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October 09, 1987 - Image 94

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-10-09

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

FOCUS

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Continued from preceding page

ed up talking about subjects that I love,
and having an impact—many dig directors
say more than half of their summer
volunteers come through Biblical Ar-
chaeology. But I'm still not speaking to
Jews. These other magazines are suc-
cessful, but I wanted a Jewish voice. And
really, there was only one available, and
that was Moment."
He doesn't reveal the details of his
takeover, but says that it involves an "ac-
quisition." It is generally assumed that he
took over the magazine simply by assum-
ing its debts, which were considerable. The
change in management was total; the
board of directors is now under Shanks'
control, and he has moved the magazine
from Boston to Washington.
"He made an offer, and I accepted it," ac-
cording to Leonard Fein, Moment's
founder and longtime editor. "Basically, I
agree with Edmund Wilson: no editorial
idea is worth more than ten years. So I
went over that by several years. You could
call it a case of battle fatigue."
Under his stewardship, Fein says, Mo-
ment succeeded in "establishing a more
thoughtful forum for Jewish discourse
than we'd had before. I think it made
Jewish conversation both fun and in-
telligent."
Fein declined to comment on the new for-
mat of the magazine, but he is clearly
proud of the political thread that ran
through his years at Moment. "It may not
have been as political as people think, but
the political content was strong and pro-
vocative, and that seems to be what peo-
ple remember."
Fein discounts reports that he was
unhappy with the impending change in
direction under Shanks. "I feel strongly
that any editor is entitled to put his own
thumbprint on the magazine he edits. In
fact, this is wise. Editorship is one of the
last bastions of autocracy in our society."
Under Shanks' direction, the new Mo-
ment will shed its intellectual image in
favor of a polished, highly illustrated
general-interest format. Shanks says that
the magazine will cover the whole range of
Jewish experience—Israel, American Jews,
the Bible, the Diaspora, food, and the catch-
all category that might be called "culture."
Shanks' other magazines give a clue to
the new Moment. Bible Review and
Biblical Archaeology Review are clearly
geared to the intelligent lay reader. The in-
formation is technical, but not forbidding.
"If there's one thing I've hung my success
on in my other magazines, it's my ability
to be specific and detailed without losing
the general reader," he says. "In a sense I
see myself as a translator; I can take scien-
tific and scholarly material and translate
it in a way that's engaging and understan-
dable to the layperson."
He will take much the same approach
with the new Moment. "I want it to be ac-
cessible to the lay person," he says. "What
I want to do is make first-rate scholarly
thinking and political thinking available to
a broader audience. But this doesn't mean
sparing them details, or talking down to
them, or making it pap; it just requires
good editing, good graphics, and a good

understanding of what you're trying to get
across."
He expects that one article in every issue
will focus directly on Israel. Not surpris-
ingly, he expects a good number of articles
on archaeology and the Bible. "Isn't it in-
teresting," he asks, "that no Jewish
magazine really covers these issues?"
The new Moment, he says, will not
shrink from controversial issues. As an ex-
ample, he cites an upcoming article about
rabbis who perform intermarriages, which
will run alongside a Reform rabbi's impas-
sioned explanation of why he refuses to
conduct such marriages. He also mentions
a letter he sent recently to Ivan Boesky.
"We offered him an opportunity to make
a statement to the Jewish community, to
whom he has caused acute embarrassment.
He's supposed to be a devoted, charitable
Jew. He has declined our invitation—but
we want people to know that."
It is this kind of variety, he says, that he
hopes will attract the large and varied au-
dience that the new Moment needs for its
survival.
The magazine will depend on direct mail
advertising for new subscribers, a tech-
nique that has worked well for his other

"In my other magazines, I
ended up talking about
subjects that I love,
and having an impact. . . But
I'm still not speaking to Jews."

publications. Shanks is currently attempt-
ing to pry loose mailing lists from the ma-
jor Jewish organizations—a process that
is meeting with mixed results. "There's a
tendency in the Jewish community to —
how shall I say it? — hug to their own
breasts what they have for fear that some-
one will take it from them. There are so
many people seeking support from the
Jewish community?'
Shanks is also hoping that synagogues
and other Jewish organizations will help
support the magazine through special pro-
motions and gifts.
By profession, Shanks may be a lawyer,
with an active interest in journalism, but
by temperament he is a salesman. In an in-
terview, he finds a way to turn almost
every question back to the issue of Mo-
ment's unique place in the publishing
world, and his hopes for energetic support
from the Jewish community.
And like many a salesman, he pleads for
support with a passion that is in part
based on the risks he faces in this perilous
enterprise, but also on his unshakable faith
in his product. It's difficult to discern
which aspect of his personality is
stronger—his energy as a promoter, or his
personal passion for the kind of accessible
intellectual journalism he expects to bring
to the pages of Moment.
What is clear is that he'll need both
qualities as he navigates through the
minefields of Jewish journalism. ❑

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