Jewish World Review Feb. 13, 2001 / 18 Adar, 5761

All in a day's work

By Brigitte Dayan -- OF all the wacky phone calls we field at JUF News -- and there are plenty -- one of my favorite examples involves a non-Jewish man whose daughter, a fifth-grade student, had to write a report on the Holocaust.

"So, what can you tell me about the Holocaust?" he asked, and waited patiently for me to give him the raw material for the report, which he presumably was going to write.

I was a bit frazzled by his request.

"Sir, you called a Jewish newspaper," I told him.

"Well, don't you know about the Holocaust?" he retorted.

But instead of giving him the long and short on the genocide campaign against the Jews, I referred him to Spertus Library. Their librarian, I assured him, would be happy to help him and his daughter find age-appropriate books on the Holocaust.

We get funny phone calls all the time, so much so that sometimes I don't realize that the requests are unusual for a Jewish newspaper.

Just recently, a man called from Los Angeles to inquire about kosher food in Chicago, as he was coming here on a business trip. By the end of the conversation, he not only knew where he could obtain food for Shabbes, but where he could find the synagogue with the shortest sermon and the best kiddush. And as I did for my other caller, I was able to refer him to the online edition of the Guide to Jewish Living, which has a listing of anything Jewish he might need while in Chicago.

Just when my job here seems to be getting routine, I can rely on an outrageous call to liven up the day (although to be honest, Jewish politics does a pretty good job of livening the day). Most of the time, I get off the phone feeling that I've provided important help to someone in the community. I've referred brides to Jewish bands; seniors to computer classes; parents to summer camps; and Holocaust survivors to those who can provide assistance with claims forms.

Sometimes, though, I can't give callers the answer they want. Public relations professionals call often to pitch their clients -- that's their job -- and it's my job to let them know that as a Jewish publication, each article we print should have Jewish content. Seems rather logical, one would think. Not so for a certain public relations person for a local plastic surgeon. She tried her best to convince me -- in an earnest way -- that a story on her client, who opened a new practice and happened to be of the Jewish faith ("He belongs to a synagogue," she told me), is a natural for a Jewish newspaper. I explained to her that a Jewish doctor a story does not make, but to no avail. Finally, she offered what I was afraid of.

"Many of his clients are Jewish," she said with a note of hope.

I cringed.

On a similar note, a distant relative once called (talk about putting me in an awkward position) to tell me I should write a profile on her.

Trying hard not to be offensive, I asked her what my "hook" would be for the profile.

"Well," she said, "I sell real estate, and I'm an Orthodox woman."

I was silent, amused that she thought this was newsworthy.

"Don't you see?" she insisted. "I'm a professional and an Orthodox woman!"

I'm not sure where this woman has been living all her life, but Orthodox women have been in the workplace for a long time, or at least as long as women in general. I'd say Orthodox working women are about on the same level of newsworthiness as Jewish doctors. Now, Jewish Orthodox women doctors...

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my good friend "Gene." Gene, an older gentleman whom I've never met, calls about once a month, right after he's read the latest issue of JUF News. In his shy voice, he always comments on "what a good job" we're doing. Gene, I get the sense, feels like he knows me from reading the publication, and he sometimes calls just to tell me about an article in the Tribune or Sun-Times he thinks I'd be interested in.

Levity aside, I love receiving these phone calls. It puts me in touch with our readership in a way that covering a story cannot-it connects me to the "average" Jew out there, to the extent that he or she exists, to the person who isn't doing something quite newsworthy enough to merit a mention in the paper, but who certainly is part of the Jewish fabric that we cater to.

And so perhaps the non-Jewish father isn't completely off the mark in calling a Jewish newspaper to ask about the Holocaust. I'd rather he, and members of the Jewish community, call us to obtain random information than remain unattended.

After all, in answering their calls, we provide them with "news," even if it's in an untraditional journalistic format.

JWR contributor Brigitte Dayan is managing editor of the JUF News, a monthly published by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Contact the author or the magazine by either clicking here, or calling (312) 444-2853.


© 2001, JUF News