‘Brokenism’ presages better future, Tablet editor says in the Five Towns


She was greeted as a hometown star, but journalist Alana Newhouse did not return to the Five Towns on Monday night bearing good news.

But she said that although “everything is broken,” there is still cause for optimism.

Alana Newhouse, the founder and editor of Tablet magazine, told an audience at Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence that “brokenism” presented an opportunity to keep what’s good, discard what’s not worth the effort to repair, and build anew.

She explained the idea of “brokenism,” which she first advanced in a Tablet article in 2021 titled "Everything is broken and how to fix it" (and in 2022, titled "The real debate today isn't between the left and right. It's between those invested in our current institutions, and those who want to build anew"), as putting everything in three buckets.

•Bucket one “is totally unsalvageable. We can’t fix it. Let’s let it go, like throw it in the ocean. It’s fine. It can die,” she said.

•Bucket two “works really well, let’s actually just leave it as is.”

•Bucket three “is the most interesting” and includes legacy institutions “that have gold in them, but they also have a lot of corruption and maybe a lot of decay. You have to say, does it have enough gold to be worth the resources that we have to put into it?”

With college decay on her audience’s mind, she cited Harvard University as an example.

“If you picked up Harvard and you dropped it into the middle of the ocean, nobody would be any worse off,” she said.

In response to those who tell her, “But a lot of these institutions are the gateways into certain careers, into certain echelons of America,” she responds that “it’s not true anymore.”

“There are now firms in Silicon Valley that will not hire anyone who’s gone to college,” she said.

“None of you have to give money to Harvard now, none of you have to spend one wit of energy thinking about it — you can actually spend all your energy thinking about other things that we can fix, that we can make better,” she said. “I think that’s hopeful.”

The advertised topic of her discussion, moderated by famed criminal defense attorney Ben Brafman of the Five Towns, was “Antisemitism & The Media.” With that in mind, she referenced the New York Times, a publication whose antagonism toward both Judaism and Israel far predates its heavy-handed anti-Israel coverage during the Gaza war.

“So I hope all of you read the Free Press, which is Bari Weiss’s incredible journalistic enterprise,” Newhouse said.

“Four years ago, when Bari was leaving the Times, she said to me, how am I going to do this? It’s the New York Times! She’s not going to be the New York Times.”

Then Newhouse asked her audience, “Is the New York Times going to be more powerful or less powerful in five years? Less, obviously. Is Bari Weiss going to be more powerful or less powerful in five years? More. Where are we putting our energy?”

Let’s not spend our energy trying to fix an institution that is “breaking down and losing power and losing influence and also hates us,” she said, while “there are people and institutions that are desperate for Jewish investment — not just money but the investment of our spirit — and they’re growing.”

Back to the colleges, she sees a similar brokenism opportunity, with the higher education “ecosystem” clearly broken.

“The jury’s really out on whether or not any of these institutions can be saved,” Newhouse said. “So if you ask me what I wake up in the morning and focus my energy on, it’s not higher education, because I don’t feel convinced that it’s salvageable. But I also appreciate and respect people who do, who are convinced of it after assessing it.”

It’s obvious that many of our legacy institutions — including those that have served Jewish communities — are broken, she said, but “it is absolutely fixable” in a country of 300 million people which still has “enormous resources, still the wealthiest country in the world.”

• • •

Last November, Newhouse published an article last titled, “Replace American Jewish Communal Leadership,” that exposed “a bitter truth: Our leadership has gone bad.”

Brafman asked if she meant it.

She did, and in Lawrence on Monday she referenced AIPAC, ADL and AJC.

“There are very good people [and] specific projects that are good, and this is not to impugn anybody’s motives, but the institutions don’t work,” she said.

What about individuals who are committed to those legacy institutions? “Super happy to fight with anyone about it,” Newhouse continued. “I always say to people who fight with me, you know what? I have a great idea. You stay connected to the ADL. I’m going to go and help people start new institutions, and we’ll both work for the future. It’s going to be great, we’ll hedge, right?”

Newhouse said that she wrote that piece “because in the aftermath of Oct. 7, one of the things that upset me [is that Oct. 7 was] completely predictable. …

“The idea that American Jews were surprised not only that it happened, but that then there was antisemitism in all those institutions, was a failure of our leadership.

“We were seeing this happen. We were seeing antisemitism in all of these college campuses for the last 10 years. Why should American Jews be caught flat-footed? Why should American Jews be surprised? We shouldn’t be. We need better voices and people with clearer vision.”