At first glance, Jewlicious looks like one of many parody websites there are up on the net: there is a picture of a good-looking redhead rising from a cloud, wearing a T-shirt which says “I love Hashem,” all in good retro design.
Even the name, and the promise of being “100 percent” kosher, arouse suspicion that the website is a highly-stylized prank. But Jewlicious is just what it says it is: a kosher, Jewish blog, run by David Abitbol, a 41-year-old Israeli, and Laya Millman, a 23-year-old immigrant from the United States.
Israeli, Jewish blogospheres
Although the internet has turned the world into one big network, the Jewish blogosphere operates almost completely detached from the Hebrew
“It’s a shame, but that’s the way it is,” Abitbol sums up, switching from Hebrew to English freely during the conversation. “Jewish blogs in English connect between people living in different countries – Israel, Europe, and the United States. We help net surfers find a job and celebrate events together. We are not familiar with the Hebrew blogs, although we also operate in Israel. We don’t link to them and they do not link to us.”
It’s Cool to be a Jew
“Jewlicious” was launched two years ago, following a wave of young hip Jewish blogs that were the antithesis of more traditional Jewish web logs that dealt with the fate of the Jewish people. The new blogs, including Jewschool, jspot.org, jdaters anonymous, and my urban kvetch, were run by young, English-speaking Jews, technologically advanced, culturally up-to-date and liberal in their attitude towards religion.
The new Jewish blogs were influenced by the return of Judaism into fashion. Today, more than ever, being Jewish is cool. This phenomenon came to life due to magazines like Heeb Magazine and Chabad reggae singer Matisyahu .
A more moderate attitude towards Israel
“Most of the people who run these web logs are also very critical towards Israel,” says Abitbol. “They accuse Israel of being an 'apartheid' state, and have tried to carve out a niche for themselves on the extreme left, to prove you can be Jewish and show concern for issues of human rights and minorities at the same time.”
“We take a different approach. We also listen to the right music and are advanced technologically and culturally, but we have respect for Jewish tradition and our approach to Israel is more moderate. We know how to be critical, but not that much. We’ve proven that one can be a proud Jew, support Israel, and still be relevant vis-à-vis the West.”
Challah hu Akbar
And still, the site includes heated discussions regarding topics such as the Jewish world, the Holocaust, Israeli politics, tradition and more. Anyone looking for lighter content can listen to the website's radio station, which plays music Abitbol calls “interesting,” including songs by Subliminal and Egyptian singer Abdel Rahim’s hit “I hate Israel” (“Just for laughs”, says Avitol).
In the store the couple manages at shmatas.com, one can buy shirts with prints like “I love Hashem”, “I love Israel” in Arabic, and “Challah hu Akbar”.
With 8,000 to 10,000 hits a day, Abitbol claims that Jewlicious is currently the most popular Jewish blog in the world, not considering Little Green Footballs (LGF in short). It often deals with Israel-related topics from a right-wing patriotic stance, but two of its managers, brothers that work in the advertisement business, are not Jewish.
Jewlicious at the beach
Jewlicious has already gone beyond the blog. Abitbol and Milman produce for members of the community a conference entitled “Jewlicious at the beach”, which takes place twice a year in Florida. In the previous conference, 250 people participated and got to see Matisyahu perform and listen to lectures on Judaism and Israel by Eytan Schwartz and others. Also, they organize visits to Israel for readers of the blog, in cooperation with Taglit. These visits are documented in the blog, of course.