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The Top Five Stories of 2022
My reflections on the stories that made the most impact this year.
I can’t believe it’s been two years now since I launched The Cholent. What started in the height of Covid as a what-the-heck project on a brand new platform has become a deep part of my life, and I hope yours as well.
In the spirit of late December, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on this journey and the most read stories of the year, according to Substack’s mediocre analytics tools.
Coming in at number one by a long shot is my look into the University of Washington’s Israel Studies Program, which lost a $5 million endowment due to a disagreement over how Israel should be taught.
This is my first “viral” story — it led to international Jewish press headlines and a piece on the front page of The Seattle Times. But it’s also the one I continue to struggle with the most. Everyone involved with that story was someone I knew personally, from confidential sources to the subjects themselves. It created a classic journalistic dilemma: would telling this story do more harm than good? Would I be throwing gasoline on an anti-Semitic dumpster fire by discussing a Jewish philanthropist pulling her money? How much would this contribute to the idea that the only Israel narrative is a propaganda narrative, as stupid and odious as that idea is? On the other hand, if the journalist’s job is to speak truth to power, and the power is not just with the philanthropist but also with a Jewish studies department that allegedly deceived its donors and board members, isn’t that a story worth exposing? Ultimately, it came down to this: if I, someone with close connections to the matter and aware of the multitude of personalities and sensitivities, didn’t tell the story, inevitably someone would. And who would that person be?
Number two is a double header: The announcement of the Jewish day school affordability initiative and a breakdown of a blog post by Tracy Castro-Gill on Jews and whiteness.
The Samis Day School Affordability Initiative is truly a game changer, bringing tuition fees down to no more than $15,000/child/year or 15% of a family’s AGI, whichever is lower, for households earning $350,000/year or less. Future reporting will cover how well this is working for families and how much it’s helping to grow the day schools, which have all been struggling with enrollment for years.
But I suspect it was the second story that got more attention. Originally titled “Be Reasonable,” it unpacked a Washington Ethnic Studies Now blog post benignly called “Jewishness and Ethnic Studies: A Dialogue.” It generated enough interest that I broke it out into its own post:
I started tracking the growth of ethnic studies in Washington over a year ago, and in that time it has become the most meaningful and maddening issue I’ve ever followed. The amount of anti-Semitism coming from some of the leaders in this movement is shocking. But what’s most frustrating is the plain, sad fact that most people don’t even see it. Reporting on and unpacking the anti-Semitism embedded in liberatory ethnic studies has become something of a part-time job, and more reporting is surely to come on this topic. If your kids are in public school and you see anything that concerns you, I invite you to share it with me. Privacy and confidentiality will be honored.
Number three is a piece by guest writer Rachel Roman. I’m thrilled to have her story on this list. Rachel shopped this idea around the East Coast media outlets and I finally won her over. After a ton of research and reporting, we published this nuanced piece about the challenge of living an Orthodox life in Seattle, and how this hits the Seward Park neighborhood particularly hard.
Seward Park is my neighborhood, too. Since 2020, at least five of my close friends and their families have moved away. Thinking back to my Shabbat afternoons just three years ago, chatting or walking or eating with these friends, is like thinking about someone else’s life, or a scene in a movie I used to love. But what surprised me most about this story is how much those who have moved from Seattle for a better Jewish life actually miss the neighborhood. There is something about Seattle that even Jerusalem can’t match.
Oh here we go again.
The number four most-read story is another piece on ethnic studies. Advocates of the spurned California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum have lifted their work from the ashes and rebranded themselves as the Coalition for Liberated Ethnic Studies. And central to this coalition is an explicit opposition to “Zionism” and a clear vision of aligning ethnic studies with Palestinian liberation. Because ethnic studies is not about education; it’s about politics.
This one surprised me, but I’m very happy to see it here.
Arts stories are a risk. People say they want to see arts coverage, but when the rubber hits the road the numbers just don’t prove the ROI. Still, I want to cover our arts scene because it’s so rich. I hope as we continue to return to pre-pandemic normal we’ll have even more of an arts scene to report on. I love talking with Laura and Shellie of Tales of the Alchemysts about their literary adaptations, and their work getting story to stage really is alchemy. After I published this, I went to see one of the last performances of The Ruins of Memory. When I arrived at Taproot Theatre a few minutes late, I walked into a lobby on the edge of bedlam. Dozens of people were wrangling for any last tickets they could get to the sold-out show. Mazal tov to the company and cast on a powerful performance. And support the arts!
Well, that’s 2022. I’ll be back next week with more reporting.
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Send story ideas and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org or just hit reply on the newsletter. L’chaim to a healthy and prosperous new year!
This week’s parasha is Vayigash.
Candlelighting in Seattle is at 4:08 p.m.
Shoutout to the Temple Beth Am Immigrant Justice Action Team as they welcomed a family from Ukraine fleeing the war in their country and are helping them get settled here in the Puget Sound. —Linda Clifton
Mazal buenus for Miri Azose Tilson, SBH’s new president, and Albert Israel, new president of WSJHS. —Ty Alhadeff
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