Rockower awards and beluga whales

Rockower awards and beluga whales

If I were to understate politely, I would say that this has been a fraught few weeks. The Supreme Court has overturned longstanding decisions about abortion, gun regulation, and prayer at school events; two of the three directly affect the church-state relationship, and all of them affect American Jewish life.

On Sunday, Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine included an attack on a shopping center filled with people, followed by lies about its having been abandoned or attacked as a false-flag operation.

The January 6 committee is uncovering jaw-dropping evidence about what happened that day.

Inflation is continuing, covid is relentless, and gas costs approximately one arm and one and a half legs per gallon.

This is possibly not the best of times.

But life continues.

This week, the American Jewish Press Association held its annual conference — the first in-person meeting since 2019 — where we talked about Jewish journalism, met with the other people who have made the same glorious if not particularly well-paying career decisions we in our (still-at-home-but-whatever) newsroom.

We talked about situations we’ve encountered, decisions we’ve made, how each of our communities is different from all the others, and how each specific, unique community affects our news coverage of it. Our keynote speaker, Bret Stephens, the New York Times columnist, talked, among many other things, about how a story should be as long as it takes to tell it properly; there’s no advantage to shortening a story by leaving out the details that bring it to life. Given that it’s advice to which we’ve hewn before we ever heard it, we agree fervently with it.

And it seems that I’ve buried the lede.

We, the Jewish Standard and the New Jersey Jewish News, won nine Rockower awards!

They went to three of us.

Jerry Szubin, our brilliant art director, whose eye is matched by his brain, won the only award that he competed for. He got the first place award for general excellence — best graphic artist. It is entirely deserved.

Larry Yudelson, our brilliant writer (and yes, brilliance is a theme here), combines great depth of knowledge with quick wit, verbal dexterity, and what at times can be almost frightening intensity. He won three Rockowers; a second place award for journalistic excellence in covering Zionism, Aliyah, and Israel for “When Israel’s prime minister lived in Teaneck,” another second place for excellence in writing about antisemitism for “Teaneck’s sword-wielding Nazi fighter,” and an honorable mention for excellence in writing about Black-Jewish relationships for “Uncentering whiteness in Jewish Life.” (Up to three awards — first, second, and honorable mention — could be awarded in each category. The awards also are divided by type of publication; ours is “weekly and biweekly newspapers.”)

I won five of them; first place for excellence in North American Jewish history for “What’s in a name?,” second place in the David Frank award for excellence in personality profiles for “Music should be a bridge,” and honorable mention in that category as well, for “The unseen body.” I won two other honorable mentions; one for excellence in reporting in movies, theater, television, books, and witnesses for “We consecrate and we plunder,” and another for obituaries, in “Remembering Helene Fortunoff.”

We’re all feeling pride and gratitude. We have many gifted colleagues; we’re lucky to have been rewarded  so lavishly for our work.

I was in the lucky position of being one of the three AJPA members who gave out the awards at the dinner on Monday night. We were in Atlanta, at the Georgia Aquarium, where we got a behind-the-scenes tour. Our dinner was below ground in a room that had just one window. That window looked into the beluga whale pool from what seemed to be ground level. (We learned that it’s hard to gauge how deep water is from aquarium windows.)

Outside those windows, where we were, there were lots of people, bright colors, fast, not particularly graceful movements, clattering dishes, clinking silverware. Inside, there was the blue-green of the tinted glass and the white of the huge whales. They danced in the water, they dived and circled soundlessly (to be accurate, I have no idea if it would have been soundless in the water, but the silence allowed for the memory of Raffi’s song) and there was something indescribably magic about it. About their grace. And something profoundly healing, as well.

We’re all thrilled to have won these awards. We look forward to listening to the community’s stories this year, and next year, and the year after that, and then retelling them, because you can only tell what you know, and you can only know if you listen.

We hope to learn how to listen and tell the stories better and better, and we hope that in the coming years we will have happier stories to tell. — JP

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