There have been TV broadcasts since the 1939 World’s Fair, and yet, in all the decades since, it is only now that we are seeing a 24/7 Jewish cable network in almost every major American market — JBS, the Jewish Broadcasting Service. JBS has exactly two criteria: that its programs convey the intellectual and soulful passion of the Jewish adventure, and that on-air guests be invested in Israel’s success — after that, pick your party.
Mark Golub, the founder and on-air host, says JBS is a PBS-style operation (completely viewer-supported), offering just about anything that might interest a serious, curious Jew. There are children’s shows, political roundtables, conversational lessons in advanced Gemara, and Dr. Ruth’s lessons in advanced … well, you can imagine. The station broadcasts Israeli news and films; events from the 92nd Street Y; sessions from AIPAC and major Jewish conferences; as well as hour-long conversations with authors, activists, musicians, and Jews you may not know but should. Then, every Friday night, JBS broadcasts Shabbat davening, both Orthodox (before candle lighting), followed by Reform.
JBS, says Steve Bayme, the AJC’s director of contemporary Jewish life, “has matured into a critical communications medium within the Jewish community.”
The network, which recently moved from New Jersey to its new Manhattan studio in the Theater District, has been regularly adding major markets from Philadelphia to Dallas to Los Angeles, and smaller markets from Maine to Akron. JBS can now be seen on just about every national cable provider, though Comcast is holding out. Golub said Comcast officials are “actively refusing” to carry JBS. We called John Demming, a Comcast vice president, who said Comcast has made no final decision on JBS and it “remains under consideration.”
When Golub’s not working, he’s working: Aside from JBS, he and his brother have produced Broadway shows such as “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” (Tony Award), “Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike” (Tony Award), the revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (Tony Award), and “Glengary Glen Ross” with Al Pacino. When Golub’s not on Broadway or TV, he’s leading Chavurah Aytz Chayim in Stamford, Conn., “the longest continuously running chavurah anywhere,” he tells us, “since 1972.”
As an interviewer, Golub, 74, “allows his guests to be completely relaxed, feeling as if they’re talking to their host at a Shabbos table. Yet, his fearlessness and equanimity enable him to raise the level of discourse,” says Mati Lazar, director of the Zamir Chorale.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism, writes in an email that JBS is “a too little-known treasure of the Jewish world. All day, every day, it provides a delightful visual panorama of Jewish culture, religion, education, and entertainment that is available nowhere else in the vast television/cable universe. Mark [Golub] is a lover of Jews and Judaism of every sort, an enthusiastic Zionist and a ferocious defender of the Jewish state.”
Yoffie notes that Golub “gives his guests the time they need to talk seriously about Israel and a range of Jewish issues. Mark’s politics on Israel are on the conservative side, but he delights in welcoming a wide range of guests and views, allowing for tough, insightful, in-depth, and always civil conversations that are exceedingly rare in the Jewish community. Somehow, Mark manages to both share his own opinions, strongly expressed and overflowing with love for Israel, while also eliciting, with apparent ease, contrary ideas from members of his panel. Mark’s panelists don’t fudge or dance around the tough issues; they engage in truth-telling. And it works.”
Golub — named one of Newsweek’s “50 most influential rabbis” in 2009 — is thoroughly rooted in every denomination. One grandfather studied in Slobodka (Lithuania), a major pre-war Orthodox yeshiva. His other grandfather worked alongside Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. The Golub family had ties to Manhattan’s
Carlebach Shul (back when it was led by Rabbi Naftali Carlebach, Shlomo’s father), and Golub himself was ordained at Hebrew Union College. That makes him Reform by ordination but what he calls “a Midrashic Humanist traditionalist” by inclination.
Golub doesn’t hesitate to enter the Purim shadows, the dark alley of “ad shelo yada,” where virtues and vices are less than clear. As the AJC’s Bayme sees it, Golub “welcomes expression of diverse perspectives emanating from all sectors within the Jewish community. A probing interviewer, he challenges guests to rethink and develop further positions, often resulting, at least in my case, [in a] change or improvement in the understanding of issues, among viewers and interviewees alike.”
Golub’s roots are in radio. “L’Chayim” — the JBS evening centerpiece — first aired on radio in 1979, long before JBS 2004, when JBS began as an off-shoot of a Russian-language TV station that Golub started for Russian Jews. He worked at WMCA when it was the biggest talk-radio station in the country, hosted a weekly show, and filled in for radio icons Barry Gray and Barry Farber. He became pals with future Yankees broadcaster John Sterling, who did WMCA’s sports call-in show. Sterling became “a regular” on Golub’s softball team. Later, in the Broadway Show League, recalls Golub, “I played short, Matthew Broderick was my first baseman…” Next to his family and Yiddishkeit, baseball completes his troika of love.
Golub’s office is adorned with photos of Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and other legends, “pictures I took myself,” Golub says. “The Robinson picture was in Time magazine, as was my Casey Stengel picture. And that was DiMaggio’s favorite picture that he gave to friends. These are all from Old Timer’s Days. I was there for WMCA, with a microphone and a camera.” In a photo of Golub playing ball, he’s wearing 42, like Robinson.
If the biblical Nachshon had a number, Golub would be wearing it. “I consider Nachshon to be the single most important character in the entire Jewish tradition,” he explains. A tribal prince of Judah, Nachshon was the first Israelite to jump into the Red Sea, forcing the hesitant waters to split. “The sea does not split until he jumps. Before he does, it looks to the Jews like they’re trapped. The people are screaming, complaining to Moses. And God says, ‘Why are you crying to me? Go forward.’ … Nachshon goes forward. It becomes the essential Jewish paradigm: You don’t wait for a miracle, you make a miracle.”
You start a Jewish network.
Jonathan Mark is the associate editor of The New York Jewish Week, NJJN’s sister publication.