A decade of news by and for St. Louis Jewish teens

Ohr Chadash teen pages from 2008 through 2017.

Ladue high graduate Abby Abrams, 25, now lives in New York where she works for Time magazine as a reporter and fact-checker. It’s a job she covets and feels lucky to have, and she credits her time during high school on Ohr Chadash with helping her to get a start in journalism. She said working on the Jewish Light’s teen section for three years helped her make connections and opened doors to internships. 

Abrams said that professional experience at such a young age was a valuable aspect of working on the section. “I think that’s pretty rare and I’m glad to see that it is continuing,” she said.

The current academic school year, 2018-2019, marks the 10th anniversary of Ohr Chadash. The 10th anniversary section starts back up today.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that it has continued as long as it has,” said Mimi Pultman, a former Light board member from Chesterfield who helped found the initiative, which launched in 2008. “We knew that it was a demographic of readership that wasn’t being sought after or responded to.”

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Meaning “New Light,” the Ohr Chadash teen pages run monthly from September to May and feature an all-teen staff doing everything from photography and design to reporting and editing. Its first year attracted enough attention to garner an “Education and Journalism Award” from the National Newspaper Association.

Former Light board president Jenny Wolkowitz said she came up with the idea for the project in 2008 after seeing a similar section that provided youth-oriented news for her hometown paper, the San Antonio Jewish Journal. Still, she wanted to do even more with the concept and bring high schoolers on board for the effort.

“I love the fact that we went one step further and made it a completely teen operation,” she said. “It is such a wonderful learning experience for the teens because they are getting mentored by professional journalists.”

She said the idea really filled a niche and has introduced students to one another from different parts of the community.

“It brings them together to share ideas and I think it is a win-win for everybody,” she noted.

Abrams said that aspect was what she liked best about working with Ohr Chadash.

“I think that was probably the most special part because there were a lot of different teens from all over the community as part of the group,” said the former B’nai Amoona congregant. “There were definitely people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Light board member and current Ohr Chadash co-chair Caroline Koenig Goldenberg said that Abrams’ career choice isn’t unique among the section’s alumni. 

“Even just last year, three of my students who went to journalism schools’ were pre-accepted into their journalism programs,” she noted.

Although Goldenberg and Evan Glantz are the current advisers to the Ohr Chadash staff, she said they hardly need that title since the high school students take charge of everything from layout to story selection.

“This is a labor of love that these kids are so devoted to,” Goldenberg said. “(Our) role and the role of the other advisers are really very minimal.”

Oliver Kodner, originally of Clayton, joined the section as a graphic designer during his junior year of high school and worked there until 2011. He said he appreciated the assistance Light professional staffers gave the students and remembers the mechanics it took to get an issue out.

“They would help us with some of the layout things,” he said, “how the press works, how to get a story published and how once you have everything ready, everything is going to go wrong, and you have to on-the-fly re-adjust some sizes and some kerning and this and that.”

Light editor Ellen Futterman said that it is rare for newspapers to sustain a teen section for an entire decade, especially one where the teens do almost all of the work. Along with the four adult co-chairs of the section named previously, Futterman says the other two, Peggy Kaplan and Lauren Sagel, were also instrumental in helping the teens stay focused and meet their deadlines.

“In the 1990s, I was in charge of the teen section at the Post-Dispatch, and also did most of the writing for it,” said Futterman, who worked at the P-D for 25 years before coming to the Light in 2009. “I think the section lasted two, maybe three years. It was difficult to find good teen writers who had a passion for journalism and were willing to put in the work. 

“What sets Ohr Chadash apart is that year after year, we’ve been able to find high school students who are committed to seeing this section grow and improve, and take responsibility for it. Ohr Chadash is not only unique among Jewish newspapers, but also among daily and weekly newspapers throughout the United States.”

Kyla Gersten, who graduated from Parkway Central in 2015, didn’t choose journalism as a career but still felt her time with Ohr Chadash taught her important lessons about management, public speaking and how to run a meeting.

“It provided me with a lot of leadership skills,” said Gersten, a co-editor of the teen page in its 2014-2015 year who is now majoring in elementary and special education at Bradley University. “I think that definitely helped with some of the activities I’m doing in college.”

The former Creve Coeur resident also feels it does a service for the readership.

“I think it provides a nice perspective to other teenagers,” Gersten said. “But even adults in the Jewish community can know what Jewish teenagers are talking about and thinking about.”

Ohr Chadash alumna Hannah Barg, who is now a producer for the Israel Story podcast, began work with the section during her last year in high school. She recalls time spent with friends there.

“I’m happy to know that it’s still going strong,” she wrote in an email to the Light. “At the time, I think we wanted it to be a place for the younger generation of the Jewish community to write about and discuss what was important to them.”

Pultman, who still remembers hosting early Ohr Chadash brainstorming meetings with students on her living room floor, said that the section’s continued success is a tribute to the strength of its staff and can’t be seen as that surprising in retrospect.

“When you give the kids the power to be creative, manage themselves and make it their vision, it can’t help but work,” she said.

Find the Ohr Chadash Teen Page online at www.stljewishlight.com/teen and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ohrchadashteenpage.