On Sunday I had the opportunity to speak to a class of sixth-graders at Kol Shalom’s Hebrew school in Gaithersburg.
As my first speaking engagement ever, I was nervous, intimidated even. What if the students asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to? Did my year and a half as a professional Jewish journalist qualify me to impart knowledge to these students?
Before my scheduled appearance as their “guest lecturer,” the teacher emailed me to tell me that they had been talking about the importance of Jewish journalism and asked if I could explain why having a Jewish newspaper is so important.
I automatically ran through a number of answers in my head like “We need to be the Jewish paper of record” and “We need a place to celebrate the Jewish community”.
While true, those responses lacked power or a real tangibility, leaving me to ponder this question for most of the weekend.
I began thinking about all of the articles I have had the opportunity to write while at Washington Jewish Week. An interview with Matisyahu, a hard news piece on the fraud of Rabbi Menachem Youlus, a heart-felt feature piece on the brave mother and cancer patient Shira Klein and so many more. While similar articles on Matisyahu, Menachem Youlus and even Shira Klein have been written in other newspapers, none of the other articles focus on the subjects’ Judaism, and how their stories are seen and inspected through a Jewish lens.
Here is what I told the students:
Jewish journalism is so important because it focuses a Jewish lens and gives a Jewish context not only to feature pieces or specific people, but on larger issues facing a modern-day Jewish people.
For example, when the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School took place and the arguments on gun control ensued immediately after, Washington Jewish Week was there to report on the Jewish angle of the issue. Similarly, as 2012 was coming to a close and the “fiscal cliff” seemed inevitable, we wrote about how the Jewish community would be affected by the tax increases and spending cuts and put the issue in a Jewish context, something that other non-Jewish newspapers couldn’t do. Most recently, Washington Jewish Week took a look at the Jewish football players in the NFL, bringing that same Jewish context into something as non-Jewish as the Super Bowl.
After giving my answer, I asked the students why they felt having a Jewish newspaper is so important.
Many of them spoke of having a place to highlight local Jewish events and projects while others spoke of having a newspaper that stands up for Israel when other publications write negative things.
Their answers brought a smile to my face. Message received it seemed.
When my time was up I asked the class to email me with any story ideas they may have for the paper.
I know what you’re thinking — why would a newspaper want to hear story ideas from students that haven’t even had their b’nai mitzvot yet?
Here’s why: These sixth-graders are part of the larger Jewish community — that same Jewish community that we strive to serve every week with our publication. An idea that may seem cool to a sixth-grader may have the potential to blossom into a larger story that the entire Jewish community may be interested in and, young or old, every Jew should have the opportunity to voice his or her opinion.
So, whether you’re one of the amazing students that I had the chance to speak with at Kol Shalom on Sunday or one of our loyal readers who have been subscribing for years, please take the time to email me personally at [email protected] with your story ideas. I can’t promise that we’ll write an article but I can promise, Jew to Jew, that your voice will be heard.