My last words — sort of
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My last words — sort of

My last day working for The Jewish Standard started with a meeting with a salty hobo.

A big, greasy, delicious hobo with cheese — a breakfast sandwich from Poppy’s Bagels in Teaneck consisting of a cheese-and-fried-potato omelet on a buttered bagel — one of the many local delicacies in which I have indulged too many times over the past three years.


It’s one of the reasons that I’m leaving the Standard to take a job as a staff writer for JTA with about ‘0 extra pounds of luggage strapped to my midsection.

But the hobo made for a fitting last Teaneck binge because a few minutes after the ink dries on this column, I’m going to be something of a hobo. I’m packing my bandanna, tying it to a stick, and hitting the road. And in a very real sense, I’m going to be homeless.

It’s more than the fact that I’m going to miss the people I’ve worked with here (and forgive me if this column gets more sentimental as it goes on. As I write, staff members keep stopping in to say goodbye). And it’s more than the fact that I’ve helped fashion the Standard’s current incarnation and that I should be able to look at every issue of this paper for years and see my fingerprints.

This is the place where I’ve really had a chance to grow as a writer. The pages in this paper gave me the space to really stretch my pen, for which I will forever be beholden to the publisher of the paper, James Janoff, who took a chance on a young writer, and just let him go with it.

I’ll always remember some of the stories I’ve written here because my editor let me write about myself and my family and my perspective. I love that 45,000 or so people in New Jersey know about my father’s clown collection in Baltimore and the wonderful story behind it. (And I love that I was able to tell my chasidic parents that I’m not so chasidic, using 45,000 or so of you as a buffer. Thanks. They took it well.)

Other stories, like the piece on my first foray into a Hebrew Christian prayer service in Wyckoff, I’ll remember because they shocked me. Other stories, like the time I ate cow udder with the OU and the time I ate 10 pounds of Abeles & Heyman hot dog products, I’ll remember because they were tasty. Others, like the story about Jorma Kaukonen’s trip toward Judaism, I’ll remember because I got to interview in depth real-life rock psychedelic stars, who played with Jerry and Janice.

Then there are those I’ll remember because they took weeks to write and won awards.

But it’s not the award-winning stories that I’m going to remember most. It’s the stories of the people that I met in this area. Stories about people like Lucas Wexler, a one-armed Little League baseball player I met during my first week here three years ago, covering the Maccabi game at the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. It’s the stories about the Orthodox gun club that took me shooting in Paterson on a frozen Sunday morning. It’s talking with local parents of developmentally disabled children about how they deal with their kids’ adolescence. And it’s stories about people like Marty Lederhandler, the 88-year-old AP photographer who’s shot some of the most famous pictures American newspapers have ever seen, who lives in Hackensack now.

There is an amazing depth to the Jewish community here in northern New Jersey — and not just because Bergen and Hudson counties abut Manhattan.

They say that all politics is local, but the same applies to Judaism. No matter how the major Jewish organizations try to dictate how Jews should act on the ground, they do so only in reaction to what the Jews on the ground want and need. And no matter what the major organizations decide, every synagogue, JCC, federation, local chapter of the JNF is ultimately going to tweak the mainstream message to fit its individual needs.

And in truth, Judaism very much runs through this area.

It’s why I feel ready to move on to JTA, the AP of the Jewish journalism world, where my job will be writing about the American Jewish community as a whole. I’ve learned about it by meeting with and talking with you and by covering the Jewish community that you have built.

This also isn’t an absolute goodbye. The Standard is a JTA client, so by my estimation, the Standard should pick up one or two of my stories a week and run them in its World section.

So, these are they. My last words as a Standard staffer — sort of. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the past few hundred thousand of them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

Jacob.berkman@gmail.com

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