Kol hakavod to the New Jersey Jewish Standard for doing the right thing

Crossposted to New Voices.

Yesterday, I posted my letter to the editor of the New Jersey Jewish Standard, chastising them for what I believe I said was pusillanimous journalism. If you haven’t been following this, they printed an announcement of a gay wedding last week. This week, under pressure from a cabal of Orthodox rabbis, they apologized to the Orthodox for community for the “pain and consternation” it caused them.
After about a million negative comments and letters, NJJS has issued a correction/retraction (emphases mine):

We ran the wedding announcement because we felt, as a community newspaper, that it was our job to serve the entire community — something we have been doing for 80 years. We did not expect the heated response we got, and — in truth — we believe now that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community.We are now having meetings with local rabbis and community leaders. We will also be printing, in the paper and online, many of the letters that have been pouring in since our statement was published.The issue clearly demands debate and serious consideration, which we will do our best to encourage.
James Janoff, Publisher
NJ Jewish Standard

Good. In keeping with journalistic angle on this story, here’s what they should do next: For better or for worse, in this story, NJJS isn’t reporting on the news, it’s making the news. Because of that, they’ll need to report on this. It’s a hard thing to do right, but sometimes, especially in a small community, you have to report on yourself. When I was Editor in Chief of The Acorn here at Drew University last year, we had to do just that.
NJJS will have to do the same and they’ll be better off for it. They’ve stumbled into a great story here, actually. The follow-up articles in the coming weeks, if they pull this off right, can be examples of journalism of the highest order.
The angrier impulse within me wants agree with Bethany Shondark Murphy, a commenter on the NJJS Facebook page, who said:

A deaf, dumb and blind person living on Mars could’ve seen how both sides of this issue would explode in outrage. They did not have a coherent policy when publishing the announcement or deciding to publish their “retraction” of sorts. They went into this without thinking of a coherent policy and are acting surprised that people made their opinions known, loudly. It’s poor judgment that they didn’t think of a policy before bumbling into the snakepit.

But the time for that is over now. They made their mistake and they’re going to correct it.
And here’s a follow-up thought for the Orthodox bullies who initiated this balagan: Stick you heads in the sand if you want, but here in NJ, we have civil unions for gay couples. If you don’t like it, you can either ignore it or move. What you can’t do is force the newspaper, whose job it is to report on the things that are happening here in reality, to stick their heads in the sand. You don’t have to like everything in the paper, but you do have recognize that their job is to show you the reality of your community. And in Bergen County, as in the rest of NJ, gay civil unions are the reality.
In the end, kol hakavod to NJJS for recognizing their mistake and rectifying it. And kol hakavod to NJJS for stopping the apologies in their tracks. Journalists don’t apologize, but they do correct.

11 thoughts on “Kol hakavod to the New Jersey Jewish Standard for doing the right thing

  1. this is quite a celebration of non-committal hedging and backpedaling. holding a debate in the paper over whether to be inclusive of gays isn’t “the right thing”. the right thing is to be inclusive of gays. if the orthodox intend to exclude themselves from the standard’s readership because the standard has the temerity to respect non-orthodox jews as human beings worthy of attention, good riddance to them. they already have their horse-blinder wearing papers like the jewish press and yated neeman to read. they don’t need all our local jewish papers to bow to the hegemony of their backwards thinking as well. if these papers were less inclined to cave to the pressure of bigots, perhaps they’d have a broader audience today. imagine what it would do for a jewish paper’s readership to actually be a voice for progress, change and social justice instead of a mouthpiece for federations and jewish fascists.

  2. From what I read, the happy couple is Orthodox, so this is not an Orthodox versus secular issue. It’s a “my” orthodoxy versus yours. Oy.

  3. It is a step in the right direction but I hope that they will simply resume the announcements of all simchas in the Jewish community.
    If I were in his shoes I don’t know if I could be so calm and generous.
    And he’s cute, too!!
    Avi Smolen, one of the two men who placed the announcement in the NJ Jewish Standard, has now come out with an interview.
    He is very calm and sincere in his answers to the questions posed.
    If he is upset or angry you wouldn’t know it from the interview.
    He and Justin Rosen, his husband to be, met as counsellors at a Jewish camp and have been dating for four years. They did not want to rush things but have now decided that they truly want to commit to each other in a meaningful Jewish way.
    Hence, the same-sex union announcement.
    They will be married in two ceremonies; one by a Reform rabbi and the other by a Conservative rabbi. I guess it’s a mixed marriage.
    The State of NJ endorses their union, too.
    Many of their friends who will be attending their simcha are orthodox Jews from the community. There are gay and lesbian orthodox Jews openly living as such in Teaneck, NJ. Needless to say, the couple feels very secure and happy in a way that I find inspiring.
    We need more light and love in this world of ours.
    This is the most beautiful and human part of this story for me.
    Here is the interview:

    1. Hershl writes:
      They will be married in two ceremonies; one by a Reform rabbi and the other by a Conservative rabbi. I guess it’s a mixed marriage.
      That’s not what it says — the interview says that a Conservative rabbi will do the wedding in a Reform synagogue.

  4. They have not promised to rectify it — their only apology was for acting too quickly, and their only commitment was to further take the temperature of the community. What this boils down to is that they have announced they are whores, and are now trying to figure out which pimp to tie themselves to.
    The big question is not why the Orthodox community leaders are so threatened in situations like this, or why they find it kosher to use threats and blackmail to have their view prevail, but why they are allowed to get away with it.
    Anyway, I’m a long way from giving a kol hakavod to the NJJS for their half-assed apology for their prior half-assed apology; and I hope the progressive community doesn’t forget, even if eventually they forgive.

  5. According to Hershl’s link, the publisher met with “a group of 35 Northern NJ rabbis…from the four main branches of Judaism – Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox.”
    If I’ve learned one thing from reading Jewschool, it’s that every Jew out there who has an opinion can certainly be represented by a rabbi, and in particular, a rabbi from one of those 4 branches! I’m sure that meeting was as productive and representative as possible.
    (Though it is kind of cool to see Reconstructionism being considered on par with the others. It seems that it’s much more often the 3 main branches. Now, if we can just move away from this taxonomy entirely…)

  6. The Teaneck rabbis have now issues a statement on their actions. None of them signed it. They still remain anonymous. In it they express their outrage and pain that anyone would condemn them for their acts.
    Meanwhile, gay men commit suicide as they are attacked and, in NYC, have the biggest homophobic hate crime in the history of the city, according to the police, committed against them.

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