Names count

Names count

Yesterday, we saw announcements of name changes from two Jewish organizations. Because the changes were so different, it started us thinking about names.

The organization once known as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and more recently by the shortened form, JTA, is a venerable one. It was founded in 1917, and has taken its mission as “the global news service of the Jewish people” seriously, reporting news from hot spots and offering features and insights from across the country, Israel, and the world. Its archives offer an in in-depth look at history, from Jewish angles and through Jewish lenses.

JTA supplies Jewish newspapers around the world and across the internet, including this one, with much of their news. In general, local news is home-generated, but anything from far away – or even just outside the state’s or region’s borders – comes from JTA.

JTA has just announced that as it completes its long-planned merger with another, smaller, newer Jewish agency, the online education website MyJewishLearning, it will change its name to 70 Faces Media.

Wait. What?

“The name 70 Faces Media is derived from the Jewish teaching that “the Torah has seventy faces,” the press release announcing the changes spells out earnestly. “The organization’s website explains: ‘We take our name from and are guided by the enduring message of this ancient dictum, that the creation of Jewish knowledge and narrative must reflect a wide range of experiences, perspectives and personalities,'” the release continues.

Oh my.

It is striking that although 70 Faces Media refers back to midrash, the word Jewish is nowhere present. To be fair, Jewish already had disappeared from JTA, although its reflection hovered just above the letters, vanishing if you looked straight at it.

On the other hand, a far newer, less well-known website than MyJewishLearning, Open Quorum, is now changing its name to Jewish Public Media.

(Open Quorum, from a group including the people responsible for the “Seder Oneg Shabbos” we wrote about in a cover story on December 12, takes a passionate, knowledgeable, deeply committed, traditional, egalitarian stand on Jewish life. It is most closely related to Mechon Hadar, the egalitarian yeshiva in Manhattan.)

“Let me explain why a 21st-century organization is choosing a name that sounds like it’s from the 20th century,” its press release says. It goes on to say: “We are changing to Jewish Public Media because – well, because that’s exactly who we are, and because nobody else has our mission.”

In other words, Jewish Public Media wants to sound like what it is. It wants to be straightforward. Although it apparently believes that to be straightforward is to be old-fashioned, it seems to be choosing proud old fashion.

70 Faces Media seems to agree with Jewish Public Media that to be descriptive is to be terribly, boringly, embarrassingly last century. It choses instead to be fashionably vague. It also seems to be choosing to run away from its own mission; even worse, it seems to be choosing to run away from its own identity.

What’s the matter, 70 Faces Media? It’s too embarrassing to say that you’re Jewish?

We are not impressed.