Blog offers a hip attitude as well as general information.
Leora Maccabee, left, and Emily Cornell. Maccabee and Cornell have started a blog for young, professional Jews who have lost touch with with their faiith and are looking to reconnect. "People our age join gyms, not synagogues," said Maccabee, a 26-year-old lawyer.
Rosh Hashanah started at sundown last night, so what's a young Jew supposed to do today?
It's not a rhetorical question to Leora Maccabee. The 26-year-old Minneapolis lawyer has launched a blog aimed at helping young Jews find their way through a religion that many have lost touch with.
"People my age join gyms, not synagogues," she said. "That's why we're starting this with the high holidays, because so many of the people of my generation are confused about what the holidays involve."
The blog, www.tcjewfolk.com, mixes nuts-and-bolts info with a cheeky attitude. An article on how someone who lives in an apartment can make a sukkah (a temporary structure used during the Sukkot holiday) is followed by one titled: "10 ways to stay awake during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services."
Maccabee is the blog's editor-in-chief and Emily Cornell is the managing editor. For now, that's the entire staff. Their office is wherever they can find a Wi-Fi connection.
"We meet over wine or coffee," said Cornell, also 26 and an account manager for a company in Eagan. "It helps that we're really good friends. We'd probably be getting together, anyway."
Although they have a wish list that includes finding a "techie geek" to help oversee the website, the biggest challenge they face is walking the line between being hip and being respectful.
"The two of us make for good balance," Maccabee said. "I'm always saying, 'Hey, let's try this.' And Emily is always saying, 'Let's make sure we don't offend people.'"
Part of demonstrating their sincerity will be recruiting guest writers from established institutions. The first to agree to weigh in was Vic Rosenthal, executive director of Jewish Community Action, who wrote a commentary on the high holidays.
Blogging is not his preferred medium, he said, but he appreciates its importance.
"It's clear to me that, more and more, this is what young people look for," he said. "We consider this [blog] to be legitimate, and we want to try to do something to help."
Showing the way
Maccabee points to one of the blog's first entries as an example of what she hopes it will accomplish. "Don't let ticket costs stop you" was the headline on a piece listing where students and other young Jews could get free or reduced-price tickets for Rosh Hashanah services.
Most non-Jews "don't realize it, but tickets to high holiday services at some synagogues can cost $150 to $250," she said. "Where are you supposed to go if you can't afford to pay that much? People in their 20s look at that and say, 'I'll just stay home.' But you don't have to do that."
She found nearly 20 synagogues that offer discounts to people under 30. The fact that only a few young Jews know about them validates the need for the blog, she said.
"The synagogues are really interested in getting young people in their doors," Maccabee said. "They just don't know how to get the word out to them. They put notices in their newsletters or the American Jewish World [newspaper], but most people my age don't see those."
The blog entry was followed by comments from several readers who said how much they appreciated the information. It's those responses that give Maccabee and Cornell the energy boost they need to work on the blog after they've put in full days at their respective offices.
"We get pumped up by that," Cornell said.
The blog was launched in a test form the first week of August and officially inaugurated Sept. 2. It's averaging 1,000 visitors a day, not an impressive number by Internet standards, but noteworthy when you factor in that "we've done virtually nothing to get the word out," Maccabee said.
"We're also hitting our sweet spot" in terms of the target audience, Cornell said. "Almost all of our users are between 20 and 40, with an even split between male and female."
Maccabee sees a potential audience of 10,000.
"There are no concrete figures" on the population of young Jews in the metro area, she said. "We know there are 45,000 Jews total, so saying that 10,000 of them are our age seems like a safe guess."
They'd also like to reach out to transplanted Minnesotans who want to keep up on what's happening here, but so far they're having trouble getting their articles linked to Internet search engines (hence, the need for help from a techie geek).
In her DNA
Being a lawyer who runs a blog "was partly genetic," Maccabee said. Her mother, former St. Paul City Council Member Paula Maccabee, is a lawyer, and her father, Paul Maccabee, is president of the Minneapolis public relations company that bares his name.
Her father insists that the blog is entirely her doing. She never even asked for advice.
"She just announced that she was going to do this," he said. "This is a personification of Leora and her interests. None of this is coming out of me."
In retrospect, he recognizes the thought patterns that led up to it. "She visited synagogues all over the Twin Cities, and she'd come back and say, 'I saw adults and families with young children, but there were no Gen X'ers, Y'ers or Millennials. Why aren't the synagogues attracting the people who like to go clubbing?"
Maccabee grew up in St. Paul and went to college on the East Coast. Since returning to the Twin Cities, she has become an "indie," someone who jumps around to a variety of synagogues. Cornell is a native of Colorado who moved to Minnesota when she graduated from college. Unlike most of the blog's readers, she does belong to a synagogue, Temple Aaron in St. Paul.
Eventually, they'd like the blog, which is updated with new posts at 8 a.m. daily except Saturday, to break even financially. So far, they are several hundred dollars in the hole (not counting the wine and coffee that fuels their staff meetings).
But the first priority is building readership. They're willing to be patient.
"I think it's going to take at least a year to figure out exactly what we want to be," Maccabee said. "We don't even have a logo yet. We're just sort of figuring this out as we go along."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392
Poll: Which 2013 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest entry do you most want to try?