I must confess that when Jewish articles appear in mainstream papers like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, I feel a bit ambivalent, in a way that’s similar to how Jews often feel upon seeing a member of the Tribe marry into a prominent gentile family.
On the one hand, there’s a sense of validation and pride — hey, people think we’re important, interesting, attractive and worthy of attention. On the other hand, I think, hey — that should be The Jewish Week’s story, kept within OUR journalistic domain. I worry, if we keep getting scooped by the gentiles (of course a huge number of mainstream papers’ reporters and editors are themselves Jewish), we Jewish papers will never survive, we’ll lose our distinctiveness, we’ll assimilate into nothingness.
Of course those of you familiar with my other blog, know my views on intermarriage are at the liberal end of the spectrum, that I generally see it as an opportunity rather than a threat. But, after 15 years of working in the Jewish media, when it comes to dating and marrying gentile newspapers, I’m a bit tribal.
In any event, it was with this mix of emotions that I greeted two excellent articles today: a Wall Street Journal feature on the practice of hagbah, the ritual lifting of the open Torah scroll, and a New York Times piece on Hyman Strachman, an “old Jewish guy on Long Island” who has sent 300,000 illegally copied videos to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the Journal piece, Lucette Lagnado, who also writes sometimes for The Jewish Week and for our Text/Context section, humorously addresses the physical demands of Torah-lifting. Perhaps unwittingly adding to the piece’s humor is that one of the people quoted in it has the last name “Safeer,” which is one letter removed from the Ashkenazi pronunciation of “sefer” in “sefer Torah,” the Hebrew term for Torah scroll. (Usually sounds like “Safer TOW-rah” when uttered in Ashkenaz-ese —since I learned Hebrew in Israel, I’m more comfortable with the Sephardic intonation.)
The Times article is more touching than amusing: the tale of Hyman Strachman, a 92-year-old widower and World War II veteran who lives in Massapequa. Despite his unusual and brazenly outlaw-ish hobby, Strachman, who goes by “Hy,” has a pretty typical American Jewish grandpa background: born in Brooklyn to immigrants from Poland, dropped out of high school to work in the Depression-era family business, served in the Pacific during World War II, ended up a stockbroker on Wall Street, married more than 50 years to his wife (who died in 2003).
Go forth and read them. But don’t forget to come back home to your nice, heimishe Jewish paper.