Sunday, February 24, 2008

You'd think I would learn

Years ago, when I was at NYU getting my Master's in Journalism, a professor helped me get a job as the New York correspondent for the Jewish Chronicle of London. I had that job for quite a long time, pretty much until I made aliyah.

In the middle of my tenure at The JC, the World Trade Center was attacked and fell, and for days and then weeks, there were many victims whose bodies weren't found. In the cases of Orthodox and Conservative men who had disappeared in the rubble, the event caused a halachic problem for their widows, as well as a traumatic emotional one. For, if a man's body was missing, and it therefore was hard to prove that he was dead, on what basis would his wife be allowed, by Jewish law, to marry someone else someday?

The JC had me write a full-page feature about "Trade Center Agunot." I did many, many interviews for this story. I spoke with two widows -- one chassidic, the other Conservative -- about the halachic impact the tragedy had had on them. You can imagine how heartbreaking those conversations were. I spoke with leaders in the "Orthodox feminist" movement, and with rabbis who were serving on batei din which were making decisions about these women's futures. I remember that in particular Rabbi Yonah Reiss was both extremely informative and extremely helpful -- and also, that after speaking with him and the other rabbis, I went into a kind of 3rd-hand depression. Because . . . it was hard for them to be in the middle of the stories of these families, and now it was hard for me to hear how hard it was for them.

That is when I realized that as much as journalists are supposed to be objective and dispassionate, there is no getting around it: If you write about something depressing, you are going to get depressed (if not clinically, then in the colloquial sense). Spending days or weeks talking to "experts" about something that is hard to hear is not going to make for a fun project.

And yet, every time, I forget.

Editors call me, they say "hey, Sarah, we want you to do this story on a really important topic. You'll get lots of space, and front-page play, and we'll pay you well. We know that you are talented and not so many people can write about something so important as well as you could. Can you take the project?"

And I, being flattered, and desirous of sinking my teeth into something meaningful which readers will actually remember, and desirous of making money, say "yes."

And then I have to do the interviews, and more interviews, and spend days and weeks thinking and ruminating and talking about something hard. And it is . . . hard.

Diseases, death, social problems that are causing people pain . . . the reasons that thinking people become journalists in the first place . . . we want to educate and inspire thought and positive change . . . . but it's much more draining, on a personal level, to produce an informative article about a pressing social issue than it is to produce an informative article on, say, the differences between American Jewish wedding dresses and Israeli ones.


I took an assignment to write about "why are Jewish women in their 30's having such a hard time finding Jewish husbands."

I am such. an. idiot! What the hell was I thinking?

Oh, yeah. I was thinking "this is important."

But now, I have had to actually spend hours and hours researching the extremely bleak prospects for Jewish women in their 30's (especially if they are Conservative or Reform and live in America).

Please. Send. Chocolate.

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