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Reflections on a lifelong relationship with NJJN

Reflections on a lifelong relationship with NJJN

Lori Silberman Brauner on assignment in the Sahara Desert.
Lori Silberman Brauner on assignment in the Sahara Desert.

It is not a stretch to say that I cut my teeth on the New Jersey Jewish News, simply known as “The Jewish News” when I was a child growing up in suburban Essex County.

My family had strong ties to the community served by the original Jewish News, which was Newark and its suburbs. My maternal grandparents lived in the legendary Weequahic section of Newark, the neighborhood that inspired Philip Roth’s novels (he even referenced my great-aunt, “Mrs. [Hana] Duchin,” his elementary school teacher, in one!). I loved summers when my grandmother would come visit and get together with her siblings in our home, hearing stories — both hilarious and tragic — of the Newark streets where everyone knew each other. They later moved to Maplewood before relocating to Florida when my mother was 13. My father’s parents lived in Orange, where he graduated from high school and where my newly married parents resided and raised me before moving to Roseland when I was 7.

For us, the Jewish News was the vehicle to keep up with the extended Jewish community, which, after the Newark riots of 1967 and subsequent exodus to the suburbs, was no longer bound together within the confines of a closely knit neighborhood. All of our family lifecycle events were published, from my parents’ wedding to my own Hebrew High school graduation, wedding announcement, and subsequent birth announcements for my sons. In my family we learned to recognize community “machers” by their Jewish News headshots, portraits of perfectly coiffed volunteers taken by locally renowned photographers such as Eric Wagman.

Still, I never expected that I would spend over 20 years of my life (well, on and off) at this community institution.

In 1997, a fresh graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, I was hired by the late David Twersky and managing editor Debra Rubin (not to be confused with former NJJN Bureau Chief Debbie Rubin) as a staff writer at the newly expanded New Jersey Jewish News, which covered Essex, Morris, and Union counties, and later grew to include Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer, and even Bucks County, Pa. It was the perfect place to hone my newly acquired journalism skills, and David, a storied journalist who had worked for The Forward, was an editor who, to say diplomatically, both challenged and pushed his writers.

I had some fabulous adventures under his leadership, from fielding phone calls to him from imprisoned U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard to taking a press trip to Israel and covering (then former prime minister) Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in 1999.

He even sent me to Palm Beach County, Florida, intrigued by what NJ snowbirds were doing with their time down South and how the local federation was maintaining ties to this group (and their fund-raising dollars). I had a blast renting a car and driving up and down Interstate 95 speaking to residents and UJA officials; one of the best quotes I obtained was from a federation staffer in Boca Raton who told me you have to “pay to play,” i.e., it required big bucks to be included in the glamorous fundraisers held in gated retirement communities such as Boca West.

After having my first son in 2000, I scaled back professionally and eventually went freelance before rejoining the staff part-time as a copy editor in the fall of 2005, when my oldest was starting kindergarten. By then Andrew Silow-Carroll, also a well-respected journalist, had become editor in chief, and the office was a very family-friendly, supportive place to work. I officially worked four days a week, including one day a week at home, and found the time to take my younger son to Music Together classes and even help chaperone occasional school trips. Once they both reached school age (and with a ridiculous amount of time off from Jewish day school), I could take them to work with me without a hitch, and the boys were well-known fixtures in my office.

Ironically, as my need for child care waned so did my hours at NJJN, as it began to absorb the impact of the last decade’s print newspaper industry decline. My schedule was eventually cut to two days a week, which had its own benefits as it gave me time to explore and write about other areas outside the Jewish community, including the United Nations, international development, and maternal health, topics that had piqued my interest.

By the fall of 2016, NJJN was sold to The Jewish Week Media Group, which published the highly regarded New York Jewish Week and retained me on staff, initially for two days and then eventually full-time under the leadership of Editor Gabe Kahn, who promoted me to deputy managing editor. More of a peer than a traditional “boss,” he and Managing Editor Shira Vickar-Fox, both fellow Columbia J-School graduates, encouraged me to continue writing about issues I was excited about, such as Jewish travel and heritage. They even pretended not to mind when I would disappear for a week or more at a time to explore Jewish Morocco, Curacao, Portugal, and Israel, confident that I would thoroughly write about my experiences when I returned.

The coronavirus pandemic obviously put a stop to these adventures, and its toll on the newspaper — and just about every other industry — has been nothing short of devastating. While I don’t know what the future holds, I’m confident that I will land on my feet, and that NJJN will continue to be part of my life, through the friendships I’ve made at the newspaper and enough memories — not to mention clips — that could fill a dozen recycling bins.

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