In the book “Positivity Bias” by Rabbi Mendel Kalmanson, the lessons of the Lubavitcher Rebbe are front and center: “We learn that life is essentially good; that positive perception is applicable and accessible to all; and that it derives from objective, rational insight, not subjective, wishful imagination, and that positive living is a matter of choice, not circumstance.”
In somewhat the same vein, Reb Nachman of Breslov said it is a great mitzvah to be happy all the time. Now, what does all this positivity and joy have to do with the Jewish Link’s 10th anniversary?
Well, here’s what I was doing a decade ago: During Pesach of 2013, as I was in my final weeks of pregnancy with my son Asher, who turns 10 next month, I decided that after my maternity leave I would turn to work on something with only joy, and find work I really loved. I had been toying with various ideas for my professional future, and had already attained a degree of burnout if not a record of accomplishment. Before the age of 35 I had edited a business magazine, worked in the German Parliament, worked for a member of Congress, and worked as a reporter and editor for a few publications, both Jewish and secular. I had also gone to culinary school in Brooklyn (CKCA, of blessed memory), and begun to focus on kosher food and wine writing. I would say I have a start-up rather than a non-profit temperament, though I always hoped to do communal, Zionist work.
Every one of those experiences became tools in my toolbox as editor here at The Jewish Link. There was a certain level of inauspiciousness at the beginning; I remember the first time I walked into Moshe’s office and told him I definitely could not work at The Jewish Link, though I thought the idea for the paper was a pretty good one. About eight months later I said I definitely couldn’t move from being a freelancer to an editor unless “we” hired one or two really solid copy editors (cue the magnanimous Ruth Brody and the ever-conscientious Rivky Bergstein) … Then there was the time I needed someone to just “invent” a submission tool to organize our burgeoning article submissions that were getting out of control (cue my brother-in-law Lev Novikov, creator of Zinc, The Link’s magnificent and hardly ever out-of-order submission tool; and Jill, who knew intrinsically how to use it) … And after that the positivity only grew. Slowly and deliberately, Jill, initially our West Orange editor, became the right hand that Moshe and I didn’t know we needed. Mendy, our co-publisher, settled into his role as the brother we consulted in emergencies, or when we had our business thoughts crossed and confused.
The editors we needed arrived, as though we had actually written their job descriptions beforehand. There was a time or two when I asked that we go to great lengths to hire talents I knew we needed on our team, like Michal Rosenberg and Channa Fischer, but pretty much everyone else just materialized. Our reporters and columnists are, frankly, excellent writers, and even more excellent people. Same for our sales and marketing team. Then, when COVID hit, we decided we had to expand our New Jersey paper to Connecticut, Westchester and Manhattan when everyone else was shutting things down. Remember the time we declared we simply had to find someone (anyone!) who could pinch hit the extremely Tetris-like job every week of fitting text around ads as well as Jen Hoffer, so she could take occasional vacations? Then there were the really crazy highlights, like when I said, “Hey, can we take over the publication of an annual 80-page kosher wine magazine?”
There were times when I felt I was “just the person writing down the words,” when I felt gently guided to write about a topic of importance by Hashem’s hand. One of those times was when we shined a light on ALS, and helped them raise a ton of money on behalf of the Zeidel family (“Team Zeidel Rallies Community for ALS Research,” May 15, 2014). I felt that way when we brought Renewal into the Jewish Link communities, and through many, many articles interviewing inspirational donors and recipients, realized we had a role in normalizing the idea of altruistic kidney donation. One of the people I interviewed on this topic, however, told me it was not her initial goal to ever be named or lauded for this mitzvah, and rather than going back on her halachic decision on this, had charged me with telling her story without ever identifying her.
I felt this “gently guided” way when I interviewed family and friends about the passing, at age 90, of Magda Sternbach, a Holocaust survivor and builder of the Bergenfield community, who rarely spoke about her experiences and who I had never gotten to know (Celebrating a Life of Unfathomable Grace: Bergenfield’s Magda Sternbach, z”l, April 27, 2017), and one of her closest friends (and my friend too), the very much alive now-Floridian Marge Kohlhagen (Home in Bergenfield, Via Austria & Switzerland, January 24, 2014).
I also felt and continue to feel this way when I interview rabbis and community leaders about complex halachic decisions years in development, including about communal issues involving women’s learning and leadership. It’s also why I buy and deliver mishloach manot for Project Ezrah (“Why I Make Project Ezrah Part of My Purim Day,” March 23, 2016) every Purim (though I think I missed delivering last year, sorry Jeff!), and why I say yes to speak to any class engaged in the “Names, Not Numbers©” documentary project, and donate my fee back to the school. I certainly continue to feel the comfort of Hashem’s hand guiding me forward every time I write about the necessity of SINAI Schools as a communal project, an organization with effective and caring staff members whose friendships I hold very near to my heart.
As a resident of this community and a day school parent, I have also had the unique perspective of both writing about and personally experiencing chesed from the many organizations that have thrived here over the last half century. My family has experienced loss and major illness, so we have had the “advantage” of knowing the depths of chesed present here, of which many people know little (and for that we should all be glad). The chevra kadisha community knows no bounds of kindness; and iShine and Chai Lifeline have been true lifelines for my family. As long as I live I am sure I will never be able to write enough about the good, kind servants of Hashem who volunteer on behalf of these organizations.
There have been no other jobs in my career where I have been as valued for my “crazy ideas,” the latest of which is a collaborative podcast soon coming to your phones and tablets! Nowhere else has anyone requested the “Elizabeth Kratz Special,” when they want me to write a specific article. At some point, my work, my joy, my positivity; has become synonymous with the joy we have here about telling stories at The Jewish Link, and that gives me a lot of pride and propels me forward. At The Jewish Link, as in my life, I believe joy is a choice, and to live and work alongside one another, b’simcha, is the greatest mitzvah we can give to our children and to one another.
I often think back to our mission, which no one much reads because the print is too small on the masthead (and I’m not even sure it’s there anymore), but paraphrased aliyah l’regel, it is to support the Jewish communities where we live; to celebrate our biggest talents and accomplishments; to argue only l’shem shamayim, to be unapologetically Zionist and pro-Jewish, and to mourn our losses or setbacks in the most appropriate and dignified way possible. And to learn from every message and every person.
It is my honor and my joy to be part of this fantastic team which moves our mountains a little closer to Israel each week, and even more of an honor to call The Jewish Link my professional home. Mazel tov! Kein Yirbu!
By Elizabeth Kratz