Jewish Site Scores Hits; but Finds No Investors

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

Jewish Site Scores Hits; but Finds No Investors


Byline: Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NEW YORK - Binyamin Jolkovsky is looking for a Jewish millionaire - not just any millionaire, but one willing to help fund his Web site, JewishWorldReview.com.

"I have a lot of friends," he says from his third-floor garret in Borough Park, N.Y., one of the world's largest Jewish communities. "I just don't have a lot of money."

Aren't there, he is asked, any Orthodox millionaires among the crowds of black-coated, fedora-capped men who attend the dozens of synagogues in his neighborhood?

"There's a whole bunch of them," he says a bit gloomily, "but they don't invest in Web sites."

Which is why his wife, Rivky, still is commuting downtown to her job as a systems analyst, to tide things over until Mr. Jolkovsky's dream turns a profit. But ideologically based Web sites rarely do.

The site is a melange of the practical, the political and the pietistic. Columns range from Jewish ethics, rabbinical commentaries, Yiddish recipes, an advice column called Ask Wendy, and Partners in Torah, which offers online instruction in the basic tenets of the faith. But it is the collection of 200 syndicated columnists on the site that gains the most attention.

"It's about ideas," he says. "Even if it's ideas I don't agree with. At least they are good points of contact."

The 33-year-old founder opened the site on Dec. 10, 1997, with a handful of columnists. Now the site receives more than 20,000 hits a day from 69 countries.

"I admire what he's done," says Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. "It's impressive and I know a lot of people who go to it as one of their regular stops. I think he's got a corner on the Jewish conservative Web site market but as sympathetic as I am, I am not sure there's a big market for it."

Julian Hurst, administrator for www.TowardTradition.com, a Seattle-based Jewish think tank that gets 1,610 hits per day, agrees the market is limited.

"We know there are conservative Jews in this country because we have 12,000 Jews on our database," he says. "But the people who support nonprofit organizations tend to be older and less technology-friendly. I get calls from conservative Jews all the time who are interested in the issues but are not on the Internet."

But Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican and a Presbyterian, is a fan. So is talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who reads the Web site regularly and finds its content "excellent," a spokeswoman said.

"Binyamin has two competing goals," syndicated columnist Debbie Schlussel says. "One is getting liberal Jews interested in conservatism. The other is getting politically involved - but non-observant - Jews interested in religion. So he does a lot for Judaism and the conservative movement. Most other Web sites have lots of people working for them but his is a one-man shop."

Evidenced by the cot in his dining room, Mr. Jolkovsky welcomes his share of visitors, but his job is that of a loner. His typical day begins with a morning minyan, or prayer meeting, then work at the keyboard at 9 a.m., with breaks for meals and prayer, until 4 a.m. He receives 1,000 e-mail messages a day.

"It's almost impossible for a stand-alone news site to make money," he says, adding that his server costs him well over $1,000 monthly.

Yosef I. Abramowitz, chief executive officer of the Boston-based Jewish Family & Life, located at JFLmedia.com, producer of a dozen specialty Jewish Web sites, credits Mr. Jolkovsky with "amazing energy" with keeping the site going single-handedly, "when most Jewish Web sites have thrown in the towel or settled on stagnation. …

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