LONDON — A Jewish undergraduate has launched an ambitious global TV service on YouTube.
Oliver Anisfeld, a 21-year-old history student at London’s University College, has seen the fruits of his single-minded charm offensive to the great and the good over the last year. Despite scepticism from almost everyone he met, Anisfeld persisted – and this Wednesday J-TV made its official entrance at a packed reception at Portcullis House, the British parliament’s adjunct business building in Westminster. The service goes live next week.
Anisfeld, son of London’s smoked salmon king Lance Forman, came up with the idea of a Jewish TV service because he believed there was a “gap in the market.” An observant Jew who is a passionate believer in Jewish education, Anisfeld was wrestling with how to transmit his love of Judaism to his peers.
“It is a message poorly transmitted, if at all, so there was an apathy about Jewish identity,” Anisfeld told The Times of Israel. “My idea was to create a new, high quality, online global Jewish media channel.”
Easier said than done, you might have thought. To much laughter, the Labour peer Lord Kestenbaum recounted Anisfeld’s hard-headed approach to him, saying quite frankly that since initially he had never heard of Anisfeld, he wasn’t disposed to talk to him.
“Tell him to leave a message,” Kestenbaum told his assistant. But Anisfeld refused. “Tell him to send an email,” Kestenbaum instructed. Again, the student refused, and finally Kestenbaum, a former director of the UJIA and the Chief Rabbi’s Office, was impressed with Anisfeld’s persistence and agreed to see him.
“Within five minutes, when he told me his idea, I was hooked,” admitted Kestenbaum.
‘We thought of Al-Jewzeera, or JewTube… in the end we decided to stick with J-TV’
The scheme is simple: every week four new filmed segments will be posted on YouTube, divided into current affairs, Jewish wisdom, movers and shakers, and a section on Jewish food. YouTube, said Anisfeld, “is an ideal platform for J-TV because it’s easily accessible. We aim to engage both Jews and non-Jews who want to understand Jewish culture.”
Jokingly, Anisfeld said there had been much discussion about naming the channel. “We thought of Al-Jewzeera, or JewTube… in the end we decided to stick with J-TV,” he said,
Among the guests at the channel’s launch was the BBC’s head of religion and ethics, Aaquil Ahmed. He said he was keen on improving “religious literacy” and that “narrowcasting” in the form of the new channel was a healthy direction for the future.
J-TV has already lined up an impressive rota of guest interviewees, including former US presidential adviser Elliot Abrams, talking about the Iran deal; atheist and philosopher AC Grayling debating with the director of Shabbat UK, Rabbi Daniel Rowe; and the One Direction producer and film-maker Ben Winston, who is currently producer of the James Corden Late Show in America. The project has received enthusiastic backing from former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, and from MP Jonathan Djanogly, who hosted the launch reception.
“Many people have a dream, but there is having a dream, interpreting it, and implementing it. Oliver Anisfeld seems to me to be a young man who can make things happen,” said Lord Kestenbaum.
Anisfeld told The Times of Israel, “Surprisingly, the project is actually relatively low-budget.” His producer, Robert Waterman, has experience in running other YouTube channels, mainly sports films, and it is hoped to fund J-TV through advertising once they understand the size and buying power of the audience. For now, however, after its first six weeks of operations, the new channel will be seeking sponsorship.