BEST OF THE BEST: A dormitory in Hod HaSharon, Israel, where students from Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland spent their capstone trip last spring. Students from CESJDS’s The Lion’s Tale won the Grand Prize in Jewish Scholastic Journalism for their stories on student drinking on the trip, and how parents and administration reacted. The winning story was chosen from the first-place winners in each of the contest’s 10 categories.

Announcing Winners of the 2020 Jewish Scholastic Journalism Awards

March 23, 2020

A series of three stories by students on fallout from students caught drinking on their senior Israel trip has won the 2020 Grand Prize for Jewish Scholastic Journalism, the Jewish Scholastic Press Association announced today.

Oren Minsk, Alex Landy, Matthew Rabinowitz and Josie Stein of The Lion’s Tale, based at at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md., won for three stories spanning last summer, the first in May right after it happened and the final one in late August.

Together the stories won First Place in Category 5, Ongoing Reporting on any Jewish- or Israel-related news or feature story, in the seventh annual Jewish Scholastic Journalism Awards.

This year’s contest had 10 categories, ranging from news and feature writing to opinion, photography, video and page design.  The Grand Prize, which includes a recommendation for a summer internship at a professional Jewish news source, was chosen from among the 10 first-place winners in each category.

The awards are for 2019 work on Jewish- and Israel-related topics, published by current high school students in any publication. A list of winners appears below.

Judges were JSPA Board Secretary Kathleen Neumeyer, national award-winning journalism teacher who advised the Chronicle at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles for 24 years; and Susan Freudenheim, Executive Director of Jewish World Watch and former Executive Editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

“This is excellent original reporting and follow-up on an issue of direct concern to students, giving multiple points of view, and including the various levels of discussion. It is a fine example of courageous scholastic journalism,” the judges wrote.

“Student journalists on the Lion’s Tale provided a factual account, providing various points of view, of a disciplinary matter that occurred while students from their school were taking part in a capstone trip to Israel. Several students, including seven graduating seniors, were accused of drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, violations of the rules,” they continued. “The first story was an account of the incident and the discipline, including complaints by students about how the matter was handled, the second was coverage of a meeting of students, parents and administrators from both schools, and the third outlined changes being made as a result of the incident.

“By accurate and thorough reporting, the student journalists gave important information to readers and dispelled rumors, as well as modeling how a free press works.”

The winners were chosen from a total of 110 entries, up from 67 last year. There were 28 winners in all, published not only in school news media but in the Los Angeles Times High School Insider, New York Jewish Week and Fresh Ink for Teens.

Students from 12 different schools submitted entries.  Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles won 10 awards, Charles E. Smith won five, and Atlanta Jewish Academy,  Ramaz Upper School of New York City and Milken Community Schools of Los Angeles each won three.  Other awards were won by students at YULA Girls High School of Los Angeles and the Spence School of New York.

JSPA had planned to announce the awards on March 21 at its annual conference and Shabbaton, this year was set to be held in New  York City in conjunction with the annual spring conference of the Columbia Scholastic Journalism Association.  However, CSPA was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic and JSPA did not meet.

Joelle Keene, JSPA’s executive director and founder, said the awards demonstrated the energy of today’s high school journalists and the potential for applying it at a professional level to Jewish subjects.

“The current moment has proven that news coverage is something people need,” Keene said.   “These stories show that high school students are stepping up to the challenge, providing real news to real people via all media platforms, and approaching Jewish subjects with professionalism and rigor.”

Here are the winners, along with judges’ comments on why they were chosen:


Category 1: News Reporting on Jewish communities, religion, education, institutions, activism, culture, leaders or personalities

First Place  

“Shalhevet announces it has suspended play against Valley Torah in basketball,”  by Alex Rubel, The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School

Judges’ comments: Strong and courageous reporting on a controversy arising after scouting information provided to an opposing team may have contributed to the basketball team’s loss in the quarterfinals of the CIF championships. An administrator demanded that the coach be fired from the Jewish school where he worked, saying that it was a chillul Hashem for a Jewish team to provide information against another Jewish team. The story provides details on a complicated controversy with quotes from various points of view.

Second Place 

“Fugitive Locks Down AJA,” by Max Goldstein, Palette, Atlanta Jewish Academy

Judges’ comments: Dramatic, factual and well-written and reported account of a lockdown at school when an fugitive was believed to have hidden on campus.

Third Place 

“Kosher Conscious,” by Rochelle Berman and Ivan Endelman, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, The Lion’s Tale

Judges’ comments: Straightforward reporting on the creation of a new hechsher, which resulted in many more kosher restaurants being available to Washington DC area Jews.

Category 2: Feature reporting on  Jewish communities, religion, education, institutions, activism, culture, leaders or personalities

First Place

FEATURE: Julie Levey of the Spence School in New York won first prize in feature writing for a story about a Princeton-educated Charedi woman starting a tenure-track position at Tel Aviv University.

“Pioneering Chasidic Woman Returns to Israel as Tenure Track Professor,” by Julie Levey, New York Jewish Week, the Spence School.

Judges’ Comments: A well-written and compelling interview with an Israeli woman who spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton, and will return to Tel Aviv University as a tenure-track professor, perhaps the first Chasidic woman to achieve such a position. She fears she and her family will not be accepted there.

Second Place

“Laura Silverman on Jewish Heritage,” by Sarah Nachimson, Los Angeles Times High School Insider, YULA Girls High School

Judges’ comments: Young adult author Laura Silverman tells interviewer that although she has faced some anti-semitism, she has also found support in her Jewish community which has helped her as a writer. Well-written interview, incorporating quotes with observations.

Third Place

“Kosher Knockoffs,” by Kate Orlanski, The Boiling Point,  Shalhevet High School

Judges’ comments: A well-researched, interesting feature with factual information about kosher snacks which taste a lot like Oreos, Cheetos and other non-kosher snacks, with a poll on which ones student like best.

Category 3: News and reporting on current events involving Israel

First Place

“Many graduates to enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces,” by Matthew Rabinowitz, The Lion’s Tale, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

ISRAEL: Matthew Rabinowitz of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School won first place for Israel coverage for his story about CESJDS alumni joining the Israel Defense Forces.

Judges’ comments:  Interesting, well-written story about students planning to enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces upon graduation, with quotes expressing their excitement, trepidations, and motivations. Good use of quotes.

Second Place

“Brexit Fears? Israel has a separate trade deal with the UK, just in case,” by Sam Rubanowitz, The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School

Judges’ comments: A well-researched, informative story about Israel’s trade deal with the United Kingdom, including quotes from several primary sources, as well as interviews with a faculty member with expertise on the subject.

Third place

“Alumni Spotlight: Maayan Schoen Chats with the Prime Minister,” by Matthew Minsk, Palette, Atlanta Jewish Academy

Judges’ comments: Well-written interview with an alum studying in Israel who had an opportunity to attend an event with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and prepared questions to ask if she got a chance to ask a question. Good use of quotes, good description of her process.


Category 4: News and Reporting on Interreligious or Intercultural Events

First place

“Welcoming the stranger with hot food, scissors and applause”  by Sam Rubanowitz, The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School

INTERCULTURAL: The first-prize winner for writing about interreligious or intercultural news was a report on an L.A. synagogue’s trip to Phoenix to welcome asylum-seekers arriving from ICE custody, by Sam Rubanowitz of Shalhevet High School. Photo by Sam Rubanowitz.

Judges’ comments: A very thorough narrative of a service trip to help migrants at the border. Good background,  good use of quotes, good reporting and compelling writing.

Second place

“Bicultural Chutzpah,” By Samantha Sinensky, Ramaz Upper School, Fresh Ink for Jewish Teens

Judges’ comments: An anecdotal lead sets the scene at a West Side Comedy Club for a story that provides background and serious information about a HinJew comedy show featuring an Indian and a Jewish comedian. Strong reporting and writing.

Third place

Can Jews and Arabs Squash Their Differences?  By Samantha Sinesky, Fresh Ink for Teens, Ramaz Upper School

Judges’ comments: A well-written account of a visit from the SquashBond Jewish and Israeli-Arab squash team, which tries to bring together different cultures through the sport of squash has strong reporting. Interviews with many sources give varying points of view. Good reporting


Category 5: Ongoing Reporting on Any Subject in Category 1, 2, 3 or 4

ONGOING: The Grand Prize winner also won first prize for Ongoing Reporting. Photo by Alex Landy of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.

Ongoing means at least two stories on two different days, covering a story that is evolving with additional facts or occurrences.

First Place

“Israel Trip Expulsions Draw Backlash”

Seniors and Parents Voice Concerns in Meeting with Administrators”

After Meetings, Israel trip has new precautions”

By Oren Minsk, Alex Landy and Josie Stein, The Lion’s Tale, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

Judges comments: This is excellent original reporting and follow-up on an issue of direct concern to students, giving multiple points of view, and includes the various levels of discussion. It is a fine example of courageous scholastic journalism.

Second Place:

“Instability in Israel leads to early elections”

“Israel election chooses same old, same old — but not really”

By Sivan Karz, The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School

Judges’ comments:  Thorough research in before-and-after stories about the Israeli elections.


Category 6: Opinion – Non-first-person opinion on any Jewish or Israel-related story.

First place:

Jojo Rabbit: Satirizing the Holocaust,” by Natalie Tabibian and Kayla Nickfardjam, The Roar, Milken Community Schools
COMMENTARY: The first-prize winner for non-first person opinion writing story by Natalie Tabibian of Milken Community Schools looked at the meaning of ‘Jojo Rabbit’ in the current political atmosphere.

Judges’ comments: More than a movie review, this insightful piece examines a film about anti-Semitism in the context of its setting – Nazi Germany, and in terms of its appropriateness for today’s world.

Second place:

“The rabbi, the coach and the media,”  Jacob Lefkowitz Brooks for the Boiling Point Editorial Board, The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School

Judges’ comments: A controversy over a coach’s reporting on unethical practices by a rival basketball team provokes concern about the coach as well as the newspaper staff’s reporting. This astute commentary attempts to give context to the situation, restore respect for the coach and clarify the role of the media all in a very brief piece. Excellent writing and insights.

Third place:

“Fast Days in School, Not as Meaningful As They Can Be,” by Zach Mainzer, Palette, Atlanta Jewish Academy

Judges’ comments: Thoughtful and thorough examination of how students react to required observance.

Category 7 – First-person opinion or experience regarding Judaism or Israel

First place

“Should we protest a ‘get refuser’ sitting shiva with his family?” Yes by Josh Glettner and No by Sam Rubanowitz, The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School

Judges’ comments: In a pro-con written debate, two writers lay out the argument as to whether a person whose actions are otherwise scorned should be the subject of a protest during a time of mourning. The two writers’ opinions differ, but the tone in each piece is thoughtful and helpful in laying out well-conceived arguments. 

Second place

“The Fate of journalism is in our hands,” by Alexandra Orbuch and Emily Vanek, The Roar, Milken Community Schools

Judges’ comments: After attending the JSPA 2019 conference, Orbuch reflects with compelling passion on her own and her colleagues’ role as truth-seekers and journalists.

Third Place

“My mother converted but I am not ‘half-Jewish,’” Abigail Yadegar, Fresh Ink for Teens, Milken Community School

Judges’ comments: Confronting prejudice among her peers against interfaith marriage in light of her own history with a Jewish mother who converted, the author examines what conversion means, describes her own family’s strengths, and relates that to the Jewish value of loving the stranger.


Category 8: Photojournalism: Photograph attached to any Jewish or Israel-related story

First place

“A different kind of dance show: 2019 Israeli dance showcase,” photo by Kayla Nickfardjam, The Roar, Milken Community Schools

Judges’ comments: A beautiful, expressive image that is easily identifiable as Israeli dance.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Kayla Nickfardjam of the Milken Roar won first prize in photojournalism for this photo of an Israeli dance class. Kayla Nickfardjam, Milken Community Schools


Second place

“School cracks down on pencil skirts; midis and maxis preferred,” photo by Neima Fax, The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School

Judges’ comments: This sensitive photo shows only the students’ legs and skirt lengths, an apt response to the school rule that the story explores.


Category 9: Layout, design or infographic attached to any Jewish or Israel-related story, one page or multiple pages

First place

“Do Good Diploma: Graduation Requirement Encourages Students to Serve Community,” graphic by Daphne Kaplan, The Lion’s Tale, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

DESIGN: Daphne Kaplan of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School designed this two-page spread about a program requiring students to perform community service in order to graduate. It won first prize in the Layout, Design or Infographic category.

Judges’ comments: A well-organized creative integration of graphics, photo and text.

Second place

“The Jaguars have entered the win column,”  page design by Tali Feen, Palette, Atlanta Jewish Academy.

Judges’ comments: Excellent layout’s use of image from outside sourcing, 2-page spread expresses the action of the moment.


Third place

Lethal Vapor: At least 12 deaths so far from mysterious vaping illness,” web page design by Zev Kupferman and Gilad Spitzer, The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School

Judges’ comments: Expressive use of online capabilities, including graphics and interesting mix of typefaces that are focused on enhancing the alarming nature of the subject.


Category 10: Video Reporting of any Jewish or Israel-related story

First place

Sam Rubanowitz, Shalhevet High School

“Welcoming the Stranger with hot food, scissors and applause,” Shalhevet High School, The Boiling Point, March 6, 2019

Judges’ comments: Good long-form storytelling in video.

Second place

“Recipe for Apple Stuffed challah,” Jonathan Morris, The Lions Tale, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

Judges’ comments: Very professional use of video for cooking instruction.

Third place

“VIDEO: Creativity in the spotlight as Choirhawks forge their own musical path,” Sabrina Jahan, The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School

Judges’ comments: Good use of video storytelling.








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