In celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month this May, we chatted with Kids Press alum Josh Stiefel about his experience as a Kid Reporter, what this month means to him, and his 2017 interview with champion powerlifter Naomi Kutin.
Tell us about your experience as a Scholastic Kid Reporter?
As a Kid Reporter, I came to view my job as reporting on stories that could reach kids around the world and really amplify some of the voices that other kids might not come across otherwise. This was a really great opportunity, as it allowed me to both pursue my own interests, but also to begin to understand some of the issues that really mattered to young people.
For me, this job description came with a unique set of challenges; I had my own opportunity to pursue interviewing all kinds of people, and Scholastic really provided an excellent platform for amplifying that goal. Looking back on it, one of my favorite stories was probably attending Judy Blume’s 80th birthday party and interviewing some of the authors who were inspired by her. I also had the incredible opportunity to interview Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Both of these stories gave me a real look into what it means to be an advocate for change and creating a voice for kids who were just like me.
How did you decide what stories to write about?
I’d usually look for stories that really stood out to me as worthy causes. Specifically, this meant looking for stories that catered to some of my interests like writing and social justice, but also some stories that were just fun to write about. I remember one story that never actually got published where I had interviewed a farmer who owned some escaped goats that somehow ended up on an Amtrak train track and were rescued by the late-night TV host Jon Stewart. This one wasn’t a personal interest, but it was just an awesome story.
How did you first become familiar with champion powerlifter Naomi Kutin?
I actually met Naomi because she was good friends with my sister. It seemed pretty commonplace to me at the time that one of my sister’s friends was a record-holding powerlifter, but afterwards I realized how unique that was.
What was it like to interview Naomi?
It was pretty awesome; I remember thinking how cool it is that someone who I had known my whole life was living this secret identity as a champion powerlifter.
What do you hope other kids and adults will take away from this interview?
Sometimes the best stories are the ones in your community that you don’t even think about. I’d known Naomi my whole life, but to someone outside of my immediate circle, her story was truly inspirational.
What would you say to a child who is interested in becoming a Kid Reporter?
Without a doubt, being a Kid Reporter was one of the driving factors in many of my later interests. It gave me this fantastic sense of what journalistic integrity truly means, while also teaching me so many important things about the writing process. I learned that the best stories are not necessarily the biggest ones, but even everyday stories have a unique beauty. There’s nothing quite like the experience of amplifying a story out on a wider stage.
What are you up to lately?
I’m a junior in high school now, and I’ve actually continued my interest in journalism. Right now, I’m the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, which has given me a real sense of what matters in my immediate community. I’m also a columnist for the Tikvah Fund’s Solomon Journal, for which I publish articles on contemporary literary works and their connections to American Jewish identity.
My most interesting project is actually trying to connect students of different religious communities in the New York Metro area for the purpose of creating cultural journalism. If you know anyone who might be interested, definitely let me know :).
In my free time, I also love fishing, surfing, playing soccer, and working as a volunteer for my local ambulance organization.
What does Jewish American Heritage Month mean to you?
For me, Jewish American Heritage Month represents my unique role as a link in the chain of American Jewry. I’m often reminded of my grandparents’ journey to America in search of freedom from the persecution of Nazi Germany. Their voyage was driven by sheer willpower, and it is truly powerful whenever I recognize how all of my accomplishments are only possible through their immense strength of character. This has always made me consider my role as a Jewish journalist as a continuity of their legacy, trying to represent the American Jewish community through continuity. I truly aspire to honor their determination and represent my community to the best of my ability.