January 28, 2020

Jewish Journalism

Last week the American Jewish Press Association held its 19th annual conference in Washington DC. Part of the proceedings always include a closing night dinner where reporters and their newspapers are honored for Excellence in Jewish Journalism. These are known as the Simon Rockower Awards.No room for immodesty here. There are 10 different categories for awards, each of which includes first and second place prizes and one honorable mention (presumably third place). The Jewish Journal submitted stories written in 1999 by members of our staff, for six of the 10 categories. We won five prizes, the largest number given to a Jewish weekly this year.

Julie Gruenbaum Fax was awarded two first place prizes, one for Excellence in Personality Profiles (“Gay, Orthodox and a Rabbi”), and one for Excellence in News Reporting (“A Day in Shul with the Dalai Lama “). The entire staff took first place for Excellence in Comprehensive Coverage of a story – the sad occasion being our “Coverage of the North Valley JCC Shootings.”Naomi Pfefferman took a break from her entertainment beat and received an Honorable Mention for Excellence in Feature Writing (“Crypto-Jews Unmasked”), and I was awarded second place for Commentary and Editorial Writing (“Jewish in Europe”). To anticipate your question, receiving all these awards, it feels great.

Farewell to J.J. Goldberg

I hope you have read J.J. Goldberg’s column on page 5. It’s smart, savvy and humane, all at the same time. It is also, alas, his farewell column for us.

J.J. Goldberg, 50, has been selected to be the new editor at the (English language) Forward newspaper in New York, succeeding founding editor Seth Lipsky. It is both a natural and an inspired choice. But it also means that his writing will now appear in that newspaper, probably in the form of editorials.

Under Lipsky, the Forward took an aggressive stance towards the Jewish establishment, not because of its bureaucratic fumbling so much as for its (perceived) liberal ideology. Goldberg, who is the author of “Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment,” says “I want to tell the truth, but I don’t want to humiliate anyone.” We wish him well.

Good for the Jews

Early this week, I received a telephone call from one of our readers who wanted to know if the Supreme Court’s decision on California’s blanket primary law was “good for the Jews.”

I started to hedge, to explain that it wasn’t a Jewish issue, but then caught myself and halted. Hung for a sheep, hung for a goat, I told myself. Yes, I said authoritatively, the Court’s ruling that the law was unconstitutional and therefore void was “good for the Jews.” Satisfied, the caller broke the connection. No further explanation seemed necessary. But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that – ideology aside – in fact I had provided the generally correct answer.

In our state’s blanket primary, you may recall, there is only one ballot and every voter can cast his or her ballot for any one candidate, regardless of political party. Everyone has the opportunity to jump parties or to claim a party affiliation, even for this one occasion alone. It sort of converts the primary into a general State election.

Not surprisingly, Republican and Democratic party leaders dislike the open primary and are pleased with the Court’s ruling. They want the political parties to be more cohesive, to reflect something akin to party loyalty and discipline. They want more control.

The Court’s back of the hand to the blanket primary appeared to second their objection when it called the law “a stark repudiation of freedom of political association.” Political parties should be free to determine their candidate and even to carve out their own identity, the Court was saying. How is this particularly good for the Jews?

Our voices in both parties count far beyond our numbers. So party discipline and party control generally works to our advantage, whichever party we favor. The blanket primary, however, seems to me only half a step away from populism. It is a second cousin to cyberspace chat rooms. Single issue groups of voters who want to exercise a determining role in a party’s local election – whether it be over banning books, abortion, prayer in school – can theoretically affect the choice of a party candidate… and then disappear.Historically, populism in America has championed the underdog against the oligarchs; called for a more equitable sharing of wealth and power. At the same time, populism has often been nativist, anti-immigrant, narrow in its acceptance of Jews and Catholics and blacks, and anti-intellectual. This was true for George Wallace of Alabama as well as for 19h-century founding populist leader William Jennings Bryan.

Politics of course is anything but static. Ask the same question – Is it good for the Jews? – 20 years from now, maybe even within the decade, and you might receive a different answer. But for now, I’m with the Supreme Court.