|Marla Cohen in her office, on deadline|
The Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism are distributed annually by the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA). This year, a June 26 ceremony in Evanston, Ill. honored journalists in 15 categories, spotlighting achievement in everything from feature writing to photography, personality profiles to graphic design. Cohen won the first place Louis Rapaport Award for excellence in commentary for newspapers with a circulation under 15,000.
Cohen was honored for three columns: "Memories of My Father," a lyrical meditation on her father's death; "The Price of Return," a dissection of the complicated issues surrounding the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit; and "Rain at the Proper Season," an essay that elegantly ties together hurricanes and the High Holidays.
Cohen said the columns fulfill an essential role for a community newspaper like the Jewish Reporter. They give the paper a truly local voice.
"I hope that the columns help give the Jewish Reporter a very local flavor, even when I'm writing about national or international issues," said Cohen. "I try to make them personal and easy to relate to, yet address broad issues with national implications for the American Jewish community, like day school funding, or the need for endowed giving, by focusing on the situation in our own back yard."
According to the AJPA's Web site, Cohen was cited for "very clear, graceful, and thoughtful writing, with memorable messages and a nice variety of topics."
Cohen previously took the first place Rockower in 2006 for her columns.
Cohen's second win for the paper was an honor for the Jewish Federation of Rockland County, which funds the paper, according to Federation President Carol Blau. Given the size of the Rockland Jewish community, it's important that the Federation provide a newspaper as a way of reaching out and uniting the community, she said.
"We're very excited about Marla receiving this well-deserved award," said Blau. "We feel that she's produced an excellent newspaper which the community greatly appreciates. This paper really serves the purpose of connecting the community and supporting the Federation's mission."
Aside from connecting readers to local developments, Cohen synthesizes world events in an engaging way, said David Kirschtel, the chief executive officer of JCC Rockland.
"I think she looks at what's going on globally and addresses issues that are meaningful, important issues," he said. "I look forward to getting her perspective because she's very bright and thoughtful."
Local Jewish leaders said they were proud of Cohen's achievements, if not surprised by her tendency to draw accolades.
"We think she is a wonderful editor and puts out a great paper," said Diane Sloyer, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Rockland County. "I think it keeps the community connected."
Cohen said she appreciates that the Federation completely funds the newspaper. Without it, she added, there simply would be no Rockland Jewish Reporter, which publishes 13 times a year.
"The Federation provides this incredible tool for the entire community," Cohen said. "The newspaper is the one place that your synagogue can reach beyond its own membership and tell the entire Jewish community about that great new education program that it's offering. It's where the JCC can make a case to everybody about its need to raise money for scholarships, or where the Federation can tell you about the great work it funds in our own community and in Israel."
Sloyer added that the Jewish Reporter can help the many Jewish charities and agencies in Rockland reach a larger swath of the county's Jewish population.
"It's a great vehicle for the agencies that our federation supports to advertise their upcoming programs, to reach a wider range of people, to go beyond their mailing lists," she said. "It's a great outreach and marketing tool."
Kirschtel said his agency uses the newspaper to publicize JCC-run events.
Even in a world that has begun to increasingly devalue traditional print media, community newspapers like the Jewish Reporter serve an important role, he added.
"I still believe that ultimately there's a role for newspapers in the world. I don't see us going to a newspaper-less community," he said. "From my perspective, the Jewish Reporter is a terrific vehicle to provide the Rockland Jewish community information about what is going on both locally and in the community ... and obviously when there is a global issue, what's going on the world."
For Cohen that's all part of a day's work.
"The Federation has given me this great opportunity to tell the stories of my own community," said Cohen. "It's a real privilege, to be entrusted with such work. I don't take it lightly. It has been an incredible experience."