Reporting from Nashville

Reporting from Nashville

The unsophisticated way to start this editorial would be by crowing.

“Yay! We won!”

But that would be so very unsophisticated.

But whatever! So here goes.

On Tuesday night, we learned that we at the Jewish Standard/New Jersey Jewish News won four Rockower awards, given by the American Jewish Press Association.

Our wonderful columnist, Joseph Kaplan, whose deep roots in the Jewish world, connection to at least every other person in it, and earned wisdom results in smart, kind, deeply Jewish essays. This year, he won the second-place award for excellence in writing about women in “Sadly, the war is not over,” a reported opinion piece on the issue of agunot.

(And here is as good a place as any to remind readers that Joseph will be talking with Harman Grossman about his new book of essays, “A Passionate Writing Life,” most of which were published in this newspaper, this Sunday evening at 7 at Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck.)

I also won three awards — an honorable mention in the health care category for “Sinai supports Israel,” about the Sinai School’s trip to D.C. for the November rally; second place in feature writing for “50 minyans in 50 states,” about Michael Segal, who read Torah in each of those minyanim, and first place in personality profiles for “Singing from his heart.” That one is about Yoni Stokar, the cantor in Fair Lawn who recently released his first album, Atzeres.

It feels good.

The Rockowers are awarded as part of AJPA’s annual conference, where we get to meet to talk about the state of the American Jewish press. Unsurprisingly, that state isn’t particularly good. It’s not news to say that print journalism is not a thriving industry, and online journalism hasn’t yet figured out how to make money except by finding a megarich donor, and even that lasts only so long.

But right now we Jewish journalists have a real challenge that we hope to meet. We are all community journalists, set on helping to protect the communities that we write about. To tell our own community’s stories, as well as the stories of the larger American Jewish community, and the Jewish community worldwide. I have learned how different each community is — we are blessed to have a community that is unusually Jewish, in terms of both numbers and knowledge.

I have been taking long walks in Nashville in the early mornings, and I’ve noticed ways in which it does not look like home. Yes, Broadway here has the neon and sleaze of actual Broadway decades ago, if in extreme miniature. And there are some very beautiful residential neighborhoods here. I walked by both the city’s Orthodox shul, Congregation Sherith Israel, and its Conservative one, West End Synagogue, just blocks away. They’re standard-looking shuls, and there are some beautiful houses nearby.

But nowhere in downtown Nashville or on my long treks through these neighborhoods have I seen any posters with pictures of the hostages, the devastating posters that are standard at home. There are no “We Stand With Israel” signs on lawns, or even at either shul. No signs demanding a ceasefire. For that matter, there are no scrawled graffiti or stickers supporting Hamas either.

It’s as if there isn’t a war going on. As if October 7 never happened.

I don’t know what it means but surely it means something.

Meanwhile, the Omer is coming to an end, and we are approaching Shavuot, the time of the giving of the Torah. I always am struck and caught by the image of the Torah as black fire on white fire. Words. All those burning, sparking, blazing words, in colors that do not exist in fire but somehow do.

The AJPA was all about words; words arranged on paper to tell stories that take form in our minds when we read them. Our words are not black fire; our newsprint is not white fire. Our media and its content are infinitely more prosaic. But still there is a direct line between Sinai and stories. As the world’s great stories, and its awful ones, unfold around us, we plan to keep telling our small ones.

Chag sameach.


read more: