In her 2019 stand-up special, Jenny Slate tells the audience, “You will notice I am a Jewish woman.” I feel like that’s been my motto for the past four years while I’ve worked at Alma: Hello, I am Emily, a Jewish woman.
I started writing for Alma back in September 2017, just a few months after graduating college. I was navigating the realities of a long-distance relationship, a job that was the wrong fit for me and what it meant to be 21 and living in New York City.
In those first few months of freelancing, I found joy in exploring Jewish pop culture, from interviewing “Bachelor” contestants to annotating the lyrics of “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” naturally spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out which haftorah portion the werewolf would’ve chanted.
Eventually, I quit my job for a position at Alma, becoming the first full-time employee dedicated to the publication besides founder and editor Molly Tolsky. My first task was figuring out an image for a piece about a “Nice Jewish Boy” sending a dick pic (yes, really), and it’s been a roller coaster ever since.
I’ve written a lot of goodbyes on Alma, eulogizing “Schitt’s Creek,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and more. And if it’s OK with you, I’d like to reflect back on that roller coaster. Because after four years, I’m saying goodbye to my job at Alma.
Working here has been beyond my wildest dreams — it’s been a place where I not only have found my voice as a young Jewish woman, but I’ve found a community of Jews that have changed my understanding of what it means to be Jewish. I’ve worked with so many incredible writers — from experienced freelancers to college students getting their first byline — and have had the absolute joy of working with some wonderful colleagues.
In my years at Alma, I’ve written about everything from Roald Dahl’s antisemitism to all the Jewish jokes in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I’ve interviewed Tiffany Haddish about her bat mitzvah, Ben Barnes about making music, and a number of Jewish authors spanning all genres. I wrote about where every single Democratic primary candidate in the 2020 election stood on Jewish issues and contributed to Alma’s guide to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I also covered the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history.
That mix became the definition of my time at Alma: thinking through the joy of Jewish culture and celebrities, juxtaposed with the increasingly troubling news in the U.S. and around the world.
When I used to describe my job to people I met at parties (remember those?), I’d try to get around saying “Jewish,” instead explaining, “Oh, I write about pop culture and books,” or, “I cover entertainment and news.” I didn’t want to call myself a Jewish journalist, or a Jewish writer, whatever that meant. I wanted to be a chameleon and not pigeonholed.
But the only way to describe what I’ve done at Alma is through a Jewish lens.
Over the years, that lens has changed for me. When I look back at some earlier Alma articles I wrote, I cringe. I now know I relied too heavily on my understanding of what Jewishness was to me, growing up white and Jewish in Westchester, New York. I soon learned, thanks to the Alma community, that there is no one typical American Jewish experience.
But there are some things that are universal amongst us Jews (which I’m sure you’ll disagree with, because, you know, Jews). Number one, Jews love pointing out other Jews, from actors to musicians to athletes to fictional characters (if you’re not yet playing “Jew or Not Jew” on Alma’s Instagram every Tuesday, what are you doing??). Two, there are certain debates that happen like clockwork: Who gets to play Jewish on screen; the best/worst/[insert other adjective here] Jewish food; is [Jewish pop culture thing] good for the Jews; is [Jewish pop culture thing] antisemitic? And three: Being Jewish will always be a balancing act of joy and fear, light and dark. That couldn’t have come more into focus than in these past couple years of the pandemic, white supremacist violence and truly ridiculous moments like the joy of grumpy Bernie Sanders memes.
Celebrating Jews for just being Jewish, and for creating Jewish art and music and TV shows, has been a true highlight of my time at Alma, as has been helping make sense of antisemitism and politics. And while I’ll no longer be covering those moments day-to-day, I’ll always be cheering on Alma — and the community we’ve created — for embracing the messiness and realities of being Jewish in our modern age. For recognizing that being Jewish doesn’t mean one thing, or look one way. For always working to do better.
Thanks for having me.