It’s 11:30 a.m. and the “Club Block” period has just started at Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. Students involved in various clubs and extra-curricular activities have 30 minutes to meet, plan and discuss club business before heading to lunch.
“We need to brainstorm ideas for the next two months,” India Lissak, the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, says authoritatively while hushing the chitchat and gossip coming from the Observer’s dozen staff members.
They have crammed into a small office with a few chairs and a large whiteboard, and are rattling off ideas.
“The parking situation,” one student proposes.
Lissak grabs a marker and writes the idea on the board. “Next idea,” the senior says.
“How about the SAT changes?” another student says.
Karie Rubin, English teacher and Observer faculty adviser, chimes in from the back of the room: “What’s the angle?” With some brief clarification, she nods and the staff gets back to business.
Published every six weeks or so, the student-run newspaper at 13-year-old JCHS has been around for four years and has a circulation number that’s the same as the school’s student body — about 165.
JCHS is one of three Bay Area Jewish high schools that put out a school periodical. Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto publishes a student newspaper every six weeks or so, and Meira Academy in Palo Alto prints a quarterly newsletter.
“A lot of students read it,” senior Evan Fenner says of the Observer at JCHS, “especially if we have interesting headlines.” Fenner is the paper’s Web editor.
Topics in the paper run the gamut from religious to secular to everyday life at school; there are feature stories about teachers, articles about school sports teams and columns such as “Oys and Joys” — all of them written by students.
Rubin has been the faculty adviser since Arno Rosenfeld and Elijah Jatovsky started the paper in the final months of their sophomore years in 2010. Rosenfeld, 19, has stuck with journalism, working as a JTA correspondent and serving as a J. intern last summer.
The paper is published every six weeks, “give or take a little,” staff members say, and it’s printed on 11-by-17-inch paper.
“It has been a dream of ours to have it on newsprint,” Fenner says, adding that it doesn’t seem likely, due to the timeline and a small budget.
The paper’s managing editor, junior Kayla Levy, represented the Observer in Los Angeles last year at the first conference of the Jewish Scholastic Press Association. Thirty editors and staffers from five Jewish high school newspapers from around the country attended the four-day conference at Shalhevet High School, a coed Modern Orthodox school on Fairfax Avenue.
The conference was organized by the L.A. school’s newspaper faculty adviser, Joelle Keene, a former journalist and founder of the JSPA in 2013. She came up with the idea after Shalhevet’s school paper was nominated as a finalist at the National Scholastic Press Association, but students and staff could not attend because the Boston conference was held over Shabbat.
Sessions at the JSPA gathering ranged from conducting interviews to graphic design to how to judge what stories should go into a newspaper. The lineup of guest speakers ranged from an observant L.A.-based New York Times correspondent to a rabbi talking about lashon hara (Jewish law forbidding gossip).
“It was like a convergence of Jewish thought and experience on journalism, and really powerful,” Levy says. “It was really exciting to see seemingly non-religious topics presented through a Jewish lens. It reminded me of how multifaceted the lessons of Judaism really are.”
Levy received an award for best feature at the conference for a story she wrote about the Women of the Wall, an organization in Israel seeking prayer rights for women at the Western Wall.
At 12-year-old Kehillah High in Palo Alto, the Ramblings recently was resurrected after a few years of dormancy. It’s put together by a six students who take a journalism class as an English elective course; they meet for three hours every week. The paper is published on newsprint, and there is no online edition.
The paper addresses a variety of topics, some of them a bit titillating and perhaps unexpected in a high school newspaper. For example, a recent eight-page issue of Ramblings included seven articles on body modifications (such as tattoos, piercings and plastic surgery) and e-cigarettes. Some of the accompanying photos were stark and potentially provocative. One of the features was a Q&A with students and teachers on what is the appropriate age for piercings, and another looked at body modifications through a Jewish lens, but the other articles had little or no Jewish content.
Jonah Weaver, an English teacher who is this year’s newspaper adviser, says that potential article topics are “vetted” before the students write about them, but that school administrators certainly don’t want to have a newspaper that avoids hot topics.
“I think there’s a good way to address them in an educational way,” Weaver says. “A few topics are a bit more religious in nature, but mostly the topics are student interests.”
A two-minute walk from Kehillah High is one of the Bay Area’s newest high schools, Meira Academy, an all-girls Orthodox school that opened in 2011. With only 19 students, Meira wouldn’t seem to have enough of a base for a school newspaper — but it does put out a quarterly newsletter for the students, family and local shuls.
Devorah Lewis, one of the school’s two principals, says the publication is “short and readable” and mainly helps to give the community an idea of what is going on at the school.
Printed on glossy paper and also sent by email, the newsletter is largely put together by Meira Academy faculty and staff, but some students contribute articles and poetry. One recent news blurb headlined “San Jose Shabbaton” had a byline “Written by the 9th Grade” and included quotes from a 10th-grader and a parent.
“I would love to see it turn into more of a club,” Lewis says. “It’s a small-scale thing and works for us now. As we grow, so will the paper.”