From rescuing dogs to saving circumcision, another memorable year

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to come up with a sure-fire column idea for summer,  “Favorite Stories of the Year” is a safe bet. So let’s do this thing: Year VI of the Golden Jack Awards, named for my plus-sized cat.

Best Beat: Covering the San Francisco circumcision battle. I wrote several stories on the measure that would have criminalized the procedure, yet was stripped from the ballot by court order. I still shake my head in amazement that anti-circ zealots believe this issue, above all others, is the most important thing in the world. You guys do realize the polar ice caps are melting, right?

Biggest Jerk: Anti-circumcision activist Matthew Hess for his despicable “Foreskin Man” comics, which picture mohels as snarling sub-humans right out of a Nazi propaganda tract. Hess swears he isn’t anti-Semitic. Words fail.

Nice Guy Award: To Joe Pedott, who made the Chia Pet a cultural staple. Interviewing him in June for a cover story, Joe struck me as unassuming, humble, generous and kind. Just how we like our wildly successful Jewish entrepreneurs.

Tastiest Tale: For j.’s 2011 Passover coverage, I profiled Rob Corwin and Danny Jacobs, a San Francisco couple who reconfigured seder plate ritual foods into potent potables. Maror as a vodka cocktail with fresh beet and horseradish? I won’t say “Dayenu.”

Most Eye-Opening Story: In March I wrote a piece about local nonprofit Fair Trade Judaica, and learned that most of the world’s chocolate originates on child slave labor plantations on the Ivory Coast. Thugs kidnap the children and force them to harvest cocoa pods. Try enjoying your M&M’s now.

Best Headline: For my May story about Arye Coopersmith, who spent his salad days in the Haight singing with  Shlomo Carlebach, my headline was “The Electric Kool-Aid Chassid Test.”

Saddest Story: An obituary last month on Cate Fisher, a beautiful Jewish teen from Menlo Park who had planned on a teaching career. Gunned down in East Palo Alto while sitting in a car. A case of mistaken identity, the cops said. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

Favorite Arts Story: My piece last October on Bernard Zakheim’s Depression-era mural at Coit Tower. I hoofed it up Telegraph Hill twice to contemplate Zakheim’s masterpiece (he was but one of several participating artists, though he oversaw the project). His grand tableau of California life left me breathless.

Most Hopeful Story: Last fall, I wrote about a group of Muslim clerics, including Imam Suhaib Webb of Santa Clara, who made an unprecedented trip to Auschwitz, and came away deeply moved. I’ll never forget Webb’s words to me: “The children of Israel are just as valuable as the children of Palestine.”

Biggest Shocker: Covering a U.C. Berkeley speech by Richard Goldstone — he of the infamous Goldstone Report that blasted Israel for the 2009 Gaza War — I was stunned by his statements supportive of Israel. He sure let down the Israel-bashers there, who were looking for some red meat. A week later, Goldstone retracted key elements of his report. Too little, too late, dude.

Story of the Year: It’s a tie! First, my February cover story on Charlie Pivnick and his grandson, Jon Levin, who together run Cable Car Clothiers in San Francisco. Charlie is pushing 93, yet still comes to work most days, as he has since 1946, to help men dress for success. I was impressed with the Harris tweed, but far more impressed by the twinkle in Charlie’s eye.

My other favorite story was an April cover piece on Muttville, a San Francisco senior dog rescue outfit founded by Sherri Franklin. I love dogs — usually more than people — and I appreciate Sherri for the blessed work she does. And I never got luckier with a camera than with that cover shot.

Finally, a fond and wistful farewell to my now-former newsroom colleagues and three amigas Rachel Leibold, Amanda Pazornik and Emily Savage, all off pursuing new opportunities. I miss them every day.

Thanks as always to the Bay Area Jewish community, which keeps my job ever fun, ever puzzling, ever exhausting. I humbly accept these awards I made up for myself.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.