Back in the good old days — meaning 25 years or so ago — there was a wonderful Jewish magazine called Present Tense, which was published by the American Jewish Committee, the same people who (still) put out Commentary. When Norman Podhoretz took over at the helm of Commentary, he turned it so far to the right that there was an outcry from AJC members and other, unaffiliated readers of the magazine. Committee then decided to inaugurate Present Tense in response, with Murray Polner as its editor, a wonderful man and a talented writer, who was charged with providing a more left-wing perspective on news in the Jewish world. I wrote for the magazine often, and fondly recall conversations with Polner and the steady guidance he imparted to me as a fledgling writer.
But then, when money grew tight in the 1990s, AJC decided to pull the plug on Present Tense, while Commentary was left to sail along undisturbed. Not that the plug should have been pulled on Podhoretz's magazine; rather, perhaps some funds from one could have been found to keep the other afloat.
Recently, the name Present Tense has been revived, and has been affixed to both a traditional magazine and what's called an "online forum" that can be found at: presenttensemagazine.org. The target audience is definitely a young one; the editorial thrust is to define being Jewish as a multitude of things.
In a posting made online in May, an unidentified editorial writer noted that the new Present Tense, "as a transdenominational and international marketplace of ideas … seeks to invigorate Hebrew culture by providing a nurturing environment where Jewish youth will be able to explore and enrich their Jewish identity within a civilizational framework. In doing so, Present Tense seeks to add value to Jewish life around the world by strengthening the ties that bind members of the Jewish community across ideological and religious divides, in order to advocate and articulate the values and ethics we hold to be central to Hebrew culture: mutual responsibility, the obligation to pursue social justice, self-determination and the value of preserving the distinctive wisdom of a people's traditions."
The print version features news, opinion, reviews and artwork by young Jews, while the online forum presents shorter articles. Some of the latter include discussions of the chavurah movement and Jewish theater, and a profile of a folk rapper named Matt Bar.
In the printed version, an editorial continued the philosophy behind the mag: "We believe … that there is value in discussing Jewish life in the here and now — exploring the way young Jews are participating in the world today, what structures we are developing to fill our needs, and what ideas, identities and artistic visions are contributing to the way we choose to live as Jews. Sure, there is value in knowing the past and speaking about what could happen in the future. But if you don't know where you are, you can hardly know where you should be going … ."