Not too many readers understand what it takes to come up with an eighty-eight-page full-color thought-provoking magazine, issue after issue, year after year. But since we recently learned that Jewish Action won four Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism for work produced in 2013, I decided to give our readers a rare behind-the-scenes look at the generally confidential editorial process. (See the Letters section for a list of the awards.)
Incidentally, this is the third year in which Jewish Action has participated in the Rockower Awards competition, sponsored by the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA), and it has been honored each of the three years.
The process of conceiving of each issue of Jewish Action takes place in a small conference room at 11 Broadway in downtown Manhattan, the OU headquarters, where the talented members of our editorial team gather around the table to try to come up with meaningful topics that speak to the contemporary Orthodox Jew. The next steps center mostly around our capable editor, Nechama Carmel, and her diligent assistant editor, Rashel Zywica. Articles are assigned to authors and the process of photo research begins. When the articles come in, they are reviewed by the board; suggestions are made. Sometimes the author needs to revise the piece, sometimes the editor rewrites. Once the articles are ready, our assistant editor begins the process of fact checking, making sure all names are spelled correctly, titles are accurate, et cetera. Articles are then edited for clarity, grammar and spelling. Once the articles are fully edited, they are sent to layout where a designer works closely with the editorial staff to come up with winning layouts that accurately portray the various articles. Each article is then proofread at least two or three times, ads are inserted and finally, the magazine is sent to the printer!
This rough outline of the editorial process does not, of course, tell of the hours spent editing and rewriting, of endless phone calls and e-mails between authors and editorial staff, of the thousands of small intricate details involved in getting an attractive glossy magazine to appear in your mailbox. Serving as chairman of the Communications Commission has been extraordinarily rewarding for me personally, not only because I get to work with people who share my passion for the written word, but because I know that for many of us on the team, creating a new magazine each quarter is far more than a job; it is a deeply satisfying calling.
A few words about this issue’s cover story: I found many of the Pew report’s findings simply fascinating. I would, however, like to focus on one finding in particular—the Orthodox retention rate. While in earlier generations many who were raised Orthodox chose to leave Orthodoxy, this is no longer the case. The Pew study reported that among those 65 and older who were raised as Orthodox Jews, just 22 percent are still Orthodox. In stark contrast, 83 percent of Jewish adults under 30 who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox.
Reviewing these findings, I cannot help but reflect on the days of my childhood. My friends and I, growing up in Williamsburg in the shadow of the Holocaust, came of age in the fifties and sixties, when the trend was to abandon Yiddishkeit. It was hard to relate to the rebbes, most of whom were broken Holocaust survivors who spoke Yiddish, and little, if any, English. Denied a childhood themselves, they could not understand our adolescent struggles, aspirations and hopes. Remarkably though, most of my classmates at Torah Vodaath are today fiercely committed Torah Jews. How did we manage to defy the statistics? In my mind, there is one overriding answer: Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Feldberg.
An outstanding educator, Rabbi Feldberg, who taught us in the fifth and sixth grades, was a clear thinker and a kind, compassionate rebbe. Most impressive, he understood us. Our only American-born rebbe, he had traveled to Europe to study under the Chofetz Chaim in Radin. It left a tremendous impression on him, and the fact that he consistently radiated ahavat Yisrael was due, no doubt, to the Chofetz Chaim’s influence. Gemara came alive in Rabbi Feldberg’s class, perhaps because he also played sports with us and invited us to his home for get-togethers and Chanukah parties. Everyone wanted to be in Rabbi Feldberg’s class, not only because he would take us to Ebbets Field to watch the Dodgers play each year, but because he loved us, and we knew it.
Reading about the 83 percent retention rate in the Pew report and how young people today are choosing to stay within the fold, I wondered how many Rabbi Feldbergs are out there in Jewish education today, and if perhaps they have anything to do with it.
Best wishes to all of you for a wonderful summer.