In 1996, I joined the staff of this singular newspaper, and — except for a brief hiatus after the transition of ownership to The New York Jewish Week and a longer one about 20 years ago — my name has been on the masthead ever since, as copy, arts, associate, managing, and executive editor.
In the years that NJJN has been my professional home, I witnessed massive changes in the form and content of this publication, and took great pride at the staff’s stalwart success in meeting formidable challenges and overcoming daunting obstacles.
So while my long association with NJJN has been the source of enormous professional and personal gratification, it makes it all the more disheartening to see it come to an end.
When I started as copy editor at what was then MetroWest Jewish News, we were (sort of) up to date; we still clung to a few “old-time” newsroom conventions (sketching out page layouts by hand, printing “galleys” and pages for proofing), but the writing and assembling of the paper was of course done on screen. The editors’ resources, however, were still in what we did not know then were the information dark ages. I had a bookcase of reference works on grammar and punctuation, language usage and style, and we kept long lists of colleges, hospitals, and other institutions to ensure the accuracy of our life-cycle listings and reportage. We referred constantly to the AJC’s American Jewish Year Book for the correct names of organizations and current leaders — and then Google, the demigod of editors, changed everything.
I was there as a spurt of acquisitions led from the publication of one edition to five editions, covering other federation regions in the state. This resulted in the expansion of the work and the staff and the development of logistical acrobatics to get out all those papers with staggered print deadlines — especially burdensome when the holidays inconveniently shortened the work week or when manmade or natural disasters struck.
When Superstorm Sandy hit on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, we communicated via our cell phones to devise a plan of action. On Tuesday, production day, we huddled together in one small room, powered by an emergency generator, and managed to deliver the paper to the printer on time — but, alas, the post offices were down and those papers remained where they were for quite some time.
On 9/11 — another Tuesday — we were in a state of shock, but not only did we manage to produce the paper, we got a cover photo showing a view from New Jersey of the smoke rising from the wreckage; a photographer who was a good friend to the paper had rushed over to deliver the image.
Editing the multiple editions led to a highly gratifying aspect of my job: relationships with dozens of individuals throughout the state, including clergy, educators, organizational officials, and lay leaders. They were all working to bolster the Jewish community through a wealth of educational, cultural, political, and religious endeavors, and so I was proud to assist them with publicizing and reporting on them in NJJN’s pages.
The foremost benefit of my NJJN experience was working with a team who embodied the concept of pulling together. With few exceptions, all those whose names have appeared on the masthead with mine — reporters, editors, designers, production staff, and the advertising representatives and business managers — can claim credit for creating an outstanding community institution.
We grappled with the same issues that major newspapers do: balance of perspectives on the opinion and op-ed pages, covering controversial or political issues without bias, understanding how limitations of time and space may result in the seeming tilting of information in support of a particular point of view.
Those at the top of the masthead believed that a community newspaper earned its readers’ trust if it offered an open and honest picture of their leaders and institutions. If at times that meant printing opinion pieces or news reports on subjects not in the mainstream or even rejected by any portion of the readership, it was understood that such was the nature of a vigorous and free press.
The ultimate goal — which I believe NJJN has unfailingly met — was to strengthen the communities the paper has served with editorial and design excellence and adherence to journalism’s best practices.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, keeping the print editions going has been a struggle; the pandemic has brought that struggle to an end.
In 2016, when The Jewish Week took over NJJN in a bid to save the paper, most of the staff, sadly, was let go; I left after helping with the transition for a few months, then rejoined as editorial adviser. A few NJJN reporters continued on (senior writer Johanna Ginsberg recently was honored with two awards for journalistic excellence from the American Jewish Press Association).
The editors-in-chief I worked with — David Twersky (z”l) and Andrew Silow-Carroll (who circled around to the helm of NJJN when he became the editor in chief of the Jewish Week last year and whose well of knowledge and talent is seemingly bottomless) were exemplars of stellar editing, analyzing, reporting, and writing. Mollie Leitzes took over the entire operation during a particularly turbulent time and guided us with an expert hand and a generous spirit.
The “newcomers” who took the reins at NJJN — Editor Gabe Kahn and Managing Editor Shira Vickar-Fox — with intelligence, professional acumen, talent and creativity, and a deep dedication to the Jewish community, have respected the legacy they were entrusted with and, under difficult circumstances, guided publication of a superb product that should make them proud.
I hope and trust that somehow in the coming months there will be some way to replicate electronically what NJJN did best: represent in this increasingly fractured world a cynosure that its readers could rely on as the defining entity of their community. For seven-plus decades, with journalistic integrity and an abiding commitment to its mission, NJJN was the voice of and for the Jews of New Jersey.