Hannah Jannol, 18, graduated in June from Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox high school in Los Angeles where she was editor-in-chief of the award-winning student newspaper the Boiling Point. She was J.’s intern for eight weeks this summer before heading off to college in New York City.
How did you end up with an internship at J., all the way from Southern California?
I was at an [American Jewish Press Association] conference in L.A. in November with my faculty adviser from the Boiling Point, Joelle Keene, who is fabulous, superior and amazing and the best person ever. We’re a member of AJPA and she thought it would be good for a student to go. We went to one workshop on staying in the black and the financing of Jewish journalism. We run pretty similarly to a real newspaper; we have to raise a lot of our own revenue through ads for kosher restaurants and driving schools and things that apply to teenagers and stuff.
And you met J. editor Sue Fishkoff while shmoozing?
She was at my table at lunch. I forget what we were talking about, I think about me being under 20, and Sue said that she was looking for an intern and I said that sounds great, I love San Francisco and have a lot of friends in the area. I emailed her in January to follow up. It was at the top of my list of summer opportunities.
What did you hope to gain from the experience?
I always look at internships as for-real work experience. Being able to actually write, and to feel like I learned something, and also to have good coworkers. So I would say those are always my goals, and those have been met here.
About those coworkers … how do you rank them, in order of brilliance and likeability? By the way, this is on the record.
Sue B. is the best and everyone else doesn’t matter (laughs). I love all of my coworkers here.
How have you been spending your time?
I’ve been writing and reporting a lot. I’ve liked all of the stories. I really liked the one on Julie Chronister and the JCRC looking to find housing for some immigrants in California, because I heard that had a direct impact and that more people reached out to offer financial support and housing. So it’s nice to know that your work actually can make a change.
Tell me about Shalhevet High School.
There are 250 students, 60 per grade, co-ed. It’s known for a lot of things. There are tons of extracurricular opportunities — we call them co-curriculars because we consider them just as important as classes. We also had strong Judaic studies that were academic and challenging and not just trying to get through as many stories in the Tanach as possible. We wouldn’t do more than three or four stories or parashahs per year, and we went really in-depth on each one.
Are you observant?
I’m Conservative, my family is super secular. We do the High Holidays and Passover, Purim, hear the Megillah, fast. My house is kosher but it’s kind of lax. There are separate plates but sometimes dishes pile up and we just do them together. My mom didn’t grow up religious at all; she had bacon for breakfast and went to a public school. My dad grew up Orthodox and went to YULA, Yeshiva University of Los Angeles. And he went to Gush, a very well-known yeshiva in Israel — it’s actually on a settlement, but you know.
How did you choose Shalhevet?
On a whim. It wasn’t a thoughtful decision. I didn’t like public school and wanted some more Jewish education. YULA seemed too religious, and Milken was really far, in the hills. I don’t know why they put it there, but whatever. Most kids who go to Shalhevet live in Pico-Robertson, which is a very Jewish area, with kosher restaurants and so many synagogues.
How far is that from Venice, where your family lives?
Far — it’s like 8 miles. If you’re dating someone in Pico-Robertson it’s like a long-distance relationship. I had a pretty bad commute to school. I actually wrote a story about that.
Have you always wanted to be a journalist?
I was on the student newspaper in fifth grade and wrote a story about what teachers do when they’re not in school. I actually interviewed them. I didn’t fabricate any quotes. I’ve always been a journalist with a lot of integrity, even when I was 10. It was really poorly written, really funny. I mean, it was great for a 10-year-old.
When I was going into high school, my former principal remembers I said in my application I wanted to be a chemical engineer. But I also really liked writing, and always had good relationships with my English and history teachers. They liked my essays and I looked forward to those classes.
What was the most interesting story you covered for the Boiling Point?
One that comes to mind was about a transgender alumnus of my high school — it kind of blows my mind that this was an idea I had in my freshman year of high school, to write about transgender Orthodox Jews. Now transgender is like, whatever, things change quickly, but even four years ago things were totally different.
I never met this kid, but he left in the middle of his senior year to transition because he felt so trapped and uncomfortable. He was out to his friends. But he obviously didn’t feel he could walk into Shalhevet in 2012 or 2013 wearing pants and stuff; the school wouldn’t know how to handle that. We had a lot of really in-depth interviews. It was a big learning experience to do all the right follow-ups and be sensitive but also get the information. I wrote a sidebar on the halachah [Jewish law] of it, which I hadn’t seen anywhere.
Everyone at J. is really sorry to see you go. Now that you’re starting college at the New School, do you think you’ll continue in Jewish journalism?
In New York I’ll try to work for the Jewish Week or the Forward as a freelancer or intern. I don’t know if I would want to pursue that right out of college because I wouldn’t want to be pigeonholed. I’ll definitely try to write for the school newspaper. I like to hit the ground running.
You’ve only been here a few weeks, and yet I notice your desk is really messy. Are you going to clean up your act for college?
I’m gonna have a messy room. Someone once said a messy desk is a sign of a genius. And I agree with that.