You never know when to expect them, or where the biggest stories are going to come from.
That’s a truism of journalism, but the F11, our first annual selection of the most important Forward stories of the year, proves it in spades.
These 11 top stories for 2011 were born in lecture rooms and U.N. meeting halls, outside strip malls and in the White House, in the U.S., Israel and beyond.
Some of them were ferretted out by Forward reporters; others were headline-grabbers that echoed around the world. All of them helped us tell the Jewish story this year.
It was just eight days into 2011 that Gabby Giffords, Arizona’s first and only Jewish congresswoman, went to a Tucson shopping center to answer questions from constituents. A crazed gunman opened fire, nearly killing her and setting off a debate about our political culture.
Forward reporter Paul Berger was sitting in a lecture when the speaker mentioned the famed letter that George Washington wrote to the Jews, guaranteeing religious freedom in our young nation. It led Berger on remarkable investigation into the whereabouts of the letter, which has inexplicably been hidden from view for a decade.
Another reporter, Josh Nathan-Kazis, investigated the finances of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto’s charity.
The garish details of the summer texting scandal that brought down New York congressman Anthony Weiner produced plentiful tabloid puns — and led to a congressional campaign that became a referendum on Obama’s Israel policies.
Haredi fundamentalists stepped up their efforts to impose gender segregation on buses and in public spaces in Israel. An 8-year-old girl named Na’ama Margolese shocked the nation with her story of being spit on and cursed by self-appointed guardians of “modesty.” In 2011, the Forward also reported on a New York commuter bus in which men and women are expected to sit separately
No one knew Leiby Kletzky when he went missing on his way home from day camp in Brooklyn. When a fellow member of the Jewish community admitted kidnapping and dismembering the little boy, the brutal murder sparked a powerful debate about how parents can keep their kids safe.
Back in September, no one thought much of the ragtag group of protesters who gathered in a Lower Manhattan plaza to protest wealth inequality. Weeks later, their enduring social justice movement, and the one that swept Israel before it, looked like a new generation of political activism.
For five years, Jews across the world marched and held vigils for Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier languishing in a Hamas prison. When a rail-thin Shalit was released in October, in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, it reminded us of the value of even one human life.
All summer long, Ryan Braun hit the cover off the baseball. He did it so well that he became the first Jew in 50 years to win the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. Then he failed a drug test.
The stolid halls of the U.N. are usually not associated with the biggest stories of the year. This year, it’s where the Palestinians made a high-profile statehood bid, but the move is unlikely to change much for either side of the conflict.
There are still 10-plus long months before America delivers its verdict on Barack Obama’s presidency. Some say he has alienated too many Jews one way or another, but others warn not to count out the man who won 78% of Jewish votes in 2008.
So what can we learn from our best and biggest stories of the year?
With just hours to go before 2012, we at the Forward had better be ready. The first of the F12 could be coming at us sooner than any of us expect.