What was most surprising about the e-mail I got just a few months ago is that it came three years after the story ran.
When the story I wrote on addictions -- particularly, sex addiction -- was first published in March 2003, the response was immediate and strong.
Some people denounced a family paper for running such trash. But others, many more others, e-mailed or called to thank me, saying they hadn't known they could get help for what they, too, suffered from. More than one person credited me with saving their lives.
And then -- so much later -- this e-mail came out of the blue, from someone who found the story online, and wanted to know how to get in touch with the man I had written about, a New York Chasid who had been sexually abused by older boys as a child, then grew up addicted to drugs and sex, all the while leading a respectable life with his wife and eight children. Now recovering, he helps others in the same situation, working quietly in the shadows of his Orthodox community.
Not every story I write gets that kind of reaction or has that kind of shelf life. And I am painfully aware that while some of the stories I have written for The Jewish Journal over the past eight years help people in small or large ways, a few of them hurt people and institutions as well.
But whether the articles are uplifting or depressing, helpful or hurtful, readers take articles published in The Jewish Journal personally.
And that's why I do what I do. That's why since college, when I edited Ha'Am, UCLA's (now dormant) Jewish newsmagazine, I have stuck with Jewish journalism, never even being tempted to cross over into the mainstream press.
Reading a Jewish newspaper, I like to believe, is an intimate experience. In a Jewish newspaper -- in fact, probably in any niche or ethnic publication -- every bit of information is important and personal, because it is about people and things readers care about. The Los Angeles Times is about the world. The Jewish Journal is about your home. And even when the L.A. Times writes about your home, it is an outsider looking in, not a family member filling you in on the latest.
In fact, I often feel like I am writing for a family newsletter. I can picture readers flipping through the pages looking for articles by or about people they know. And even if there aren't familiar faces or names, everyone is familiar, because everyone is part of the extended family of the Jewish world.
Look at our letters page. Readers' responses jump with passion. People get incredibly elated, or totally upset, because the articles we write are about causes or people or institutions close to them.
Over the years, people have often asked me whether I've ever thought about working at a "real newspaper." The idea, I guess, is if I'm good enough why wouldn't I want to move up to the mainstream press? But for me that would be more of a move out than a move up.
I'd rather write for an audience of thousands that is curling up with the paper on Friday night and reading with a curious mind and, hopefully, an open heart, than for an audience of hundreds of thousands that is skimming the headlines before grabbing that travel-mug full of coffee and getting on the 405.