Man pets dog and other memorable stories of the year

The votes have been tabulated. The accounting firm of Dewey, Cheetham & Howe has verified the results. Cue the klieg lights: It’s time for the fifth annual Golden Jack Awards (named for my cat, Jack) recognizing my most memorable j. stories of the past year.

Biggest News: The uproar over the S.F. Jewish Film Festival screening a film about anti-Israel activist Rachel Corrie. The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation took heat for funding the festival, though it has since tried to strike a balance between free expression and the limits of anti-Israel rhetoric.

The fallout continues, because the Jewish community doesn’t run in lockstep regarding Israel. I hope the community heals. And I hope I never again type the words “‘Rachel’ controversy.”

Another big story this year has been the recession’s devastating impact on Jewish agencies. This isn’t over, and we  might see more financial hemorrhaging in the years ahead. Both stories serve as  reminders that our Bay Area cocoon is not as invulnerable as we think.

Biggest Thrill Ride: Heading down 101 in a black SUV last February with Israel’s U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren for an interview-on-the-run. The time was short, but he was a nice guy, and he told me all kinds of cool stuff off the record. Sorry, can’t share.

The “You Learn Something New Every Day” Award: Last March, I interviewed author Norman Gershman, who chronicled the story of Albania’s Muslims rescuing all of the country’s Jews during the Holocaust. It’s all due to besa, the Albanian code of honor.

Most Delicious Assignments: Israeli chef Gil Hovav, in town last April, hosted a cooking demo in a San Francisco hotel, whipping up a luscious couscous. Days later, I found myself at the Local Mission Eatery, interviewing owner Yaron Milgrom and sampling his poached egg and asparagus sandwich on baguette. I love this job.

Favorite Headlines: For a story about Noah Alper, founder of Noah’s Bagels: “The Audacity of Shmear.” For an interview with funny lady Joan Rivers: “Joan of Snark.” For a piece on a Yiddish film festival: “The Plotz Thickens.”

Best Turn of Phrase: In a feature about mohel Moshe Trager, who at one point recalled the anxiety over his first bris, “Opening knife jitters.” Oh, the cleverness.

Most Disheartening Interview: Rae Abileah, a smart and thoughtful South Bay woman who grew up in the Jewish community, went on to join the far-left group Code Pink, and is now radically anti-Israel. We cannot keep losing our kids like this.

Z’l: Goodbye to Seymour Fromer, who died last October. He co-founded both the Judah L. Magnes Museum and Lehrhaus Judaica. Quite a legacy.

Goodbye and Good Riddance: To the print edition of the flagrantly anti-Zionist Berkeley Daily Planet (the web version lives on). This rag still rags on Israel all the time, and its editor doesn’t have the cojones to admit she flat-out hates the Jewish state.

The “As the World Turns” Awards: To my colleagues, copy editor Rachel Leibold, on the birth of her son, Levi (he’s wicked cute); former j. writer Joe Eskenazi, on his May wedding to Alexia; and fellow j. writer Stacey Palevsky, off to greener pastures. I love you all.

Story of the Year: They say you can’t miss with kids and dogs. My April cover story “Ruff Love,” about the Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ Canine Corps program, which brings companion dogs into the homes of housebound seniors, was pure joy. There is so much tsuris in the world; sometimes you just have to pet a dog.

Yes, there is much tsuris in the world. I read and write about it every day. There are too many moments I want to give up on this melting planet and the army of fools leading us off a cliff.

Then I think about JFCS bringing dogs to lonely seniors. Or Birthright taking kids to Israel for free. Or the Jews leading the fight against genocide in Darfur. Or the Chabad rabbi who keeps inviting me over for Shabbat dinner, despite my waffling.

I end up a little bit restored, happy I run with such a good crowd.

Dan Pine can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.

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Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.