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From Pittsburgh To Canary Mission: Our Best Stories Of 2018

Ah, 2018: Year of political turmoil, Manhattan’s swoon of adoration over a particularly handsome duck, a doubtful detente with North Korea, the ascendancy of our queen Meghan Markle, a Supreme Court confirmation process that excavated some of the ugliest facts about sexism in America, and the Winter Olympics. (Yes, those really happened in 2018!)

We at the Forward can barely remember who we were 12 months ago, let alone what we wrote. As the end of this seemingly interminable year approaches, we’ve dug into the oh-so-distant past to recover our favorite work from 2018. As we look forward to 2019, which will surely contain surprises and, we hope, will involve less grief, read our official Forward staff picks from the past year.

Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief: One of my favorite stories was Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt’s deeply moving piece on how Orthodox Jewish women face the challenge of abortion. It took hard work on Avital’s part to gain the trust of women and persuade them to share a very personal, vexing experience. The stories didn’t fit a single expectation or stereotype, but instead presented the complexity of Orthodox life through women’s voices in a way rarely seen in any media. And it broke through the myth that leading a religious life means acting in only one way. We Jews are not Catholics and evangelicals when it comes to abortion, and Avital allowed us to see that painful reality.

I also want to call out the news writers and their editor, Helen Chernikoff, for a terrific year of enterprise and investigative work. Josh Nathan-Kazis, Aiden Pink and Ari Feldman produced stories that dug deep into Jewish organizational life to expose wrongdoing and questionable practices. The aim here is not to tear down organizations but to shine a light and help them improve, and I’m very proud of what the news staff accomplished.

Dan Friedman, executive editor: For heartbreak: the whole Blaze Bernstein story, about a young man full of love killed by a bigot and a racist for the shape of that love. Capped by his mother’s reflection on the horrible, surreal events that surrounded her son coming home from college and being murdered.

For hard-hitting journalism: Josh Nathan-Kazis finally succeeded in his amazing years-long search for the anonymous money behind the McCarthy-ist blacklisting of college students for their views on Israel. The Israeli government and major Jewish federations were culpable for the shande of the Canary Mission and were shamed by Josh shining some sunshine on their actions.

For laughs: Jenny Singer (with the help of friends) and her Sex and the Singer series is an ongoing cautionary tale of the vicissitudes of being a young, Jewish single woman.

And for heartbreaking laughs at where we have reached at this point in technology, democracy and politics: Alyssa Fisher’s brief, straight-up news account of white nationalist GOP representative Steve King yelling at the Google CEO in House committee hearings about the notifications that came up on King’s granddaughter’s iPhone.

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, life editor: I loved Jenny Singer’s longform profile of Ady Barkan — it’s powerful and funny, or, at least as funny as you can get when writing about a young man dying. Talking to Orthodox Jewish women about their abortion stories this past year was one of the most gut-wrenching writing experiences I’ve ever had.Talya Zax’s piece on Anne Frank was so on point. Frank’s writing is so defined as a young woman’s experience, and men simply cannot capture it fully. Batya Ungar-Sargon’s “Liberal Case for Nationalism” was a delight. And I was particularly impressed by Jane Eisner’s editorial about fertility suddenly becoming an “enemy” of feminism” — and how we cannot let that happen here in the Jewish community — as well as her piece drawing an important line between the rhetoric of Trump and the GOP and the Pittsburgh shooting.

Helen Chernikoff: I really value this story, the product of a Forward investigation by Josh Nathan-Kazis that revealed the secret sources of funding for the anonymous blacklist, Canary Mission.

Jeff Boxer, deputy digital director: I appreciate the moments of levity in a tough year. Writing the headline and social copy for this was a lot of fun.

Jenny Singer, deputy life editor: The importance of Ari Feldman’s article “How A Respected Jewish Educator Preyed On Children For Half A Century” is self-evident, but the bravery Ari showed in pursuing this story might not be as obvious. I often heard Ari working on this story through the summer as I tapped away, writing about celebrity tweets, and it struck me how lucky we are that reporters who cover assault — especially childhood sexual assault and abuse — are willing to put themselves in such a dark place, for such a long time, to expose evil.

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmit’s article “Pro-Trump Jews Ignore Immigrants While Employing Them” is Neville-Longbottom-at-the-end-of-book-one-level brave. I like reading it in concert with her article “I’m Sick Of Orthodox Women Being Fetishized In Films Like ‘Disobedience’” an article that made me seriously reconsider my assumptions and prejudices about Orthodoxy. And I felt a near-erotic overwhelm when I read Talya Zax’s takedown of a tourism initiative in Lithuania: “Vilna Dubs Self ‘G-Spot Of Europe’ — Is The ‘G’ For ‘Genocide’? It makes exquisite mockery of attempts to rehabilitate a place that was the scene of Jewish mass murder while maintaining a respectful tone to actual victims of the Holocaust.

Aiden Pink, deputy news editor: I’d choose two stories that are the results of months of reporting: Josh Nathan-Kazis’s expose of Canary Mission and its secret funding and Ari Feldman’s investigation into how a respected Jewish educator got away with preying on children for 50 years. Listening to them work the phones, developing sources and asking tough questions, is the best journalism education anyone could have. Also, this article, about how rabbis prepare their High Holiday sermons, is classic Jenny Singer: creative, thought-provoking and often laugh-out-loud funny.

Ari Feldman, staff writer: Josh Nathan-Kazis re-earns his title as the “Woodward and Bernstein of the Jewish press” with great investigations every year, but the story of his I liked the most in 2018 was a one-off piece about the New York State budget deal. It was about a phone call from Governor Cuomo to a major Hasidic rebbe who could get the ear of State Senator Simcha Felder, who was then holding the budget hostage, and make him reconsider. The article is a small window into the complex and largely unseen world of Hasidic politics.

Talya Zax’s excellent essay on Anne Frank topped the Forward’s cultural offerings this year in my book. Besides illuminating an aspect of Anne Frank we have (incredibly) not discussed yet, she accomplished what I consider to be the gold standard of criticism: mixing opinion and reporting, using the thoughts of celebrated authors to craft an argument that is both entirely her own and firmly grounded in the real world.

As a proud Minnesota Jew who was glad Franken retired, I was delighted by Aiden Pink’s essay “I’m A Proud Minnesota Jew, And I’m Glad Franken Is Retiring.” It draws on the long history of Jewish politics in the Land of 10,000 Lakes to make the argument that the Frozen Chosen are a significant (if humble!) community of American Jews. And Jenny Singer’s nostalgia for being a Jewish teenager will, by my readings, fuel her reporting for at least another five years. Her intrepid reporting on Jewish summer camp-throwback retreats for adults managed to briefly fill the hole in my Jewish neshama created on the August day I last drove away from Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.

Talya Zax, deputy culture editor: I adore Jenny Singer’s “Why You Should Never Date A Man In A Fedora,” mostly because it is about how she and I found true friendship. (Ok, ok, it’s also about the repercussions of rejection from someone with whom you felt a rare connection.) Adam Langer’s dive into the Forward archives revealed a moving story about one Manhattan synagogue’s stand for immigrant rights, from the frantic years before the Holocaust to today. In a year of great reporting on institutional cover-ups of sexual misconduct, Josh Nathan-Kazis’s “After A Teen Tour Turned Into An Abuse Nightmare, Waiting On An Apology” stands out for its insight on the long-lasting effects of not just sexual assault, but the official refusal to acknowledge it.

In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Ari Feldman’s “How The Rabbis Of Parkland Cope With Torrents Of Tears — And Prepare For The Next Shooting” gave an invaluable look at the spiritual life of a community coping with a staggering tragedy. Jane Eisner’s interview with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editor David Shribman and his wife, the journalist Cindy Skrzycki, in the wake of October’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue gave similarly sensitive insight on the hard work of guiding a community through a crisis. Also: Salman Rushdie on Philip Roth, because, well, it’s Salman Rushdie on Philip Roth.

Laura Adkins, deputy opinion editor: After the October Pittsburgh shooting, stories poured in about how special each and every one of the victims was. One of the most moving was by Michael Kerr, a patient of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, a doctor who treated HIV/AIDS patients with a tender and hands-on approach long before anyone knew how the disease spread. His former patient recounts how Dr. Rabinowitz “often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always, always hugged us as we left his office.”

2018 was in many ways a year of #MeToo victories – but also a year in which we saw just how difficult it is to figure out the facts and bring powerful people down. But sometimes, even when an assailant is known to the police and the evidence is clear, the nightmare still doesn’t end. That’s what Ilene Prusher shares in her maddening story, “I Was Assaulted Twice By The Same Known Predator. The Police Told Me There Was Nothing They Could Do.”

When a man converts to Judaism, he must undergo a circumcision – even if he has already had one before. When the latter scenario is the case, only hatafat dam brit, extracting a drop of blood, is required. It’s usually a straightforward procedure, but in what is probably the only piece that has made me cringe, laugh, rejoice, and feel pain in a body part I don’t possess all at once, Brian D. Johnson shares that it’s not always as easy as it would seem.

Jordan Kutzik, Yiddish staff writer: Forverts editor-in-chief Rukhl Schaechter’s feature on Eva Lapsker and Daniel Kahn’s wedding captures both a unique cultural event and the personalities behind it. Rima J. Turner’s story on the daughter of Polish Jews who fought in the French resistance is a good profile that examines a largely unknown piece of history: the life of the large Polish-Jewish community of Paris during the Holocaust. I wrote this story about an artifact from the Holocaust that made its way to a survivor’s daughter, showing how the past is always present. And Barbara Finkelstein’s story on a Polish-Jewish historical commission that gave an award to an anti-Semite is a classic.

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