Posted in , on June 8, 2013

Striking a balance between Journalism and Judaism

The experience of a journalist sometimes ranges from mingling with business leaders to pulling all-nighters to get the story told. Fran Kritz, an Orthodox freelance journalist, has had a remarkable journey to get where she is today.After graduating from schools in New York and London and writing stints at The New York Times, Forbes, and beyond, Kritz chose to become a freelancer while she was pregnant with her daughter, shifting some focus from her journalism to her family.

Kritz, who now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, grew up on New York’s Upper West Side. Her family belonged to The Jewish Center on 86th street and she was active in the NCSY program there, which proved that social activities could also involve tradition and follow halacha – ice skating would be preceded by mincha.  Her father, who was born in England and served in the Canadian navy, was also model of faith for her throughout his life. Even at an advanced age, before his passing at age 89 in 2007, he attended synagogue and studied daf yomi daily and led a rich Jewish life.

In high school, she developed an interest in journalism, and wanted to go to a secular college to follow this ambition. However, her mother encouraged her to go to Touro for her undergraduate studies saying she should stay there one year and then she could go to Barnard College if she didn’t like it. But, at Touro, she made a new circle of close friends, this time NCSY alumni from the Atlantic Seaboard region, who have remained her lifelong friends.  During the summers, she got to take a variety of classes at Columbia – getting the best of both academic worlds.  After studying Economics for three years, Kritz was told she could graduate early – and traveled to the London School of Economics where she specialized in American Economic History. Her future as a business journalist seemed clear.

She began at Omni, a science and science fiction magazine – decidedly not a business publication – working as an editorial assistant. One day, the managing editor was sending his girlfriend to do an interview about philanthropy and asked Kritz to come up with some questions for her to ask. The interview went so well that the subject, Malcolm Forbes, offered the girlfriend a job, which Kritz’s editor passed on to her. Although this job at Forbes Magazine had a lower salary, it would be a major leg up in her career.  Two years later, she joined the business magazine, but still had to supplement her income by babysitting.

However, it wasn’t always so easy being an Orthodox reporter. Kritz explained that as a junior reporter for Forbes, she was invited to Malcolm Forbes’ estate for a business meeting and lunch. He was famous for his extensive and expensive wine cellar, but unfortunately neither the food nor the wine would be kosher.

She knew that she’d “never want to turn down that invitation”, and fortunately Forbes’ chef reassured her, saying that he could serve her water that resembled the wine and  make all the food the same color so people wouldn’t realize she was being selective. When wine was being poured at the table, a guest turned down the fancy bottle and asked for a Coke instead, much to everyone’s surprise. Following their lead, Kritz asked for a Diet Coke and thought nothing more of it. Later, someone thanked her for making such a gustatory sacrifice to make the guest feel more comfortable, a guest who turned out to be a young Bill Gates.

In addition to working for Forbes, Kritz lent her pen to publications including The Washington Post, New York Jewish Week, Washington Jewish Week and others. After getting married and starting her family, she opted to become a freelancer, focusing on health stories. She jokes that a “Pulitzer Prize is buried in the ground between my house and my kids’ school.”

In the months following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Kritz used her experiences covering the health beat for newspapers to create health bulletins for the Red Cross to disseminate to the waves of survivors fleeing flood-devastated areas. As people abandoned their homes and were disconnected from doctors, pharmacies and neighborhoods, it became very challenging to refill medication prescriptions and keep up with repeating treatments for complex ailments. Kritz was needed to supply this life-saving information and received permission from her Rabbi to work through Simchat Torah. Nevertheless, her faith was paramount: she still lit candles at her desk and took time to walk to her nearby synagogue for holiday services.

Currently, she blogs on public health for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and her two children are attending Princeton and Brandeis. Her husband Neil works for the United States Institute of Peace, focusing on ways to strengthen the Palestinian justice system. Inspired by the care they gave her father, Kritz is also the Chairwoman of Bikur Cholim of Greater Washington.

Kritz’s example proves that you can have a family and a fulfilling career and still maintain traditions in the modern world. With enough perseverance, it is possible to have it all.