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Forward wins unprecedented 34 Rockower awards

The Forward received 34 Rockower awards from the American Jewish Press Association for work published in 2020, including 16 first prizes in categories including investigations, commentary, news, arts, sports, photography, multimedia and obituaries. The awards were announced in a virtual ceremony last night. The full listed of recognized Forward stories is below:

First-place awards:

Award for Excellence in Single Commentary: “Advice to the second gentleman from a veteran male ‘rebbetzin’” by Rob Eshman

Comment: In a year where there was so much serious news, this lighter piece stood out because of the writer’s rare perspective and voice. He also added some historical twists, and links to a piece about Golda Meir. Why was this piece important? As the writer put it: “Simply by being beside his wife, Emhoff will help shift American perceptions about gender roles, about egalitarian marriages, about what it means to be a man. Girls will see they can be like Kamala. Boys, no less importantly, will see they can be like Doug.”

Award for Excellence in Personal Essay: “The unkindest cut: Last call for a Zabar’s lox slicer” by Len Berk

Comment: It is impossible not to fall in love, while reading this essay, with author Len Berk, the 90-year-old lox slicer “fired” by Zabar’s to protect him from COVID. In this charming, witty, and poignant essay, Berk meditates on the meaning of work and the importance of finding a purpose in life, especially at his advanced age. It’s nice to see that this former accountant and lox slicer has now found a third career as a wonderful writer.

The Boris Smolar Award for Excellence in Enterprise or Investigative Reporting: “U.S. pro-Israel groups failed to disclose funding from Israeli government,” “Think tank failed to disclose six-figure grant from Israeli government,” “Israel approved grant to Tennessee anti-Muslim ‘hate group’” by Aiden Pink

Award for Excellence in Deadline/Breaking News Reporting: “Defying the governor but heeding the president, a Los Angeles synagogue opens its doors” by Louis Keene

Award for Excellence in News Story: “Brandeis U. Press and historian split on how to talk about Jews and white supremacy” by Ari Feldman

Comment: Exquisitely written story on a controversial topic in contemporary discourse on American Jews: the disputed role of whiteness in U.S. Jewish history of the 20th and 21st century.

Award for Excellence in Arts News and Features — Reporting: “The wonderful, horrible afterlife of Leni Reifenstahl” by Talya Zax

Award for Excellence in Writing About Women: “Moderate Haredi voices challenge extremist war against female images” by Barbara Finkelstein

Award for Excellence in Photography: “Tensions flare at L.A. anti-annexation rally” by Louis Keene

Award for Excellence in a Multimedia Story: “Here’s how to think about NYC’s new COVID-19 data” by Molly Boigon

Foundation for Ethnic Understanding Award for Excellence in Interfaith Relations Reporting: “How a Chicago pastor and rabbi joined their Black and Jewish communities” by Rebecca Gold

Award for Excellence in Writing About Sports: “’It’s a new era’: Yeshiva University’s basketball team is steamrolling into March Madness,” “Hoop dreams dashed: Yeshiva University’s best season ever ends abruptly with NCAA cancellation” by Ari Feldman

Award for Excellence in Writing About Seniors: “A 90-year-old Minneapolis artist lost it all in a protest fire — he’s ready to start over” by PJ Grisar

Award for Excellence in News Obituaries: “Eulogy: Max Bendich, 105, an ordinary life lived extraordinarily” by Irene Katz-Connelly

Comment: Max’s life may have been ordinary, but it was also fascinating.

Award for Excellence in Writing About Politics/Government: “‘Mensch’ Joe Biden sees surge in Jewish support” by Aiden Pink

Comment: Nice overall entry. Well-written and good reporting.

Award for Excellence in Writing About Black-Jewish Relationships: “A police crackdown in a Black neighborhood paved the way for a Jewish resurgence” by Louis Keene

Award for General Excellence — Best Freelancer: Sharon Rosen Leib, Los Angeles, CA

Leib also won for her story in the Forward, “The 28-year-old studio executive who helped Hollywood survive its first pandemic.”

Second-place awards:

The Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary: “If your guy wins, please don’t gloat,” “Coronavirus is deepening the divide between Orthodox and liberal Jews,” “Coronavirus is the new normal. Let’s make it Jewish.” by Jodi Rudoren

Award for Excellence in Single Commentary: “Debate: Is Trump good or bad for the Jews?” by Eli Steinberg and Joel Swanson

Comment: The publication should be applauded for the innovative, easy-to-read, dueling way a much-discussed debate topic was handled. I read every word of this lively, passionate discussion that all Jews should have found interesting.

Award for Excellence in Personal Essay: “Escape from New York — a third-generation migration tale” by Anya Ulinich

Comment: In her own masterful words, Anya Ulinich throws “the wet tarp of irony on the grassfire” sparked by COVID, which has forced her to come to terms with her fraying financial circumstances and flee her New York apartment for more modest quarters upstate. In the process she reenacts the indelible refugee experience that has marked her own life and that of her forebears. Bitter, funny, and moving, this piece captures the peculiar horrors of the coronavirus pandemic in a deeply personal, yet somehow universal way.

The Boris Smolar Award for Excellence in Enterprise or Investigative Reporting: “Colleges express outrage about anti-Semitism — but fail to report it as a crime,” “These colleges claimed anti-Semitic incidents weren’t hate crimes” by Aiden Pink

Award for Excellence in News Story: “In Brooklyn virus ‘red zone,’ why do posters tell only healthy people to get tested?” by Ari Feldman

Comment: An inspired decision to translate Yiddish fliers led to this story that raised the question of whether Orthodox leaders manipulated COVID-19 testing to get the governor to ease communal restrictions.

Award for Excellence in Writing About Social Justice and Humanitarian Work: “‘I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I wasn’t a Jew’ — Tamar Manasseh’s brave journey” by Simi Horwitz

Comment: Well-written and moving account of a gutsy woman with a “multi-layered identity” whose Jewishness inspires tireless efforts for social justice. Rich in telling details as well as a call for action.

Award for Excellence in Feature Writing: “Philip Roth doesn’t live here anymore: A writer, a stonemason, an American friendship” by Talya Zax

Award for Excellence in Arts News and Features — Reporting: “How Woodstock revolutionized art — a story that has nothing to do with a music festival” by Jackson Arn

Award for Excellence in Arts — Review/Criticism: “Why Dr. Vladimir Zelenko staked his reputation on hydroxychloroquine” by Ari Feldman

Comment: There’s been plenty of heat around this alleged COVID cure. This story brings multi-sourced light and explanation. This article also received the second-place award for Excellence in Writing About COVID-19.

Award for Journalistic Excellence in Covering Zionism, Aliyah and Israel: “When tuition bills add up, some Orthodox consider aliyah” by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt

Honorable mentions:

Award for Excellence in Single Commentary: “What James Bennet taught me about terrorism — and courage” by Jodi Rudoren

Comment: Great job showing the back story of how journalists discuss their craft and sensitive topics. Quite insightful and timely.

Award for Excellence in News Story: “After son of criminal rabbi takes over Poway synagogue, some congregants quit” by Louis Keene

Comment: Great use of FOIA and revealing interviews contributed to this broad investigative piece on the leadership of Chabad of Poway in the aftermath of the infamous April 2019 shooting there.

Award for Excellence in Feature Writing: “Love online in the time of quarantine is oddly old-fashioned” by Irene Katz-Connelly

Award for Excellence in Arts News and Features — Reporting: “‘The Plot Against America’ is truer than even Philip Roth knew” by PJ Grisar

Award for Excellence in Special Sections or Supplements: “18 questions about God,” “Does God punish us?,” “Does God need us?,” “What does God believe about us?,” “Is God less visible today?,” “Is the word ‘God’ the hurdle?” by Abigail Pogrebin

Comment: Abigail Pogrebin, a Forward contributing writer, author, and speaker, is a leading commentator on American Jewish practice and identity, particularly in the secular tradition. Here she guides readers of The Forward to rabbis and teachers of Judaism who help translate their ideas of God to the rest of us in a practical rather than academic, didactic or stubbornly observant way. In discussions with these rabbis and scholars of varying denominations and backgrounds — leaders whom she says she admires but does not always agree with — Pogrebin explores “thorny questions that sometimes make us squirm.” It’s an interesting style of journalism that is part criticism, part commentary, and part explanatory. Wisely aiming for succinctness, Pogrebin focuses each column on one honest conversation with one teacher about one question using one Jewish text. The result is a very thought-provoking, intelligent and nicely written series of essays about the meaning and presence of God. Is God omnipresent? Omniscient? Omnibenevolent? Does he love us or has he “kicked off the training wheels” and left us to our own devices. And, of course, why should we believe God even exists if we cannot hear or see him? Or, as Rabbi Sandra Lawson says, “The better question is do we hear each other?” During a surreal and tragic year of calamities in which many Jews and others may have understandably felt forsaken — or were perhaps driven away from the notion of the almighty — this excellent series of essays and interviews (with a strong online video component) offers much to contemplate. It’s not a traditional form of journalism, but its intense focus on voices and ideas surrounding Jewish identity makes for an excellent supplement worthy of mention.

Award for Excellence in Writing About Jewish Heritage and Jewish Peoplehood in Europe: “Making soul candles: a female-led Jewish ritual revived” by Annabel Cohen

Comment: This fascinating essay by Annabel Cohen about a long-forgotten ritual of cemetery and grave measuring, a “rare ritual” that was once practiced by women in the Hebrew month of Elul in southern Russia as a way to connect with one’s ancestors, particularly before Rosh Hashanah. Cohen is not just reporting on this here, but actually partakes in this practice and then makes the “soul candles” out of the measuring twine. A terrific personal narrative that shows how Cohen herself is moved by its rituals and meaning.

Award for Excellence in Education Reporting: “Some of L.A.’s Orthodox schools set to reopen — as camps” by Louis Keene


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