Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York and the Fairfax District in Los Angeles are just two of the regions that come to mind when you think of Jewish enclaves in the United States. But what about Long Beach? That’s the question that 59-year-old John Strum found himself asking when he moved to the city five years ago and found a Jewish community yearning for representation. What about Long Beach?
Having moved from Playa del Rey, Strum was well versed in the rich tradition and Jewish roots of the greater L.A. area. The kosher markets and Hebrew culture that dots Los Angeles proper was nowhere to be found in his new home, and the media coverage in the city was just as lacking.
Long Beach Jewish Life, an online magazine dedicated to covering the culture and life of the estimated 20,000 Jews living in the greater Long Beach area was the solution that Strum came up with.
“There’s a great publication that covers L.A. [and its Jewish communities] very well and there’s a great publication that covers Orange County and unfortunately, one tells our community, ‘You’re a little too far south for us to really give you enough coverage’ and the other tells us, ‘You’re a little too far north,’” Strum said.
When he moved to Long Beach, he had no designs on starting a publication. He’d dabbled in screenwriting earlier in life but had no background in writing. What initially drew him to the city was the search for a skilled nursing facility to provide care for his wife who suffers from an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis. But noticing the void of coverage for what Strum describes as a vibrant and robust Jewish community was the inspiration to push this first time publisher into action.
“I recognized that magazines have a wonderful ability to fill a niche very nicely,” Strum said about the decision to start LBJL.”What I heard was a geographic-slash-cultural niche that was asking to be filled and I thought it would be a good venture.”
The publication's first issue went live in February, and since then, his dedicated volunteer staff of three has been cranking out stories ranging from community profiles on rabbis from Long Beach synagogues and a Holocaust-themed Alfred Hitchcock film to a feature on Gerda Seifer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor in Long Beach. In that time, Strum has seen readership grow from a modest 400 in the initial weeks of the magazine to what he estimates as well over 2,000 readers.
“I’d have to say that the amount of support and feedback that the magazine has received was more than I could’ve imagined,” Strum said. “Our local temples and local rabbis have gone out of their way to let their congregations know that this exists and maybe they should check it out.”
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz of Temple Israel located at Third St. and Loma Ave. and subject of the public profile in last month’s edition, spoke of the need that Strum’s magazine is fulfilling within his own congregation.
“Long Beach is located between two distinct Jewish communities, each of which has been well-served by a quality local Jewish publication,” Moskowitz said. “Our own congregation regularly has copies of both The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and the Orange County Jewish Life available in our lobby. While they are both full of interesting stories, most of our congregants felt something was missing: stories about our own community.”
Community engagement is something that Strum hopes this publication will inspire. He admits that even though being active in the community is supposed to be part of the Jewish DNA, involvement has been trending downward. He hopes that by writing about interesting people in the community--and he was quick to point out that you don’t have to be a Holocaust survivor to qualify--that it will expose both Jews and gentiles to the culture that exists in this city.
Having a physical presence in temples with a print edition would help and was something that Strum wrestled with, albeit briefly. Some readers expressed the want for a tangible copy of LBJL, but Strum couldn’t ignore the trend, or the price tag associated with countless other publications abandoning an unsustainable print model in favor of a digital presence.
“I’m not going to swim upstream and try to figure it out the other way,” Strum said.
Strum and his microscopic staff are hard at work creating the May issue of LBJL, due out on the first of the month. He admits that there are some long days and even longer nights but says that it’s all worth it because there are too many things to talk about in this city.
Through his publication, Strum hopes to inspire and build a cohesive Long Beach Jewish identity that keepers of the faith in this city can be proud of. And most imporantly, answer that lingering question. What about Long Beach?
“I’d like to see it earn its place as a part of the glue that holds the local jewish community together,” Strum said. “That place where they look to see their friends, themselves, neighbors, fellow congregants and what they’ve been up to.”
To read issues of Long Beach Jewish Life, visit https://www.lbjewishlife.com