The Reporter Wins Three AJPA Rockower Awards

By Reporter staff

The Reporter won three awards from the American Jewish Press Association’s 40th Annual Simon Rockower Awards. Executive Editor Rabbi Rachel Esserman won two awards in the Excellence in Arts – Review/Criticism category: first place for “Hollywood and Jewish refugees” and honorable mention for “Jewish food studies.” Columnist Bill Simons took first place in the Excellence in Writing About Sports category for “Ballfield or synagogue: Hank Greenberg’s High Holiday dilemma.” 

“Three awards for the paper was a wonderful surprise,” Esserman said. “I’m so pleased that Bill won for one of his terrific sports columns. And that’s from someone who is not a sports fan. I may not read the sports section of the local paper, but I always enjoy Bill’s work. His column is an excellent addition to our paper, whether he’s writing about sports, Jewish movie stars or more personal columns like his moving Father’s Day column.”

Simons’ column, which can be found at, talks about the reasons behind Hank Greenberg’s decision not to play on Rosh Hashanah in 1934, even though his team was in a pennant race. According to the Rockower judges, “Jewish sports fans know about Hank Greenberg, but this story gives the entire context and all the details that we never knew for a better appreciation of the all-time great Jewish slugger. Wonderful!” 

Simons was pleased to receive an award he called the Jewish writers’ version of the Academy Awards. He also offered his congratulations to Esserman on her work. “Kudos to our editor, Rabbi Rachel Esserman, on receiving the prestigious Simon Rockower First Place Award for Excellence in Arts – Review/Criticism,” he said. “More than an individual victory, the honor underlines the importance of local journalism to the Jewish community. The award brings much deserved recognition to The Reporter. Thanks to Rabbi Esserman’s editing, commentary and book reviews, The Reporter remains an essential anchor of our local Jewish community. Although her reviews, issue after issue, are consistently incisive, informative and interesting, Rabbi Esserman’s winning entry, ‘Hollywood and Jewish refugees,’ merits this special accolade for its compelling and balanced commentary on Donna Rifkind’s ‘The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood,’ which illuminates the critical role of Jewish refugee women in the film industry.”

Esserman’s first place column “Hollywood and Jewish refugees” ( is also listed as a finalist for a 2021 Syracuse Press Club Award, which will be announced in September. Rockower judges called it an “excellent review of Donna Rifkind’s ‘The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood’ by Rabbi Rachel Esserman. Like the author, Esserman argues the book’s important because women’s accomplishments in Hollywood then were either lost or ignored even though women worked in every studio department. Rifkind not only tells Jewish refugee-actress-writer Salka Viertel’s story but she dispels misconceptions about Viertel’s reputation. Viertel opened her house to fellow refugee writers, actors and artists who’d escaped fascism in Europe – Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Bruno Frank and Christopher Isherwood, among others. For all the book’s new details, not all of them are of equal interest, Esserman notes, ‘At times, the book’s focus was uneven: the story of sun (Viertel) was eclipsed by that of her stars (those who visited her salon).’”

Her “Jewish food studies” review, (, received honorable mention. According to the Rockower judges, it is a “big-hearted review of two new Jewish food books, ‘Feasting and Fasting: The History and Ethics of Jewish Food’ and ‘The Dairy Restaurant,’ both about how to think about the intersection of food and religion but one takes an academic approach, the other: anecdotal.”
Esserman said that while awards are wonderful, it’s the interaction with the community that is the true reward. “When people tell me how much they enjoy one of my columns or praise something Bill wrote, then I know we’re providing a true service to the community,” she said. “The fact that we can offer people exclusive articles – ones they can read nowhere else – is something I’m proud of.”