Jewish Person of the Week – Molly Tolsky of Alma!
Usually our Jewish Person of the Week lives in Chicago; this week we are featuring Molly Tolsky of Alma! because she is goals of being Jewish online and all of us at ChiTribe really look up to her.
Even as a little girl in Buffalo Grove, Molly Tolsky knew she wanted to be a writer. Originally an English major, Molly transferred from the University of Michigan to Columbia College Chicago and graduated with a degree in Fiction Writing. As an undergraduate, Molly started a literary magazine with some friends called “The Green Flash” and published fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, which was also when she began publishing her own stories in literary magazines. The Chicago literary scene invigorated Molly, and for the first time she had a community of writers. The rest is herstory.
Graduating from college in 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, Molly scrambled to find work in her field, but the closest she could get was working part time at a Barnes and Noble. She spent her off time applying for graduate programs. Molly moved to New York in 2009 to pursue a graduate degree in fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College.
“In the beginning, I just loved writing. I wasn’t thinking much beyond this is what I like to do right now. Now, I have two degrees in fiction writing, which makes me shocked that I am employed!”
During graduate school, Molly needed a job. She was thrust into the Jewish world by chance.
One day her roommate was browsing through paid internship listings and exclaimed, “Oh man, I wish I was Jewish!” Molly looked over and asked “…but why?” and was sent the position description for an editorial internship for a soon-to-be-launched Jewish parenting website. Molly applied for the position with low expectations; she really just needed a summer job. She got it, and this internship turned into a life-changing career in Jewish digital media.
As an intern during the launch of Kveller.com, a site for Jewish parents, Molly loved the entire process of going from an idea to an actual website.
After her internship ended the summer of 2010, she was offered a part-time position to stay on during her final year of grad school. Upon graduation in 2011, Molly was offered the position of full-time editorial assistant. Molly helped create a space dedicated for women where they felt very comfortable talking about intimate and vulnerable things.
In 2014, when Kveller became part of a new Jewish digital media company called 70 Faces Media, Molly was promoted to editor of Kveller.
And that’s how she found herself as the editor of a parenting website, even though she is not a parent. She likes to joke that she can now “pass” as a parent. Maybe she learned too much, because she is terrified of all the things she learned about parenting while editing Kveller (parenting is hard).
The Beginning of Alma
At the same time, Molly kept thinking, “What if there was a site like Kveller but for people like me — an adult who might not feel totally like an adult?! You are not settled down yet and still trying to figure out what you want your life to look like.” This was the spark for Alma, a site for millennial Jewish women that covers pop culture, politics, news, and identity, all through a Jewish lens.
“We are an unabashedly feminist site. Our tag line is ladies with chutzpah. Our readers are feminist. Being able to talk about feminist issues with a Jewish audience is really important.”
After seeing how Kveller uniquely appealed to Jewish mothers, Molly felt like it was actually crucial to have a space for Jewish (self-identified) women and non-binary people. Alma is a part of 70 Faces Media, which meant she had the support and resources to launch an incredible site.
Molly cares so deeply about what she is doing, and because she has such a clear vision, it helped that she only had herself to rely on to make it happen. Alma is run by a small team, but the capacity for content creation is growing each day.
“I am super happy this is where I ended up. Because I wasn’t really doing Jewish things, but by nature of working with stories of people exploring their own Jewish identities, I was forced to think about it myself. It is a bigger part of myself because of what I do. I have come to realize that my Jewish identity is a big part of who I am and there are ways to explore this without going to synagogue each week.”
Alma Speaks to the Jewish Soul
Judaism is often thought of as a patriarchal religion. There are certain things that are deeply un-feminist held next to stories like Judith who saved Jerusalem by being brave and strong (and getting the enemy drunk on wine and cheese and then beheading him).
Having a space to commiserate and connect with other Jewish women is a powerful thing.
Molly wants to create camaraderie around Jewish women, and Alma features amazing Jewish women doing great work in their fields, creating ties to the Jewish texts with examples of feminism.
“I feel really grateful. I get probably one email a day from a random reader just to say how much they love us and how thankful they are that we exist. Working for the internet, you are used to only hearing people complain and get angry at you for something you did online. It is really nice to get that positive feedback.”
We asked Molly, when the Tribe Gathers… Chaos ensues
Learn more about Hey Alma…
Learn more about Molly…