borzykowski said.

Another revenue generator will be advertising.

“We are looking forward to developing relationships with advertisers that grow as we do,” Goldstein told the CJR, “and to making the case for why advertising in The CJN is a sound business and community investment.”

The CJN will also explore creating sponsored content for various parts of the network, such as branded podcasts, video, and articles.

Apart from surviving financially, a vexing issue for any Jewish publication has been finding the balance between catering to loyal, often older readers, and appealing to younger ones and to those outside major urban centres.

The re-launched CJN will “definitely” want to reach a younger as well as more national audience, said Borzykowski, with focus beyond the Toronto-Montreal corridor.

“We want to talk to people in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and smaller towns where Jews may not have an opportunity to be as connected to Jewish culture as they would like to be, and may not even know they want to be,” he said. “We will reach younger readers through the content we create. This iteration will still report on serious issues, but we’ll be more fun, too.”

The founders of the CJR, publisher Bernie Farber and editor Ron Csillag, a former CJN reporter, never intended it to become permanent. The website was meant as a bridge to The CJN’s eventual return, and the two publications will likely work together in the future.

The CJR did not accept advertising, was free, and completely volunteer-driven.

“The CJR was a Canadian Jewish communal tzedakah experiment that demonstrated the love and longing that Jews have one another,” stated Farber. “All of us worked on behalf of community to keep us together during a very difficult time, and it was done from the heart and soul. We welcome back The CJN and look forward to a cooperation that will be a credit to the entire Jewish community.”

The eight months since The CJN’s shuttering “have shown just how much Canadian Jews miss The CJN,” Goldstein said. “I’m looking forward to reviving that connection, and building lots of new ones. And I’m determined to do so in a way that will be sustainable for the long run.”

The CJN “will once again be the go-to source for Canadian Jews when it comes to community news, diverse, insightful commentary from across the Jewish spectrum, arts, religion, food and culture. I expect there will be plenty of surprises along the way, too. That’s the fun part.”