I always imagined that I would get to say goodbye in print. At least that’s how I pictured it if I bothered to think that I might one day no longer be editing the local Jewish newspaper in Rockland County. There were times I thought I could go on doing that job forever. Certainly for the love of the work, I could have.
So this is a difficult column to write. That I didn’t get to write it for publication in the newspaper is part of what makes it so. But after seven and a half years, I will no longer be editor of your local Jewish community newspaper. I will be moving on to a new position at Touro College. It is my understanding that Jewish Media Group, the company that publishes the Rockland Jewish Standard, will still publish a newspaper but without a local editor.
It has been a very difficult year for me since the Jewish Federation of Rockland County decided to get out of the publishing business last February, shuttering the Rockland Jewish Reporter (which they had redubbed in its final years as the Rockland Jewish Federation Reporter). I felt it was a wrong-headed decision; the newspaper was something the federation did that no one else did — and they did it well. It was a service provided to everyone, no matter affiliation, and it was the lowest-barrier entry point into the Jewish community — no tuition, membership dues, or fees required. Heck, we didn’t even charge for subscriptions. The newspaper just arrived, unbidden, into your mailbox, or you picked up a copy at ShopRite in New City or at the JCC or the dozens of other drop off spots around the county.
Instead of taking the marketing job offered to me by the federation, I decided to leave the organization and work instead for Jewish Media Group. JMG, which had worked in partnership with the federation, managing the layout, advertising and distribution of the newspaper for more than a decade, launched the Rockland Jewish Standard, a new paper very similar to the Reporter, but looking more like its sister publication, the more than 80-year-old New Jersey Jewish Standard.
I wanted to stay in the news business. It was where I began my career and while I wasn’t someone who had always had ink-stained dreams reminiscent of “The Front Page,” banging around like a typewriter carriage in my head, I loved the hyper-local nature of a community Jewish newspaper. I liked the crush and stress of deadline and I loved telling stories — your stories.
In many ways, the new Standard was much like the Reporter, mainly because the two had me in common. I believe that a community needs a voice, something more than just a local bulletin board, and something that represents more than just any one organization’s point of view.
I don’t really care if that news resides on a page or online, but I knew there were stories that needed to be told, and I still feel that there are readers out there for them. I tried to bring what I had learned as a daily journalist for the Chapel Hill Newspaper and the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. to bear on this newspaper, so that it would represent our Jewish community. I worked hard to give multiple points of views both in any one story and throughout the spectrum of topics I covered. Through my columns, I tried to provide a lens on our contemporary Jewish world, harnessing my thoughts into coherent prose. Sometimes I succeeded, and the American Jewish Press Association must have agreed, honoring me with three first-place awards over the years.
Nonetheless, I didn’t capture our community as fully as I would have liked. I never had the human or monetary resources to cover some of the more challenging stories we face. And I was never able to reach out as well as I could have to the Orthodox community and convince them that the newspaper was there for them, too.
I tried my best to reach you all. I hope you feel that I succeeded.
I do know that I will miss doing this job very much. I loved rushing out to attend a program or meet with someone, one of those skinny reporter notebooks shoved in my bag, a pen clipped to its wire spiral and my Nikon D3100 slung over my shoulder. I loved the rush of a new story as it unfolded; covering it might prove fun, scary, disturbing or mystifying. It could be something routine or something surprising. It could show the goodness of our community, such as housing the homeless in our shuls, or it could demonstrate the larger shifts in our world, such as the closing of a day school or the opening of the JCC on Shabbat. Sometimes they were just personal and moving, a family that commissioned a piece of music in memory of Holocaust survivor parents, a veteran soldier meeting a woman who was a young girl in the concentration camp that he liberated, the personal memories of those who survived or lost someone on 9/11.
Whatever the story, there was always something for me to learn, a spin on a familiar tale, a bit of a twist to the usual, an insightful quote that made me glad I’d paid attention to the phone call, ignored that sense of “not again” and gone out and done it. These were all threads in the fabric we weave each day telling the story of our Jewish community.
At times it was difficult. Sometimes the stories I wrote really bothered you. You often told me to my face; I wish more of you had written letters. I published them all, the critical and the laudatory. Because the paper is there to serve you and letters to the editor is the time-honored forum in which to air your opinions, long before Facebook’s wall took over that job.
I’m not sure what path the newspaper will take in the future. That is a course for someone else to chart. My understanding is that I am not being replaced, but that there will be a Rockland newspaper of some sort going forward. As for my writing, for the time being, you can find it at www.marlaecohen.com. I hope you will continue reading, and letting me know when you agree — and when you don’t.
Yes, I will miss this job. It wasn’t always easy, but it was one I grew into. I learned a great deal about my community and I loved it very much.
I hope that this reaches those of you who cared about the paper and those of you who read it each month. For now, the best I can do is email it and post it to social media — the very vehicles that have been part of the undoing of our print media world — and hope my aim is true, and that like an arrow shot aloft, this finds its mark.
Thank you all for being readers.