Forward Thinking

How We Cover Sammy Cohen-Eckstein's Death

By Jane Eisner

  • Print
  • Share Share
Sammy Cohen-Epstein

The morning after the funeral for Samuel Cohen-Eckstein, the Brooklyn teenager who was killed by a van just a month before his bar mitzvah, the leaders of his family’s synagogue wrote to me, extremely upset about our coverage. Since these are leaders I respect, who raised serious, vexing questions, I responded to them right away.

Then Dave Goldiner, the Forward’s director of digital media, who oversaw the coverage of this horrible accident, suggested that I explain to readers just how we go about making decisions in these cases, when the impulse to honor a grieving family’s privacy conflicts with the journalistic imperative to tell stories that matter to our readers.

This story was an important news event in the Jewish community. Samuel’s parents are prominent members of a thriving synagogue, Kolot Chayeinu, and are well-known in their Brooklyn neighborhood. They have been advocates for traffic safety and have spoken at public forums about the need to better protect pedestrians. The spot where their son died, next to a popular entrance to Prospect Park, is instantly recognizable to many of our readers; indeed, I drove by there the other day and was moved by the memorial created by his friends and neighbors.

Samuel was a compelling figure — a smart, kind, popular 8th grader who was preparing for his bar mitzvah. As Dave noted, “what Jewish parent anywhere in the country wouldn’t want to read the story of such a boy who died so tragically?”

And that’s where we come in. Most of you could not access this story, could not physically attend the funeral or learn more about the details, unless we do our journalism. That is why Dave assigned a reporter to cover the funeral on Oct. 10, to take our readers inside the synagogue, inside Sammy’s short life, to be able to connect with a grieving family so like other families we know.

The Forward was criticized for publishing a photograph of that funeral, taken by our reporter from what we thought was a respectful distance. After the reporter took the photograph, she was asked to refrain from taking more, and she complied. But the image was there, and it was appropriate for us to publish it.

If you work in journalism long enough, you are sent to cover funerals — in synagogues, churches, wherever. I have covered many funerals, in America and overseas. And unless the service is explicitly private (and Samuel’s was not) then we are there to observe the scene and relay its bitter humanity. Our story did that by sympathetically portraying the dreaded emotion that marks a funeral of someone so young, in essence widening the circle of grief and, I hope, of comfort.

Sadly, Samuel’s death was also marked by a disagreement over how the accident occurred. Police initially said that he ran into the street chasing a ball and was hit by a van, and we duly reported that. The cantor of his synagogue said that he had carefully crossed the street after stopping to check on traffic, and we reported that, too.

Nonetheless, some criticized the Forward for implying that the boy’s recklessness caused the accident. That’s not what we did. We did what journalists always do — present the official account, by the police, and then note alternative accounts if they exist.

We have no interest in compounding the grief of the Eckstein-Cohen family and its community. Many of us at the Forward are parents and intuitively connect with the immense sorrow this story represents. Perhaps, after reading our stories, another parent might hold her own children more tightly. Or perhaps he might be prompted to call a local official to lobby for improved traffic safety.

We all have our roles to play in confronting such inexplicable tragedy. I am in awe of the role played by rabbis and healers and communal leaders.

Journalists have a different role to play, as witness and chronicler and connector. And we take that just as seriously.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: samuel cohen-epstein, new york, brooklyn, bar mitzvah

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.