By Alisa Roberts
The future of the Jewish press took an important step forward this past weekend. Shalhevet High School, in association with the American Jewish Press Association, hosted a convention for Jewish high school newspapers in Los Angeles. This was the first convention for the newly-formed Jewish Scholastic Press Association, an organization designed specifically for Jewish high school papers.
Held at B’nai David-Judea Congregation, the convention boasted an impressive array of speakers and presenters, including Rob Eshman (Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Los Angeles’ Jewish Journal), Susan Freudenheim (Jewish Journal), Jacob Kamaras (Editor-in-Chief, JNS News Service), Jennifer Medina (National Correspondent, The New York Times), Gary Rosenblatt (Editor and Publisher, New York Jewish Week), David Suissa (columnist and President of Tribe Media, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles), and Marshall Weiss (President of the American Jewish Press Association).
The atmosphere on the first day of the convention was energetic and happy as kids gathered their badges and found their workshops. David Suissa, who gave one of the opening workshops, discussed journalism’s capability to unite the Jewish people. Speaking conversationally to a small group, he made the point that curiosity, a natural journalistic trait, is one that we as a people need today. While we are all eager to give to others, particularly of our thoughts and opinions, being open to the perspectives of others and curious about where they are coming from is a much more important – and challenging – position. “I found it fascinating,” said Anna Gordon, a Shalhevet student who had been an active participant in the discussion following Mr. Suissa’s presentation.
Joelle Keene, Shalhevet’s journalism teacher and faculty advisor for their student paper, The Boiling Point, explained how the convention came into being. She has been taking her students to national conferences for years. But all the conferences that they attend, with one exception in New York that often falls around Pesach, are partially over Shabbos. “We miss a lot,” Joelle said. “An Orthodox Jewish high school is on a different calendar, and yet we have to learn to do what the rest of them do.” A task made even more monumental by the fact that there is no journalism course at the school – they put together their paper during lunch meetings, after school, and via email. There is a course for staff writers, but even that is after school. And yet they have an award winning paper. Last year they were one of nine finalists for the National Scholastic Press Association’s Pacemaker Award. Unfortunately, they were unable to attend the ceremony, which was held on Shabbos. They are also the first high school paper to join the American Jewish Press Association – and to win two Simon J. Rockower Awards for Jewish journalism. They take their journalism very seriously, which made this convention all the more important.
“Half the idea of this conference was to give kids the opportunity to learn it all,” Joelle explains. With workshops covering topics from page design and copyright to ethics and lashon hara, there was an incredible amount available to learn. And the other half of that idea, giving students the opportunity to explore issues particular to Jewish kids, was also well represented. Workshops were offered on covering Israel and finding news in Jewish topics, and Dana Erlich, Director of Public Diplomacy for the Israeli Consulate in LA, gave a keynote speech.
Despite the challenges of starting something new, the conference came together well. “Everyone I asked said yes,” Joelle said, sounding slightly amazed. “I think people realized that there was a need. Jewish kids are not thinking about journalism in a Jewish way, or at all. I think this idea was overdue.” This year, for its inaugural convention, 13 schools were invited; they are hoping to double that number next year. Schools came from the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as from Texas, Illinois, Maryland, and New York.
Students from SAR High School in New York were some of those in attendance. Their paper, The Buzz, also runs entirely through after school meetings. When asked how they manage that on top of a regular course load, senior Ricki Heicklen responded, “None of us sleep.” But they enjoyed the convention. “We learned a lot that we can take back to our paper,” said senior Hilla Katz.
And their paper, copies of which were available at the convention, is already quite impressive. Both The Buzz and The Boiling Point were filled with thoughtful, well-written, and often funny pieces. These young journalists are, as was plainly evident during the workshops, sharp analytical thinkers and eloquent communicators.
As Rabbi Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea said in his presentation, “The journalistic endeavor is about arousing conversation in the community.” Our up and coming journalists appear to be rising to that call.