Photo Credit: Courtesy
Marc Gronich at the Simon Rockower Award ceremony, in Atlanta on June 27, holding his award certificate.

In Pirkei Avot (1:14), Hillel asks a famous question: “If I am not for me, who will be for me?” Though intended to teach the importance of an individual’s genuity, broader lessons for the Jewish people can be understood from this aphorism. Namely, if we do not stick up for ourselves, who will?

And, as Marc Gronich understands it, if we do not tell our stories, through our lens, who will?

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Gronich, who has been writing for The Jewish Press as its Capital Bureau Chief for the past six years, fervently believes in the importance of, as he calls it, “ethnic journalism.”

“Weeklies and dailies that are in the mainstream media do not have the staff to cover specific [ethnic groups]. They only cover ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ and they ignore the various groups that make up the melting pot of New York state,” Gronich said. “In broadcasting, they call it ‘narrowcasting,’ when you are hyper-focused on a community. That’s what [The Jewish Press] is – hyper-focused on just the Jewish community and how the Jewish community blends with the secular world.”

Gronich has been covering government and politics from New York’s Capitol for the past 43 years, which, as he jokingly pointed out, is longer than this reporter has been alive. Throughout his career, he has focused steadily on the “blending aspect” of how the Jewish community interacts with the secular world.

Gronich has won four other awards, all in broadcasting, including one from the Associated Press, two from the New York State Broadcaster’s Association and one from the New York State Agricultural Society. This is his first award in print journalism. “Every time I submit an entry for an award I win,” Gronich said.

He started working for The Jewish Press six years ago, when a fellow member of his synagogue, Albany-based Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob, reached out to him on behalf of Arthur Klass, who serves as Director of Business Development at The Jewish Press. Since then, Gronich has continued to cover government and politics from Albany, always with the mindfulness of one representing the Jewish community and its place in America.

This past year, Gronich was tasked with entering the 41st Annual Simon Rockower Awards, the goal of which is to “honor achievements in Jewish media each year.”

The Jewish Press has never won an award,” Gronich explained, “and [Klass] gave me the challenge of breaking that nasty streak of not winning. I threw everything against the wall to see what would stick, so I entered 33 stories into nine different categories. Clearly something stuck.”

Gronich’s winning entry, titled “School district monitors may override elected board members’ vote,” won him First Place in the Simon Rockower Award for Excellence in Writing About Politics/Government. Published on July 7, 2021, the article highlights rising tensions within the East Ramapo School District (Rockland County) as public school advocates began to express that the district, which had a majority of Orthodox Jews occupying its seats, was failing public school students. To dissipate such tensions and to resolve the greater conflict at hand, namely the inequity in resources in East Ramapo schools, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed legislation that would allow designated state monitors to override the decisions of the district’s school board.

For Jews on the board, this move was thought to be “a matter of bigotry against the presence of Jews on the school board and the district’s Jewish population.” What began as a seemingly routine and municipal issue played out as yet another mismatched overlap between the Jewish and secular community of New York. As Gronich stated earlier, he intended for his articles to reflect how the Jewish community interacts and “blends” with the secular community. This article is a perfect example of that goal.

The Rockower Awards, which is hosted annually by the American Jewish Press Association, is not a typical journalism awards competition. Rooted in the history of and with an emphasis on Jewish journalism, the Rockower Awards are truly unparalleled, in a class of their own. Lisa Hostein, executive editor of Hadassah Magazine and chairwoman of the Rockower Awards Committee, describes the awards as “an indication to the wider world that the work we do matters and provides an important contribution to the larger community.” (Bob Jacob served as the chairman of the Rockower Committee. He is the Managing Editor of the Cleveland Jewish News.)

The awards were for articles published in 2021. The awards – judged by a panel of 37 current and former journalists and a nine-member committee overseeing the process – were offered in 39 categories, spanning the gamut from applaudable personal essays to commendable sports reporting. Each category had three divisions: Weekly and Biweekly newspapers; Monthly newspapers and magazines; and Web-based outlets, digital only, website only and wire services. Each division offered three awards: First Place, Second Place and Honorable Mention. There were more than 1,100 entries for the competition, according to the AJPA.

Of the 230 awards handed to 43 print and digital publications, four media organizations took home 43 percent of the awards including almost one-fifth (18 percent) of the awards or 43 certificates, going to The Forward Association. The Washington, DC-based Moment Magazine took home 20 awards, while the New York-based JTA and the San Francisco, CA-based “J,” Jewish News of Northern California took home 18 awards each.

Created in 1979 as a tribute to Simon Rockower by his sons, the Simon Rockower Awards committee seek out only the epitome of successful, honorable Jewish journalism. Simon Rockower, like innumerable others, left his home in Austria to access the opportunities America had to offer. Described as a man who “deeply cherished his people, and always supported their betterment,” Rockower believed in the import of Jews telling Jewish stories; he “believed that self-respect was gained by being proud of your religion and your people.”

The mission of the Rockower Awards aligns quite perfectly with Gronich’s mission and his outlook on Jewish journalism as a whole, so it is only fitting that he received this award on behalf of The Jewish Press. As a journalist, Gronich typifies the very values that mattered to Simon Rockower: integrity and respect. For him, journalism is not merely an occupation or a craft, but it is an act of giving to the greater community. With his work, Gronich gives to readers of The Jewish Press, not only by informing them of New York’s political and governmental happenings, but by representing them on a statewide level. When asked how he felt upon being notified of his win, Gronich replied that he was “ecstatic,” both for himself as well as for The Jewish Press.

“I have this connection with The Jewish Press that is in my heart,” he said. “Journalists don’t go into this business for the money. They go in because they want to tell a certain story to the people, [to their] audience.” And through The Jewish Press, Gronich does just that. With each piece, he tells stories to his audience in which they, though perhaps indirectly, are the main characters. Gronich’s work not only speaks to the Jewish community, but it speaks about them, and most importantly, it speaks for them, and this is exactly the kind of work that the Simon Rockower Awards exist to honor. As Jews, we have the responsibility to stand up for ourselves and for our people, and in a world where convoluted media and hypocrisy run amok, this responsibility falls even harder upon Jewish journalists. After all, if we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?

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