Friday, February 1, 2008

Jewish TV network finally arrives ... if you have Comcast

Friday February 1, 2008
by dan pine
staff writer

There were many reasons why Mark Golub launched Shalom TV. Getting rich wasn’t one of them.

“There’s no money in this,” says the Connecticut-based rabbi and president/CEO of Shalom TV. “You don’t make money in Jewish television. You do it because you love it. And I love it.”

Calling it an “experiment in Jewish life,” Golub says Shalom TV is the first all-Jewish-content network ever offered by a major cable television provider. As of Feb. 1, it will be available free as an on-demand option to Comcast customers nationwide.

That includes the Bay Area, which is served by Comcast. The network will be available on Comcast in nine of the top 11 Jewish markets across the country. Time Warner carries it in New York City.

As an on-demand network, Shalom TV’s content is accessible 24 hours a day with the click of a remote. The network offers an array of Israeli films and children’s entertainment, as well as educational, news and public affairs programming, all Jewish in theme, look and tone.

“It’s an attempt to present Jewish life in all its diversity and dynamism,” Golub says. “There’s so much excitement going on in the Jewish scene, critical issues on peace in Middle East and identity in America.”

Golub describes Shalom TV’s public affairs programming as a “Jewish C-SPAN.” That includes everything from wall-to-wall coverage of an AIPAC convention to a policy speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. From briefings by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, to presentations from the 92nd Street Y, which regularly hosts Jewish speakers and forums.

A significant percentage of Shalom TV programming is original, including children’s shows and many of the public affairs segments.

One thing Shalom TV does not have is a religious agenda.

“We’re not a Judaism channel,” Golub insists. “Jewish life is based on family, community and culture. We try to speak to and for mainstream Jewish life. We’re not Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, nor are we secular. We reflect the excitement, plurality and dynamism of the Jewish community.”

Still, the network does feature religious programs, including classes on Talmud, Kabbalah and Torah commentaries from rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.

How broad is the spectrum of views on Shalom TV? The key word is “mainstream,” according to Golub. When it comes to political extremes, he has his limits. “I tend to say if you’re too far right or too far left, you’re not speaking for anyone of significance within the broad spectrum of Jewry. Would a group of Jews for Jesus be on Shalom TV? No.”

Ordained in the Reform movement in 1972, Golub comes from an eclectic Jewish background. One grandfather was ordained at a Lithuanian yeshiva, while his father helped found the Reconstructionist movement with Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan.

“I have been exposed to all branches of Jewish life,” he says. “We’re all part of klal Israel.”

Before becoming involved in TV, Golub got started in professional radio, handling public affairs for WMCA in New York. Through later connections in the Russian émigré community, he founded RTN, a Russian-language TV network. Its success afforded him the opportunity to launch Shalom TV in 2006. Initially offered in three East Coast markets, it is now available coast to coast.

In a realm where the demographics process tens of millions of viewers, Golub is impressed that cable TV has embraced the relatively small Jewish community this way.

“We are still a very small slice of the U.S. population,” Golub adds, “somewhere between four and six million. We convinced Comcast it’s not right to leave the Jewish community out of it. This is an overall statement of what the American vision is: to be inclusive.”

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