June 17, 2024
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Bi-Cultural Alums Discuss Journalism and Politics at CAS

On March 7, Congregation Agudath Sholom (CAS) hosted a Zoom event featuring former students who are now working in journalism in Washington. Before introducing the two featured speakers, CAS spiritual leader Rabbi Daniel Cohen explained, “Tonight is about thinking about our roots and how they shape who we are.” Rabbi Cohen was referring to the roots of two established Jewish journalists: CNN Senior Producer Sarah Boxer and Punchbowl News founder and political reporter Jake Sherman. Both attended Bi-Cultural Day School (BCDS) in Stamford and have family affiliated with the congregation.

Greg Waldstreicher, a BCDS and Ramaz alumnus and a Stamford native, moderated the event. Waldstreicher serves on the United Jewish Federation board and currently lives in Stamford with his wife and three children. Throughout the event, Waldstreicher asked questions to Boxer and Sherman—first, rapid-fire questions; then a standard Q&A; and finally, questions from the audience. Topics ranged from Jewish day school to COVID to politics and journalism.

Before Boxer graduated from Cornell with a bachelor’s degree in English and history, she graduated from BCDS and Ramaz. At Cornell, Boxer said she “learned how to read well and write fast, and write well and read fast.” These skills helped her succeed in journalism, but so did something else: her time at BCDS.

Boxer pointed out a teacher named Mr. S., who taught her how to interact with others. “Talking to very powerful people, specifically men, and speaking to them and being respected by them was very helpful,” Boxer explained. Clearly, her background paid off—in addition to producing for CNN, she has produced for NBC News and MSNBC and has written for The Atlantic.

Sherman, like Boxer, reports on politics. He worked for Politico for over a decade but when the pandemic hit, decided he wanted a change. He founded membership-based news community Punchbowl News—Punchbowl is the Secret Service term for the U.S. Capitol—to help others better understand leadership in Washington. He is also a contributing writer for NBC News, and appears across all of the network’s platforms.

The two have over 20 years combined experience covering politics, and with that comes a lot of interesting memories. Boxer was fortunate enough to interview the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. They bonded about their education and Judaism. “She went to my college, so we talked about being nice Jewish girls from Cornell,” Boxer recalled. Sherman noted that for him, the January 6 Capitol insurrection was a memorable experience—he was inside the Capitol when it happened. “Our door said ‘Press’ on it, and we were close to the House floor. It was scary,” Sherman said. “They had written ‘Kill the Press’ on the door, so we could tell they weren’t big fans.”

The speakers discussed their experiences being Jewish in journalism. Boxer had covered Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primary. Romney is a Mormon, and there was much speculation at his large donation to the church as seen on his tax returns. “They really didn’t want to emphasize his religion,” Boxer said. She could relate to Romney. Just as he donated to the church, Jews pay dues to synguages and contribute to charities; as Romney refrained from eating certain foods for religious reasons, so do people who keep kosher.

Sherman said that when people find out he’s Jewish—a set of Talmuds is visible in the background of his virtual appearances—he receives some interesting messages. Unfortunately, this includes anti-Semitic emails; but more recently, he received a request from a rabbi to speak about the connection between Judaism and one of Sherman’s favorite bands, the Grateful Dead. He accepted the request but is rethinking his decision. “I’m not sure if there is a connection,” he admitted.

Though the religious community can feel small, the Jewish community can feel miniscule. Sherman and Boxer, who come from the same Stamford Jewish community, often find themselves in the same places for work. Just about a year ago they were both in Vermont covering then-presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Ilhan Omar opened for Sanders, and Boxer recalled standing next to Sherman thinking: “Oh, our parents would love this.”

To make the Jewish world even smaller, during her Vermont coverage early in the morning, Boxer received a notification from SAR High School about their closure due to a suspected COVID case. During CNN’s morning briefing (an international meeting with the entire network), someone mentioned the breaking news about a possible case at a school named SAR, which they pronounced like “sars” as in the SARS virus. Boxer chimed in to correct them on the pronunciation. Moderator Waldsteicher joked: “Like Queen Esther, you saved the Jews from the SARS outbreak.”

As an objective and ethical reporter, Boxer doesn’t like to mix business with her personal life—although she knew the name of the COVID-positive individual through davening groups and personal channels, she never revealed the name to protect the person’s identity.

Although COVID has made most industries remote, Boxer and Sherman continue to work in the field. Sherman gets COVID tested about three times a week, while Boxer gets tested roughly once a week. While Boxer isn’t travelling for work as much as she used to, she travels to states that are easily driven to, like Delaware and Pennsylvania. Luckily for Boxer, Pennsylvania was a key state to cover for the election. Sherman works in the Capitol, which he acknowledged has been a “COVID hotspot.” At least a dozen congressmen have contracted the virus.

When Boxer was sent to D.C. to cover the January 6 Capitol insurrection, she ended up staying there for 20 days due to New York travel guidelines at the time. Although they must adhere to new rules and protocols, the two are grateful they can continue reporting.

Boxer and Sherman both have impressive careers as journalists. Although they are far from their days in the Yeshiva League, they nod to their Jewish roots and acknowledge the large role it played in their lives. “Stamford has a special Jewish community. It’s where Sarah and I both grew up, and it sets the stage for how you live your life,” Sherman said.

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