About five years ago my younger sister came up with an idea to produce a family newspaper. She was too young to put it together, and back then, I was a bossy older sister, so I immediately took charge. Surprisingly, I now find myself the editor-in-chief of a newspaper that is rapidly expanding, both in length and in circulation (more of the extended family requests to receive it). Published once monthly, my family newspaper has a brilliant and creative title: The Family News.
The role of editor-in-chief is an important one to me and I find it actually quite rewarding and valuable. This is partially because I get to nag family members to send in articles, which means I communicate with second cousins and great-aunts and -uncles, with whom I would not otherwise be in contact, other than seeing them every couple of years at a simcha and having no clue who they are.
Publishing and distributing a paper also fills me with pride. After I put on finishing touches such as laying it out in Microsoft Word, inserting pictures etc., I email (and for older relatives, snail mail) out the finished product. It is this finished product that creates a strong bond among all the members in my family, as we read each others’ writing.
Many families keep in touch through Whatsapp, but Whatsapp can be burdensome (if there are too many messages) and the conversations are often fragmented and hard to follow. Having a family newspaper allows for deeper and more expansive writing that really helps one to get to know other members of the family. In this spirit, I try to include members from a variety of nuclear families as writers, so that everyone will get to know each other.
There are different types of features in our newspaper. We always have a d’var torah, a recipe and a section in which we wish mazal tov to family members. For the artsy and creative minds in the family, we sometimes publish poetry and short fiction. This allows members of the family to express themselves through literature and share their creativity with others. A major highlight is when people write about trips that they have taken. For example, my sister wrote about her experiences in Israel during her gap year. Other family members describe their vacation activities or feelings about family simchas. Often, one family member interviews a sibling or a child about a significant event or achievement. Sometimes people just write about topics they find interesting. For example, over the years, people have written more than one article about Bastille Day (I don’t know why; no one comes from France). On the other hand, there were some running features that died out. My younger sister used to write a “philosophy column,” but she stopped when she realized there wasn’t anything philosophical about it. We also used to have a sports feature and a politics feature, until we realized that no one was interested in either of those two topics, unless they were subsumed under the humor column.
One of my most important contributions to the newspaper, besides being the editor, is to write the regular feature entitled, “Family News Oral History.” I interview members of the family who experienced different historical events. I started with World War II, which was really just an interview with my father’s aunt, the only one old enough to remember those events first-hand. This past May, I did a piece about Yom Yerushalyim, which was remembered by many more members of the family, and I found out that one of my mother’s aunts was actually in Yerushalyim during the war, attending seminary. Most people in the family did not know about that and were fascinated. That particular article sparked a lot of letters to the editor! (In the beginning, I had to assign someone to write a letter to the editor, and they had to scrounge around for something to ask or comment on, but now people send in letters on their own initiative.)
A family newspaper or newsletter is a worthwhile endeavor for families. It gives children the opportunity to express themselves, share their interests, develop writing skills and see the fruits of their labor published. It does not have to have fancy templates to be powerful, as our paper has shown. It also gives older family members a chance to share their experiences and knowledge with the younger generation. But most importantly, it is a tool that allows family members to discover each other and get to know each other even if they live geographically distant from one another. My mother once met a grandmother from another family, who said she finds it a challenge to connect to all her grandchildren and really get to know them because they live all over the world. A family newspaper is a wonderful way of bridging distances and making connections.
By Sara Schapiro
Sara Schapiro is a recent graduate at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and an incoming freshman at Stern College. She is a Jewish Link summer intern.