On December 1, 2020, a sort of Netflix service, but one crammed full of films, television shows, documentaries and news calculated to appeal specifically to Jewish audiences, hit the airwaves. With a goodly proportion of its content weighted toward Jewish humor, its appeal is likely to extend well beyond Jewish viewers. Initially available only within the US, the plan is to roll it out worldwide as soon as possible.
JEWZY is the brainchild of London-born Jeremy Wootliff. After a conventional British upbringing, he left for the States to complete his higher education. He enrolled in Newhouse, the television, radio and film school attached to Syracuse University in upstate New York. Graduating cum laude, he went immediately into the world of television producing and directing.
In those early years, Wootliff worked on behalf of CBS, Reuters and the Discovery channel, among others, and on various film assignments in the US, the UK, Israel and across the world. Then in the 1990s he set up his own TV production company called Worthwhile TV, which built up a reputation for innovative and award-winning film and video productions in a whole variety of fields, including current affairs and the charity world.
This newest venture flows naturally from his earlier ground-breaking efforts. It was while Israel was trying to stem the flood of rockets from Gaza early in the 2000s that Wootliff was struck by how poorly Israel’s case was being presented in mainstream media. The idea of launching a TV service focused on a Jewish-Israeli take on the world began to take shape.
At first he thought of launching an online TV channel along traditional lines ‒ as indeed Patrick Drahi, the founder of i24 News, later did ‒ but then technological advances made streaming TV channels like Netflix, Amazon and Disney a practical possibility. So streaming was the method Wootliff decided would carry his new service into Jewish homes, or indeed any household interested in Jewish material. Streamed TV is a booming industry, with hundreds of channels now available, some dedicated to mainstream interests like religion or sci-fi, some devoted to quite esoteric topics like fishing or horses. There was none, anywhere in the world, concerned with Jewish themes or matters of Jewish concern. Wootliff saw the gap in the market, and determined to fill it.
I asked him whether he believed there will be enough interest in the US to enable such a narrowly-focused streaming service to develop and expand. He had no doubts. At present, he said, the average American household subscribes to no less than seven streaming services, and there is certainly room for one more with such a special appeal to so many.
JEWZY, he says, is far from a competitor to Netflix. It is an add-on, a go-to place for Jewish entertainment when the family is in the mood for just that. The hand-picked content is calculated to appeal especially to Jewish audiences. Instead of searching the internet or airwaves for these sort of films, documentaries or comedy shows, they will now be available on demand from a recognized streaming service.
JEWZY provides a constantly renewed range of Jewish-themed cinema and TV from Hollywood, and from across the US, Israel and the world. The content, which includes mainstream films, Jewish cinema classics, new hidden gems and also i24 News, is described as “chicken soup for the eyes.”
Among the films are such award-winning and award-nominated productions as “Beneath the Silence,” “The Jewish Cardinal” and “The Hebrew Hammer.” One classic comedy series available to subscribers is the enormously popular web series “Old Jews Telling Jokes” (OJTJ). JEWZY offers a new episode each month featuring the infamous alte kakers (women as well as men) and including material never broadcast on TV.
Wootliff sees this new operation not only in terms of its specialized entertainment value. “American Jewish infrastructure,” he told me, “is going through a terrible time right now, and I’d like to think, positively, that we could offer two things.” The first, he said, was to provide a way for Jews to maintain their connection with Jewish interests and thus their community. The second is to provide a congenial way in difficult times of becoming involved in Jewish matters.
I asked Wootliff how he goes about promoting his new service to Jewish communities in the US. “Mostly on social media,” he explained, which is today’s way of spreading your message most effectively. However he does make use of the press, by issuing releases announcing new programs as they go on-stream. “Slowly but surely,” he said, “people will get to know about us, what we offer, and the social benefit we provide to Jewish communities.”
His marketing operation is spread across four bases – New York, Los Angeles, London and Tel Aviv. Going global is clearly the next step for JEWZY. Wootliff is already receiving requests from places as diverse as Hong Kong and Mexico, and is formulating plans for expanding the service to cover Jewish communities the world over. Subtitling is now commonplace on the major TV streaming services, and he foresees few language problems arising. Quite the reverse, there is a community of interest binding diaspora Jewry together, and this Wootliff aims to foster. Wootliff sees JEWZY as a force for global Jewish unity in the future. “We’ll get there,” he said ‒ and with such a record of positive achievement behind him, it seems more than likely that he will.■