Publishing as Mission

By Matlins, Stuart | European Judaism, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

Publishing as Mission


Matlins, Stuart, European Judaism


Why Are We Doing This?

Jewish Lights may look like a book-publishing company, but it really is an outreach programme.

It grew out of my discovery as an adult of a Judaism rich in relevance to my life that was beyond anything I had imagined. Memories of childhood attending an Orthodox Yeshiva in the Bronx, and the synagogue led by the rabbi who wrote just a few years ago that the Reform and Conservative movements are not legitimate expressions of Judaism, were not inspiring.

It grew out of my wife and co-publisher Antoinette's discovery of Judaism as the faith she had been looking for her entire life, one that appealed equally to her heart and her mind.

It grew out of our understanding that our thoughts, feelings and needs were far from unique. We simply were fortunate to be exposed to great teachers. Through their words and behaviors, they made Judaism come alive for us, helped us understand how to live Jewishly--and inspired us to do something to spread the word. The current 'word' is 'spirituality,' but the long-term message simply is Judaism.

How Did It Begin?

Living in New York City, we found a spiritual home for prayer and study at Central Synagogue with Rabbis Sheldon Zimmerman and Lynne Landsberg and Cantor Richard Botton. We were inspired by summer study sessions at the Zimmerman Institute, a small Limmud-like gathering, with a faculty led by Rabbis Sheldon Zimmerman, Lawrence Hoffman, Norman Cohen, Lawrence Kushner, Kerry Olitzky and others, and by the music of Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller and Rabbi Les Bronstein. We saw that our spiritual search was shared by many others.

We wondered how to help others hear the word, how to extend the reach of the teachings we were hearing. The answer came fourteen years ago through a 'messenger' in the form of another Zimmerman Institute participant, Barry Katz, who told me that three of Lawrence Kushner's books were out of print. Since I recently had started what was intended to be a one-book publishing company, GemStone Press, to republish Antoinette's first book (Jewelry' & Gems: The Buying Guide, now in its 5th edition, with over three hundred thousand copies in print, and one of seven books she has written), Barry concluded: 'You should do something about it.' I laughed, knowing my professional plans were all set for the rest of my life, and that publishing Jewish-interest books was not among them. As the old Yiddish saying goes: 'People plan and God laughs'.

Problems Create Solutions

By profession a management consultant with an active international practice, I worked on problems of strategy, marketing and new product introductions with some of the world's largest companies, and with high-growth companies struggling to survive. Antoinette also has a strong marketing background. We think in terms of problems of 'product' and problems of 'marketing.'

To us, the problem of reaching out to unaffiliated Jews who do not seek answers to their spiritual search in Jewish settings, and to others who might benefit from Torah, is a 'marketing' problem, not a 'product' problem. The problem is not Judaism, but how--and where--its message is communicated and understood.

We saw there was a major communication and publishing void. To fill it, we developed a 'trade' publishing house (i.e., bookstore-oriented) addressing Jewish spiritual needs, bringing to a wide audience the inspiring teachings of our rabbis and others, separate from considerations of economics and profits alone. We imagined a modern inspirational literature based on the Jewish wisdom tradition. It would be primarily for Jewish people living today in a world unlike any we have known before. It would be for people of all faiths, all backgrounds, making Jewish theology and philosophy accessible to the average educated person. It would bring important books back into print.

Why a trade publisher? Jewishly-involved people can be reached in the Jewish bookstores and synagogue gift shops.

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