by Sara Gilbert
From the outset, the founders of the Jewish Federation of Rockland County wanted a newspaper as a way of informing and connecting the community, and giving Rockland what no other Jewish newspaper was doing – a steady diet of local news.
They gave the community just that five years after forming the Federation when they established The Jewish Herald. Twenty years and two names later, that paper is now The
Rockland Jewish Federation Reporter that you are reading.
Celebrating its own 20th anniversary, the paper is a hybrid of Federation promotion and local community news.
“I’m very proud that our community has an award winning paper like this one,” said Jeffrey Koenig, Federation vice president and former editorial board chair for the newspaper.
The impetus to found the paper came as other New York Jewish newspapers such as The Jewish Week were cutting back on Rockland coverage. In September 1991, at the Highview School with Sheila Lawrence as editor and Neil Potash as director of the Federation, newspaper began with a mailing list of 12,000. They struggled to fill the 16 pages with content each month.
Lawrence left three years later and Maureen Wise, who served on the founding editorial board, took the position until 2002 when she and her husband, Murray, moved to West Palm Beach, Fla.
“It gave me the opportunity to work with and get to know and learn from some amazing people locally and nationally and I feel very privileged to have had that opportunity,” Wise said. “I’ve made some wonderful friendship through those years.”
Wise was involved with UJA in Rockland since 1969 and by the time she became editor, she knew everyone and everyone knew her.
“This made things much easier and we were able to develop the paper into a true community focal point, we were able to report what was going on all over the community,” said Wise.
During her tenure, adverting sales rose and by 2001 subscriptions were at 21,000, almost double what they started with ten years earlier and as a result the paper grew larger. The original name was changed after the paper was sued by a Brooklyn one sharing that moniker. It more recently was changed from The Rockland Jewish Reporter to emphasize the Federation’s ownership.
There were several trials with publishers and layout formats changes until, in September 1999, the paper affiliated with the Jewish Media Group, located in N.J., giving the paper a color format, new presentation and layout. The company continues to print the paper today.
After Wise left, the paper ran through a series of editors until Laurie Bandremer took over as part of her role as public relations and marketing director.
“We need a Jewish newspaper here,” said Bandremer, who held the position until 2005. “There are so many synagogues, so many things going on here simultaneously and so many Jewish issues that come up because we have such a diverse Jewish population in Rockland. It’s intangible.”
It’s a position with which the current editor, Marla Cohen, concurs. Cohen took over from Bandremer and has been editing the paper for the past five years. During that time she’s won two first place Simon Rockower Awards for her columns, “Editor’s Notebook,” from the American Jewish Press Association.
A Jewish paper is necessary in a community like Rockland because it “helps inform and connect even the most unaffiliated person,” said Cohen. “A lot of people pick the paper up for the calendar, to see what’s going on. It’s a useful tool to help bring them into contact with what the Federation and what other Jewish organizations are doing.”
Prior to her current position, Cohen worked for six years at Woman’s World but the work, managing the features department, was not that creative. She enjoyed reporting, having worked as a general assignments and education reporter at the News & Observer of Raleigh and wanted to write.
“I wanted to do something that was more meaningful, and I’d been applying for every Jewish job out there that said ‘writer,” said Cohen when she was laid off from the magazine. The Federation job truly “fell into my lap.
“Actually, I really love doing this, I like hearing what people have to say and crafting them into an engaging narrative,” said Cohen about her job.
As someone who started out and has spent her career in the newspaper and magazine business, she says, “I feel we write more in-depth stories about the community. We no longer publish unedited press releases. Our stories are sourced, that is we interview the subjects and craft what they say into a narrative.”
However with all this news experience, Cohen says she loves where she is now. “I love Jewish conversations and thought. Putting that to paper and getting other’s ideas out there is a very rewarding activity.”
Koenig agrees, and adds that the best part for him about being involved with the paper was “seeing a quality product go out to the community. Each time I saw the articles, the advertisements, the information disseminated properly, it made me feel proud that we have such an instrument to represent the Federation.”
Looking forward, Cohen says she would love to see more letters.
“People tell me all the time what they like and sometimes what they don’t, but if only they’d send me a letter!”
“I’d just like to see the paper able to continue. It is fully funded by the Federation and it is reliant on donations. In a perfect world, we’d be able to do a better job of covering a wider swath of the community,” Cohen said.
Nov. 12, 2010