August 20, 2019

How to Mindfully Read This Newspaper

Photo by NYX

Do you know what we need in an age of attention-destroying, context-lacking, rage-inducing consumption of digital story after digital story? A user’s manual for the print edition of a local community newspaper.

If you flip through the pages of the Jewish Journal until you’ve found one “good” article to read, you’re a mindless consumer of the endangered medium known as print. You’re also quite normal. 

Most of us do this and then complain that we didn’t have enough time to read the entire paper, reasoning that if only we had an extra hour, we would read every story while nobly ignoring our phones or tablets.

So how does one manage to extract the potential for meaning that is this weekly collection of diverse Jewish thoughts, values, voices and grievances? It begins by first touching the paper itself. 

Run your fingers along the bottom edges. Paper feels good, doesn’t it? Even if it gives you a little cut, at least that means it’s touched you, and no phone can ever do that, electrical shocks notwithstanding.

Look carefully at the cover. If you were in charge, what topic would you have selected this week? The answer — whether it’s your outrage over the latest political abomination at home or an existential threat abroad — will tell you a lot about what you cherish, and more importantly, what you fear. 

Read the ads, even if they concern issues and events that are of no interest to you. These ads point to a Los Angeles Jewish community that’s alive and thriving, questioning and reconciling, from day schools to retirement homes, film screenings to homes for sale. For that, we are blessed.

“Don’t settle for what you love.
Explore it all. It may surprise you.”

Next, take a moment to read the letters to the editor. Some are cordial, while those that are critical point to a great but often neglected truth: Newspaper writers put themselves on the firing line. Don’t assume that all of them are resilient. They have foibles, just like you.

As for the columns and opinion pieces, don’t skip the story of every writer with whom you disagree, especially if you label him or her the “evil conservative” or the “ignorant liberal.” Reading differing opinions on paper, without the option of clicking on something else that captures your interest — is akin to what the late comedian George Carlin observed by asking, “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” 

Don’t ignore the latest op-ed from the “idiot” who just doesn’t get it or from the “maniac” who drank too deeply from the well of ideological Kool-Aid this week. Try to understand them, and even if you disagree with them, at least familiarize yourself with their arguments so you can weaponize their profound stupidity in the future.

Of course, had turning our backs and refusing to even listen to differing Jewish voices been a tolerated practice during our 3,000 years of history, there would be no Jews left to call “idiots” or “maniacs” today.

If you find religion deplorable, read the Journal’s “Table for Five” Torah commentary, if only to be reminded of your own awkward bar or bat mitzvah decades ago. If you’re Orthodox, read the commentary from the female Reform rabbi. If you’re Reform, read the Orthodox voice. You get the idea.

If you’re worked up about Israel, or even if you’re not, read Political Editor Shmuel Rosner’s weekly column. If you’re into food, or even if you’re not, read Food Editor Yamit Behar Wood’s weekly story. If you love poetry, or even if you don’t, read the poetry page.

In other words, don’t settle for what you love. Explore it all. It may surprise you. 

And don’t forget the obituaries. You might never deliberately seek out those brief lines while browsing online. Read them to feel alive.

The beauty of paper is that it allows us to experience the art of reading without digital distractions. There are no embedded links to other stories, no pop-up ads, no abusive comments at the bottom of each story. 

In fact, paper may even have the power to do the impossible: give us back our attention spans.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.