In celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month, we asked Kid Reporter Lincoln Miller about his experiences interviewing Jewish American leaders and what this month means to him. You can visit Lincoln’s Notebook bio to read his stories about Cantor Ann Turnoff, director of the Mark Center For Jewish Excellence and the Women Cantors Network, and U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was instrumental in the establishment of May as Jewish American Heritage Month.
What is it like to be a Kid Reporter?
It’s so fulfilling and fascinating to be a Kid Reporter. In just three years, I’ve learned so much from peers, community leaders, and renowned heroes on a wide variety of topics. I’ve always wanted to report for Scholastic. Ever since the fifth grade, I was answering questions from Scholastic magazines very often. At that time, I never even dreamed that I would be writing for Scholastic – I never gave up on my dreams, and here I am today.
What’s your favorite part about reporting?
My favorite part is being able to tell stories to people internationally and being able to help share the ideas of people like my classmates and people in my community with the world. I strive to bring readers stories that they might not have access to or tell stories from a different perspective. I try and ask what the readers would ask if they had the opportunity. I’ve found that learning from others and understanding their experiences is such a gift, and you can experience so much more when you’re listening rather than talking. It’s also very important to me to report truthfully and ethically. What I’ve l learned about ethical journalism from Scholastic is something I will keep with me forever.
What was it like to interview Debbie Wasserman Schultz?
I was so honored to get to talk to her. She’s a role model to women, to people of the Jewish faith, to Floridians . . . to everyone. She is someone who stands up for human rights, justice, and those who aren’t always heard. She even quoted the great John Lewis in our interview. She was talking about supporting students making their voices heard by protesting legislation over books, classroom content, gender, and gun violence, and she mentioned that he always said: “Sometimes, you have to get in good trouble.”
I think it’s incredible that she was the first Jewish American to represent Florida in Congress. The fact that she was able to reach across the aisle and work with Senator [Arlen] Specter from Pennsylvania to create Jewish American Heritage Month is amazing. As she said, most people in the U.S. have either never met a Jewish person or they don’t know that we’re a religion, culture, and heritage. But we can all come together as a people, and that’s the foundation for a beautiful world.
You talked to Representative Schultz about how Jewish American Heritage Month became a reality. Why do you think national recognition is important?
I think that recognition and understanding are really important, especially with the rise in anti-Semitism over the past few years. I was personally sharing with Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz about how a swastika was drawn in the bathroom in my middle school. I read Linked by Gordon Korman a few years back, and I never thought that I’d see that in my school. It seems like acts of anti-Semitism are becoming more and more frequent, and I’ve seen that books like Maus and The Diary of Anne Frank are being banned. Hate speech and hate symbols are more common. There seems to be more hatred in the world, and not just toward Jewish people. My Cantor says that sometimes people don’t even know why they hate or where their hate comes from. I think that education and understanding can help this. It’s very helpful for recognizing diversity at a national level.
Jewish American Heritage Month is important in celebrating achievements of people like Albert Einstein and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and even Jewish people who fought in the Revolutionary War. Jewish people as a whole have contributed a lot to America. The Congresswoman said that when we celebrate our unique cultures it helps us all of us feel more a part of the American dream and makes us the wonderful country we are, and I think she’s right.
You’ve also interviewed Ann Turnoff, who is the Cantor at your synagogue. What did you learn from talking to her?
Cantor Ann has taught me so much over the years. It’s hard to separate what I learned in my interview from what I learned in my studies leading up to my Bar Mitzvah. What really sticks out is that Cantor Ann believes that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all have the same goal in our hearts: we want peace in the world, peace in our country, and peace in our families. She has so much love in her heart and helps people in our community every day. Her reach is profound, and she is someone that I admire fully. I should also say that hatred is not acceptable on any level, and I think this is why I love reporting on stories from people all over the world. The more we can learn from one another, the more hope there is for the world.
I’ve learned a ton with Cantor Ann studying for my Bar Mitzvah. Studying the Torah, I found examples of faith in friends, faith in God, and faith in myself. These ideas, along with love, peace, and respect, are universal. Some people study the Bible, some people study the Torah, some people study the Quran, but the ideas of loving and supporting each other, trusting faith, and believing in the power of yourself to do good for others, or mitzvot in our religion, are found elsewhere.
What does Jewish American Heritage Month mean to you?
First, knowing history and having interviewed Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, I see it as a triumphant celebration, a time to reflect on contributions for the good of America and to be proud. The fact that a Democrat and a Republican came together to honor our heritage is amazing. It helps to have a month in which we can reflect on the historic accomplishments of the Jewish faith. However, with the current climate of anti-Semitism, I worry. When celebrities and political leaders seem to embrace anti-Semitism at the dinner table, and when people deny the Holocaust, it’s scary. The last generation of Holocaust survivors won’t be here much longer. It’s up to us to preserve the history and their stories. Maybe Jewish American heritage Month is a call to action. We can reflect on contributions of the Jewish people and focus on ending anti-Semitism and hatred.
Cantor Ann says all major religions basically use the golden rule: Do unto others as we would have them do unto us. I think that would be magical.
Is there anything else you want to share?
I have loved working for Scholastic Kids Press. I am turning 14 this August, so my time at Scholastic is coming to a close, but this has been life-changing. Ms. [Suzanne] McCabe, our Kids Press editor, has been the most incredible mentor. Her belief in me is so encouraging. It allowed me the courage to go for my dream interviews, and I will never forget them. At Scholastic, inclusion is everything. I see your authors on this blog, on the Scholastic Reads podcast, and in articles. When my brother brings home his StoryWorks, it’s inclusive. Everyone is welcome at Scholastic. It’s a place where we all can come together over the love of reading, reporting, writing, and education. Scholastic to me is freedom. We’re free to write about topics that matter and report on them ethically to educate others. I really wish I never had to stop doing that.