Get the truth and print it. – John S. Knight
When I walked into the newsroom, I had to catch my breath. Was I really here or was it a dream? I felt like I was in a scene of one of my favorite movies, All The President’s Men, where two ace reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, used their writing savvy and detective skills to uncover what would become known as Watergate.
Yes, there I was in the extremely bustling offices of the Washington Post. I remember pinching myself to make sure it was real. All those years of excelling at writing in grade school and getting ‘A’s’ for my papers in middle school and being one of the reporters on our high school newspaper and keeping a private writing journal was finally paying off. During college, I could never quite decide what field I should go into – journalism or advertising. I just knew I wanted a job where I could write! And now, here I was exploring my options and looking at a world I had only imagined before.
Not sure quite where to settle after college, I thought I would try the community of Silver Spring, Maryland. Having lived in a dormitory in Manhattan for many years, I was tired of city life. I was always interested in politics, so Silver Spring seemed the right choice for me with its close proximity to Washington, D.C.
I had a huge smile on my face as I stood among the reporters who were busily running around and heard the endless click click click of typewriters everywhere. There were also very large TV screens on many floors with the sound on mute just so people could keep abreast of what was going on in the world. (Yes, this was way before everyone had a PC!)
I suddenly knew what it felt like to be Alice in Wonderland! I was breathing in this world, taking in everything as sharply as I could through all my senses! I was being given a private tour by a woman who had worked her way up in The Washington Post and, believe it or not, became religious as a separate, personal journey. I think she could see how excited I was to be among my landsmen – fellow writers!
From floor to floor we walked and I took it all in. Afterwards, my guide took me to her office where we had lunch and discussed what I had seen. Since she was a senior staff member, she told me that she could offer me a position right away – writing obituaries – but then I could work my way up. And she was very candid with me about knowing my religious boundaries before I accepted this position. When we parted I thanked her for all the time she spent with me and her kind advice about everything.
Out on the street, reality hit! Here I was being offered a starting position in a place I knew I would love. But, if truth be told, her words rang true to my heart. I was pondering the question: If a breaking story came up on Shabbos or Yom Tov, what would I do?
As I took a long walk home, and debated that question, I realized, a bit heartbroken I must say, that if I was not certain I could answer that question, I was not ready to accept this job. Yes, I had fantasized for many years about working for a major newspaper but there was something I had also done that was, in my eyes, much more important: I had decided what kind of lifestyle I wanted to live.
I had grown up in the Southern town of Little Rock, Arkansas where, through the youth group NCSY, I had become shomeret Shabbos while going to a predominantly Baptist high school. I had made the choice to go to a religious college, Touro College, and not the University of Missouri with its fabulous journalism program. I spent my junior year in Israel attending Neve Yerushalayim. I worked hard to achieve the religious goals I had set for myself.
Not accepting the job offer at the Washington Post was one of the hardest things I have ever done. And even today, almost 40 years later, I still feel a twinge of sadness. I am in awe of the many observant writers who have stayed true to their orthodox roots while having highly successful careers. Looking back, I now see I just didn’t have the confidence to make that commitment – but it definitely can be done.
It is said that when one door is closed to you, God opens up another one. Through the years I have written for many Jewish periodicals and done PR for numerous Jewish organizations. I also published two books and have had the unbelievable opportunity to speak in communities all over the world.
I did achieve my dream of becoming a known writer – just not in the way I originally thought I would. And, quite honestly, when I sit at a Shabbos or Yom Tov table, surrounded by my religious children and grandchildren, I feel so grateful knowing I truly was able to achieve my personal and professional goals.
This article first appeared, in longer form, in the book Celebrating Shabbos.
Adapted for OU Life by the author.
Rebecca (Feldbaum) Steier is the author of two books, If There’s Anything I Can Do . . . (Feldheim, 2003) and What Should I Say, What Can I Do? (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She is a popular speaker who draws upon her personal experiences to teach women’s groups how to help those who are going through a medical crisis or who have suffered a loss. Visit her website at www.rebeccafeldbaum.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.