REPRINTED FROM CITY LIGHTS, VOL. 1, NO 27, JUNE 28, 1991, CITY LIGHTSCategory: ESRA News Issue No. 150
Reprinted from CITY LIGHTS , Vol. 1, No. 27, June 28, 1991
For English-speaking readers only
By Carol Novis
Once of the most eagerly read magazines around is produced by a staff of amateurs, never sends subscription bills to its readers and has a journalistic level that can best be described as idiosyncratic. Yet while other English-language endeavors flounder, Esra Magazine, the lively, original. Journal of the English Speaking Residents Association in the Sharon area is flourishing. Every two months, some 5,000 copies are delivered by hand to save postage costs – to members of the organization, many of whom join for the sole purpose of receiving the magazine. And every two months, an estimated 15,000 people settle down for a good read on topics as varied as legal advice on buying an apartment; comparative prices and facilities of country clubs; factory outlets; and breeding fish in the desert.
Unlike many other in-house publications, Esra looks out rather than focusing on what is happening within the organization. Recent issues have included articles on the media, housing, living over the Green Line Soviet Jewry, sports, marital problems, finance, religion, health, ecology, art and law.
Readers frequently write in with suggestions of experiences, warnings, and recommendations. Letters sections, for example, have included tips for adding dignity to Israeli burials; a reader's recommendation on where to have a wedding gown sewn; a critical letter about Israel Television; ant .information about voting rights for British expatriates.
The magazine is also considered a good place to find out what's going on in the area, an excellent source of information on volunteer activity and a useful tool for finding services, jobs and accommodations.
Esra Magazine is the brainchild of Merle Guttmann, who founded the publication in 1979 and has edited it continuously ever since.
"Our aims then were to communicate with the local English-speaking population, to help people manage in the community by involving them in volunteer service and informing them on consumer issues, to give them a voice and a forum to express their ideas and to help them identify with life in Israel. Strangely enough, except for the fact that the magazine has become more sophisticated, our objectives haven't changed," she told City Lights
Launched with a circulation of 220, the magazine has grown substantially since then, yet editorial policy still prohibits subscription fees from overseas readers. Members are asked though - through the magazine's pages - for a suggested contribution of NIS 30, but they will receive the magazine anyway. Esra Magazine keeps afloat by advertising sales and by heavy reliance on volunteers. All writing, editing, proofreading and distribution - everything, in fact, except for typesetting and printing – are done free.
Over the years, some articles have been particularly memorable. One woman, Merle recalls, wrote the poignant story of what it was like to have multiple sclerosis and offered suggestions for practical help. Several people wrote that they had benefitted from her advice. As a result of another reader's story, a support group for cancer suffers was formed.
Though Esra's writers are invariably amateurs, several have gone on to become professional journalists and others have been encouraged enough to writing courses. Some of the best writing resulted from a writing competition on the subject “Learning to Live in Israel - My Story," which attracted 90 funny, sad, moving and informative replies.
Articles on alternative medicine are invariably among the most popular – “people are really searching for answers" - and range from traditional to the bizarre. Some people, in fact, have questioned Esra's often non-critical publication of some fringe medical exponents (a recent article describes Chinese herbal products which cost NIS 500 for a month's course of 20-30 capsules a day) though Guttmann claims that such articles are merely informational and not promotional.
Esra Magazine has also had an influence far beyond its original aims in many cases. Guttmann recalls that a legal argument presented in Esra was quoted by a disputant in a small claims court. The judge read the article, recognized its validity and the disputant won his case.
"In another instance, we ran story about a fellow who ended up in a real mess when he signed as guarantor for a friend and subsequently left the country, leaving him responsible for his debts. As a result of the article, several people, offered help and advice and the guarantor was eventually able to recoup his losses from his friend.
"Just this month we published a request from an Ethiopian family, which was looking for a place to stay in Kfar Sava while visiting relatives there. Within days we had three replies. One family wrote a. touching letter saying they had no spare room, but the olim were welcome to stay in their lounge."
"We publish job offers and requests for olim free, and have frequently had positive results. One immigrant woman from Iran was desperately poor, so we advertised in our classified section that she was willing to go to people’s homes and do hairdressing. She started getting work, built up a clientele and now she is doing well.”
What's in store for Esra Magazine in the future? No revolutionary changes, it seems, are on the horizon. “Why change?" Merle asks. "We’re successful the way we are."
Esra: POB 5816, Herzliya 46101. Tel: 052-505468, 052-31129, 052-580632.
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