Jacksonville Jewish News celebrates 30 years of Jewish storytelling in Northeast Florida

By Jacksonville Jewish News


      For the past three decades, the Jacksonville Jewish News has been a reliable source of local news related to synagogue and secular life for Jewish men, women, families and retirees in Northeast Florida. While the colors, logos and faces in photos associated with the stories may have changed, one thing has not: the commitment to telling relevant and compelling narratives that inhabit Hebrew homes and hallowed halls in and around Mandarin.


     One person who has been there in one way, shape or form-from even before day one-is former JJN editor Susan Goetz, who assumed the significant role in 1990, a post she held for 18 years until her departure in 2008.


     “It started out for me being a very part-time type of thing, reporting, editing, rewriting articles and bringing it to our production people to do all the pre-press work,” she remembered.”


     Goetz’s role seemed like a natural one, since she previously edited a publication in the mid-1980s known as ‘The Commentator’, which preceded the JJN.


     “I had a monthly ritual that included bringing the paper to Florida Sun Printing in Callahan and waiting for the mechanicals to be shot, the plates to be made and the paper to be printed,” Goetz vividly recalled. “So I would wait around for anywhere between three to four hours and it was fun watching the paper rolling off the presses.”


     Fast forward 30 years, and while Florida Sun Printing is still producing high quality editions of the Jacksonville Jewish News, the process of printing and publishing has vastly changed. Now a monthly trip along I-95 to rural Nassau County is no longer necessary as a simple click of the mouse uploads the finished PDF product to the printer, saving time and gas money for current editor and Communications Director Matt Franzblau. 


     The Jacksonville Jewish News may be the longest standing Jewish news outfit in Northeast Florida, but it is certainly not the first. Before its inception in August 1988, a publication called the ‘Kehillah’ found its way into mailboxes around town during the 1980s, while the aforementioned ‘Commentator’ was around mainly in the 60s, 70s and a portion of the 80s.


     Someone else who has seen the JJN grow from infancy to adulthood is none other than current advertising sales representative Barbara Nykerk, who once held a very different post with the publication.


      “I had a section of the paper called ‘People and Places’ and ‘Mazel Tovs’, Nykerk recalled. “I used to use the synagogue bulletins, the Jacksonville Business Journal and the Florida Times-Union, in addition to calling people if I knew there was a Mazel Tov in their family such as graduations, honors, awards and achievements.”


                Nykerk’s newsgatherings had a significant place and a solid following in the paper for a large part of Goetz’s tenure as editor, but now takes the form of the lifecycles section of the JJN, where the classifieds and business card ads are also housed.


                “I also did students and their accomplishments along with the adults’ graduations, weddings, births and I even took care of the obituaries,” she explained of her former role.


                Presently those components of the newspaper are primarily emailed to jjn@jewishjacksonville.org, but some still make their way in print through old fashioned word of mouth. The process of laying out the paper has also drastically changed as Adobe InDesign has taken the place of other primitive forms of desktop publishing.


“I used to bring the articles which were edited and sometimes rewritten to the production people who would do all the pre-press work,” Goetz remembered. “Now you just push a button!” In 1993, she took over all pre-press production responsibilities utilizing Adobe Pagemaker (InDesign’s predecessor) which covered the paper’s overall layout and design.  


While timeline and scope of designing the JJN each month has evolved, so has the physical body of the publication. That’s because the paper is no longer a paper, at least for the summer months as the Jacksonville Jewish News’ Summer Magazine debuted during the summer of 2016 and came out with its second edition just a few months ago.


Even though the overall process of producing, printing and publishing the paper has changed over the years, the range and importance of stories has stayed largely the same, with a few exceptions.


                “In the earlier days when I was doing more reporting and interviewing, I remember doing one story on the chevra kadisha, or the Jewish Burial Society and that was interesting because I had never known anything about it before,” the former editor recalled. “Also in conjunction with the Federation’s annual campaign, we would do articles spotlighting certain beneficiary agencies, and learning in depth what these organizations do, which I found very enlightening and I hope others did too.”


                Another memory that stands out for Goetz was being able to meet then Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, when he came to Jacksonville and met with the editorial board of the Florida Times-Union in advance of his appearance at the Jacksonville Jewish Center.


                 “You’re meeting somebody and sitting in on an interview with someone who was a part of history,” Goetz recalled of her once in a lifetime experience. “You’re there, listening and taking it all in, so it was just amazing and awe inspiring to hear from this man.”


                Continuing this legacy, the Jewish News still reports on topics and dignitaries of interest to the Jewish community at-large. In the past two years, the JJN has brought readers stories about Jewish inmates in prison and on death row, what goes into stocking the shelves of the local Judaica shops and of course speaking with another former Prime Minister. This time it was Ehud Barak upon his trip to the River City in October, 2015 to speak at the Times-Union Center for Performing Arts. 


                “I’m very pleased that the tradition has been carried on because the newspaper is a vital organ to our community,” Goetz explained. “People read newspapers differently from how they seek out information online. When you look at the internet you’re looking for targeted items, but when you’re flipping through a newspaper, you can find some unexpected treasures.”


                Those treasures continue to be the people here in the Jacksonville Jewish community and across Northeast Florida. Families, young professionals, teens and seniors, in homes, schools and synagogues as far away as St. Augustine, Fernandina Beach and Ponte Vedra have compelling stories to be told, and the JJN is here to put them in print for another 30 years to come.