By Susan Berrin
For the past 49 years, readers have turned to Sh’ma to find the widest range of voices in conversation about difficult issues. During that time, as diverse as our themes have been, all of our issues have had one thing in common: They have been published in print, as a stand-alone journal, and since 2015 as an insert in the Forward. With the Forward’s recent decision to cease print publication, this issue – our 746th since the journal’s founding in May, 1970 – will be the final print edition; going forward, Sh’ma will become a digital-only journal. We will continue to publish a printable PDF each month and to post essays and our simulated Talmud page, NiSh’ma, on line. And we will continue to communicate with you via eblasts – so stay in touch with us (Forward.com/shma-signup).
With each issue – beginning with Dr. Eugene Borowitz’s launch focusing on the Vietnam War, through the editorial leadership of Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin and my own 21-year tenure as editor-in-chief – we have invited readers into a sacred space, a makom kadosh of thoughtful discourse. As the journal moved from a biweekly to a monthly, as we pushed the boundaries of pluralism, as we moved from a “journal of Jewish responsibility” to one focused on “Jewish sensibilities,” examining universal questions through our uniquely Jewish lens – we have always nurtured discovery and curiosity.
Each month, I’ve tried to create a place of sanctuary where we, as Jews, might explicate our own difficult texts, examine our habits and assumptions, explore our rituals and liturgy, and imagine new paths forward. I hope we have contributed to a spiritually and emotionally sustaining space where ideas can flourish. With all of our choices – from the solicitation of essays to the working with writers (the vast majority of whom have written for us without compensation, for contributors’ copies only) – I’ve tried to raise up and nurture unsung voices and temper loud and bullish ones.
Today, as we move into our next chapter, we mourn the loss of a paper edition, one that we can hold, read on Shabbat, mark up with notes and questions, use as a teaching text, and return to again and again. We also look forward to a more robust digital presence and to publishing a printable PDF with our monthly discussion guide, “Consider and Converse.” I’ll look forward to your feedback on how Sh’ma can remain relevant and iterative in this digital era. Please send suggestions to ShmaDigital@shma.com.
This issue’s theme, makom kadosh, was selected long before the Forward’s decision to cease its paper edition. Nonetheless, it feels oddly suitable. For me, as well as so many of my generation, little has felt more holy or indispensable to spiritual and intellectual sustenance than the printed word on paper. Reading paper forces us to pause in a way that a screen does not; it encourages us to uni-task – slowly and reflectively.
This issue delves into questions about what makes a space holy: Is a place sacred because of its location – like Jacob’s ladder – or because of what happens there – a synagogue or mikvah – or because of what we do to make it holy – creating sanctuary for asylum seekers. Like many Sh’ma issues, Makom Kadosh provides existential questions to wrestle with and offers us agency to create an even slightly more perfect world.
Susan Berrin has been the editor-in-chief of Sh’ma since 1998. She is also editor of two anthologies, Celebrating the New Moon: A Rosh Chodesh Anthology and A Heart of Wisdom: Making the Jewish Journey from Midlife Through the Elder Years. She is a board member of The Jewish Studio Project in Berkeley, Calif., where she lives with her husband, Steve Zipperstein.