Some decades ago, when I was about to graduate Yeshiva University where I majored in English literature, I was encouraged to take an aptitude test. I did, and once I got the results, I shared them with my mother. “Mom,” I said, “I scored high in abstract thinking.” “How will you support a family with abstract ideas?” my mom asked, a twinkle in her eye. “Don’t worry,” I told her reassuringly. “I will take the abstract ideas and make them tangible,” I joked. While I couldn’t envision it back then, I have spent much of my career doing just that.
The summer after graduation, I answered an ad in the New York Times: a major national radio broadcast network was seeking a copy boy. I got the job and was overjoyed—it was my first “real” job, and most likely I was the only Orthodox news writer in the industry at the time (it was 1965). Over the years, my career in communications evolved. I worked in public relations, and subsequently founded my own marketing consulting company. And indeed, much of my work involved making abstract concepts tangible and communicating them succinctly and memorably.
Eventually, my career went in an entirely new direction; I left the field of communications and have been involved in real estate for the past few decades. Fifteen years ago, when I was asked to take on the chairmanship of Jewish Action, I jumped at the chance—here was an opportunity to work with words again! A chance to influence, to educate, to enlighten, and to make abstract ideas real, relevant and meaningful.
And, in fact, the most challenging part of the editorial process is just that. Pulling together the magazine each quarter is no simple feat. But one of the most difficult aspects is not conceiving of the story ideas but implementing them—that is, making them real, relevant and meaningful.
Once an idea is approved, we must decide on an appropriate writer. Not every writer is suited to every story, and it’s the job of the editorial staff to select the best writer for each story. Once a writer is chosen, and the article starts to take shape, there is an ongoing process of evaluation. How is the story developing? Does it need additional research? Are there any holes? Does the angle work? Is there a need for an additional article or two to fully flesh out the topic?
What makes Jewish Action exceptional is that we devote significant time to each story. Each article is subject to multiple rounds of edits with days, and sometimes weeks, of trimming, reworking and reevaluating. Our editorial staff demands a lot from our writers and often goes back to them with requests for revisions or clarification. In the more than thirty-five years we’ve been around, Jewish Action has developed a reputation for quality writing, accuracy and integrity. Ensuring we live up to our high standards requires time.
It’s important to realize that even after the “perfect” writer is identified, there is no way of knowing exactly how a story will develop and what we will discover. There’s an unpredictability built into the editorial process.
In this issue, for example, we knew we wanted to address a thorny topic: how to maintain a healthy, positive relationship with one’s child after he or she has left the Orthodox fold. But we had no idea how the story would evolve. We consulted with a wide range of professionals, including rabbis, mental health professionals, educators and parents. Once the responses started coming in, we realized the story is far more complex and painful than we originally envisioned.
We discovered that just as each child and each family is unique, each child who is drifting religiously is unique, and there is no single formula that will work for everyone. We learned about the importance of unconditional love, acceptance and respect. And, at the same time, we learned that while a parent must compromise and be flexible, the need to consult with a rav on an ongoing basis is critical.
The interviewees seemed to echo one another. So many parents, they told us, struggle with the question, “Doesn’t acceptance seem like approval?” But as Tal Attia, who serves as an OU-JLIC educator at Binghamton University in New York, explains, acceptance does not necessarily mean approval. “When loved ones do make the intentional, pervasive and longstanding choice not to live by Torah values, distinguishing between approval and acceptance is pivotal. Whereas approval is a value statement, acceptance is a warm hug.”
Certain topics demand that we tread even more cautiously than usual, which we tried to do with this cover story. I hope we were successful and that the words of insight, advice and chizuk in this issue will help ease the path for parents and children who are undergoing this agonizing life challenge.
Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the Jewish Action Committee and an honorary vice president of the OU.