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I’m thrilled to announce that two journalism projects I worked on in the past year have been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists!

The story Heather Mongilio and I wrote after the disappearance of The Eagle‘s last print edition (that featured a cover story on an investigation of TKE hazing) is a finalist for a Mark of Excellence Award for breaking news coverage.

Additionally, “Half the Battle,” a journalism project on millennial veterans by American University School of Communication with cooperation from WAMU, is also a Mark of Excellence Award finalist for online feature reporting!

I’m so thankful to work with such great journalists. We’ll know at the end of the month how each placed in the region and if they’ll be sent on to the national competition.

In the meantime, I’m buying my ticket to the regional conference in D.C. post haste.

Picked up a girlfriend in Chicago, and we still get along almost a year later.

Finished my tenure as editor-in-chief of The Eagle, one of the best weekly student newspapers in the country.

Interned for a phenomenal five months at PBS MediaShift.

Lived for four and a half months in Costa Rica, the most verdant country I have ever had the pleasure to call home.

Traveled in Israel, which I have always called home.

Secured my last internship of my academic career at The Washington Post, a newspaper I have revered since moving to DC three and a half years ago.

Through good times and bad, I could count on friends and family to be there for me.

I’ve made some enemies, I’ve made more friends.

I’ve had some sucesses, I’ve made more mistakes.

I cried, but I more often I laughed.

There have been good days and bad.

I don’t regret a second.

Come at me, 2014. I’m ready for you.


I’m thrilled to announce that I’m joining The Washington Post’s newsroom next semester as an American University School of Communication Dean’s Intern.

In other words, for five months next semester, I will be a (paid) reporter for the Metro section of Washington’s best and biggest newspaper.

Words can’t describe how excited I am for this opportunity to hone my journalistic craft in the city I adore at a paper I revere. It’s the same paper that took down a president, exposed the horrors of Vietnam, and day-by-day brings the goings-on of the nation’s capital to the American people.

The team I will work with is incredible. I’m proud to call many journalists at the Post friends and colleagues even before my first day. I’ve also reported (and opined) on the vast changes coming to the paper in a difficult time, so I know of what they are capable.

I owe a debt of gratitude to former interns and dear friends (Stefanie Dazio, Sam Hogan, Sam Raphelson and especially Rachel Karas) who encouraged me to apply; to the SOC professors who recommended me (Amy Eisman, Rick Rockwell and Richard Benedetto); to SOC Dean Jeff Rutenbeck, Washington Post Metro editor Vernon Loeb (who I’m sad to say will be gone by the time I get there), Sharon Metcalf, Marvin Anderson, and the rest selection committee and SOC staff who run the Dean’s Internship program; and to my friends and family who put up with my insanity throughout the application process.

I can’t wait to get started.

I was in 4th grade on Sept. 11, 2001.

While most of the world knew what had happened in New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania, I was in the dark until about 3 p.m.

The only hint I got that something was off: We held recess indoors on that beautiful sunny day.

I met both Mom and Dad at home right after school. I remember thinking how strange that was, since my father was never home that early.

They told me everything as we huddled around the kitchen counter. About the planes. About the towers. That my aunt living in New York City was safe but that friends of friends who worked in Manhattan were not.

I went to class the next day and heard the harrowing tale of how my 4th grade teacher went through the whole day without mentioning the attacks, instead continuing to teach as if the world were not crashing down around us and as she shook from head to toe. Live coverage of the attacks played in the teacher lounge but far from the eyes and ears of impressionable elementary school students. Senior school administration decided it best to let parents explain this day to their children.

I went to Hebrew School and sat in a special session with all of the grades together.I asked a question about “the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers,” and they quickly corrected me, saying they were one in the same.

I clearly did not know what was going on.

I didn’t know what a Pentagon was.

I didn’t know who attacked the U.S., or why they did it.

And I certainly didn’t realize just how much it would affect me, and the world I live in, for the rest of my life.


One World Trade Center, June 2013. Photo by Zach C. Cohen

One World Trade Center, June 2013. Photo by Zach C. Cohen

12 years later, I have a much better understanding.

I’m not sure if I was clueless then because I could connect the dots (I wasn’t the sharpest kid back then) or because I couldn’t grasp the magnitude around what happened.

12 years later, I still don’t know how it has affected me.

But I do know that almost 12 years later that I’ve been affected.

I know I felt pride and awe when I saw One World Trade Center rising into the sky.

I know I felt chills when I saw the name of Dana Ray Hannon, a firefighter with Engine 26 from my hometown of Wyckoff, N.J., just across the river from Manhattan. His name has been etched into the stone for the ultimate sacrifice he made that day. I still remember singing with that same 4th grade class at the unveiling of his memorial at Wyckoff’s fire department headquarters.

I know I felt empty saw the gaping hole where a tower used to be, the footprint massive, deep and eerily silent with the exception of a thunderous waterfall.

The World Trade Center memorial in June 2013. Photo by Zach C. Cohen.

The World Trade Center memorial in June 2013. Photo by Zach C. Cohen.

And I cried.


12 years later, I’m still afraid. Not of terrorists. And certainly not of Arabs and Muslims.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

As a journalist, I do not hold many biases or opinions so I can look at political issues with a clear head and a keen eye.

But I have no problem publicly standing by the First Amendment and basic human decency.

As a journalist, it is my duty to defend freedom of speech.

As a Jew, it is my duty to defend against bigotry.

As an American, it’s my duty to defend both.

I’m still afraid because, like I wrote in 2010 for AmWord and again for the Suburban News, Islamophobia is still rampant in the United States, and Arabs and Muslims are still targeted unfairly for sharing a heritage with the 19 men who attacked the United States 12 years ago. Just earlier today, Pastor Terry Jones was arrested with thousands of kerosene-soaked Qurans.

And I’m still afraid for our ability to speak up on exactly these issues. If I was as smart as Jeff Jarvis, I would say:

I am disgusted at every revelation from Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and the Guardian about the massive violation of essential rights committed by the NSA. I worry greatly about the chill this puts on speech, on assembly, and on the advancement of technology. I don’t blame the spies. Cats must kill, spies must spy. I blame our leaders for not doing their single most important job: protecting freedom.

…Now that the 9/11 Memorial is complete, every activity of the day is being held there, closed behind wire and walls. I could barely hear the bagpipes in the air.

That the 9/11 Memorial and today’s remembrances are held in a fortress is emblematic of the wrong path we have taken these 12 years: not toward openness but toward isolation, not toward generosity but toward defense, not toward principles but toward expediency. We should be closer to freedom. We are farther away.

I’m afraid because we have not learned the right lessons from 9/11. We have not learned tolerance and peace.


All day has felt like a blur to me. In Costa Rica, 9/11 is not exactly on the national psyche, which in and of itself was a surreal experience.

My only connection to 9/11 today was the flood of comfort on Facebook from friends to those who lost loved ones on 9/11, as well as an incredibly moving story of grief and confusion.

But with an event as gigantic as 9/11, both in scope and import, it makes me wonder if condolences are sufficient.

Hello, my name is Zach, and I’m a technoholic.

I’m always connected. To my phone. To email. To Facebook. To Twitter. To digital conversations far and wide, public and private (who am I kidding, it’s all public).

This weekend, that changes.

It’s gotten to the point that I can’t go an hour and a half without itching to turn my phone, tap in the code and scroll through every information feed I can get my hands on. In the States, where Internet is ubiquitous, my phone battery is dead by 2:30 p.m. Here in Costa Rica, Wi-Fi is still ubiquitous enough that I’m connected most of the day.

As someone who lives online, I need to learn how to disconnect, for my personal sanity and for the sake of truly enjoying life without pixels.

I need to take a break. I need to detox. I need to quit cold turkey. Starting tomorrow. 

As of Thursday morning through Sunday afternoon, as I go hiking through Parque Amistad in the most eastern part of Costa Rica, I will be completely offline.

No iPhone. No computer. No Kindle. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Skype. No email.  No iPod.

This is everything work and technology related I am bringing on my trip to Parque Amistad this weekend: a notebook, a camera and a phone I don't plan to use.

This is everything work and technology related I am bringing on my trip to Parque Amistad this weekend: a notebook, a camera and a phone I don’t plan to use.

Just my friends, a big binder of school reading, a notepad to jot down some thoughts, and lots of physical activity, like hiking, farming, building, etc.

(Full disclosure: I am bringing a “dumb phone” in case of emergencies, but it will remain firmly off for the entire trip and at the bottom of my backpack. I’m also bringing my Nikon. We’re going to be seeing some spectacular stuff, and I’d rather not miss the chance to document it.)

Really, the timing of this retreat from technology is perfect:

  • A trip to a country without my data plan has been a struggle in and of itself. I’m constantly looking for Wi-Fi signal and occasionally missing out on the country I should be exploring. I haven’t had the opportunity to fully unplug. This will hopefully be the opportunity I need to, so to speak, rip the band-aid off.
  • Having just left MediaShift today, tomorrow will be the first time in more than three years (over 1100 days) that I will not be replying constantly to emails from editors and sources.
  • Mid-terms are coming up, but my preparation can take place entirely offline with the use of a very large notebook. Any paper writing and presentation creation can and should take place after reading all the material anyway. If anything, staying disconnected will let me get work done faster. 
  • Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) begins tonight and ends Thursday night. Shabbat begins only 24 hours after that on Friday night and ends Saturday night. Both are holidays that should be reserved for contemplation and relaxation. For the first time in a long time, I’ll be able to do just that.

It’s been years since the last time I’ve gone without Internet access for more than 24 hours, especially with my 3-year-old dependence on iPhone, which I only half-jokingly refer to as my third arm and an extension of my body.

I’m hoping this trip will give me the perspective to understand the place of technology in my life so that I may live life, offline and on, to its
fullest extent.

The Eagle, nationally recognized

Photo by Eagle Editor-in-Chief Paige Jones.

Sometimes, for all the literal blood, sweat and tears, I wondered if it was worth it.

The answer was always “yes.”

Award or no, my experience working at The Eagle, including more than a year as editor-in-chief, has been the defining moment of my education, even though I wasn’t even a J-school major.

I could not be more proud of our team of reporters, editors, photographers, designers, business staff, you name it. It belongs to each and every one of them.

It just seems a natural extension of my rabbinate.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn is the owner of D.C.'s newest medical marijuana dispensary, in Takoma Park. Photo by Zach C. Cohen.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn is the owner of D.C.’s newest medical marijuana dispensary, in Takoma Park. Photo by Zach C. Cohen.

WASHINGTON – When Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn told his former congregants that he was opening a medicinal marijuana dispensary, they were nothing but supportive.

“The cannabis plant was created by God on the second day of creation when God created all the other plants, and touching this one isn’t forbidden,” Jeff said in a June interview.

As somebody who “came of age as a rabbi during the age of AIDS,” Jeff’s no stranger to the pain felt by those without the access to the medicine they need.

And as “a lifelong educator,” Jeff said the Jewish aspect of the work he does now is strong. He still teaches people to question preconceived falsehoods, whether it’s in Hebrew School or about medicinal marijuana. The fact that that education can then lead to people getting the medicine they need makes it all the more Jewish.

“The whole idea of breaking through those kinds of barriers and being able to help to connect people to what can really help them, it just seems a natural extension of my rabbinate and a natural extension of what’s important to me about how Judaism views life and the world,” Jeff said.

When you’re sick, Jeff said, it’s OK to eat on Yom Kippur. The inverse is true: As Jews, we have a responsibility to help those that are sick even when we should be praying.

“The mitzvah of helping people is more important,” Jeff said.

So Jeff ended his 30-year career as a congregational rabbi and dedicated three years of his life, attending countless local government meetings; speaking with local business owners, neighbors and even D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser; and renting a space for two and a half years — all before he even knew if the center would open.

That day finally came Aug. 1, and the Takoma Wellness Center has served three customers.

Stephanie Reifkind Kahn, background, talks to her husband and Jeff. Photo by Zach C. Cohen.

Stephanie Reifkind Kahn, background, talks to her husband Jeff, at desk. Photo by Zach C. Cohen.

Jeff worked full time to get the clinic up and running while his wife, Stephanie Reifkind Kahn, continues to work as Specialty Hospital of Washington Hadley’s director of performance improvement and regulatory compliance.

“We’ve been in the helping professions for our entire lives,” Stephanie said.

In a town known for a bureaucracy that citizens love to hate, the Kahns optimistically filled out their 350-page application in November 2011 and followed the constantly-revised rules that will eventually regulate the 1999 decision by D.C. residents to legalize medicinal marijuana.

“The Department of Health, although they’ve been very slow, have been very positive,” Stephanie said. “They just really want to get it right. There’s been so many problems in other places. Everyone is very aware that this is our nation’s capital, and they don’t want to have problems.”

And neither do the Kahns. The Takoma Wellness Center is set in a safe, northwestern outskirt within the District’s borders, right by the Metro that takes passengers right into the heart of D.C. The door to the shop, framed in a tan, brick arch and a gravel driveway, has not one, but two doors between unseemly types and the clinic’s lobby. The Kahns want no business with drug use’s “counter-culture,” and security will be tight with the help of a guard checking IDs and security cameras trained on the entrance.

Those who visit the clinic will be benefitting charity as well, since all of the center’s profits will go to non-profits in the local area.

The wall of the then-yet-to-be-opened Takoma Wellness Center featuring hamsas, a traditional Jewish symbol. Photo by Zach C. Cohen.

The wall of the then-yet-to-be-opened Takoma Wellness Center featuring hamsas, a traditional Jewish symbol. Photo by Zach C. Cohen.

Once inside, the pale blue-gray walls feel like your neighborhood doctor’s office. The office walls are lined with hamsas, the Jewish symbol to ward away evil. Most of them belong to the Kahns and are from Israel.

“I really love them because the idea of healing and protection, and also because of harmony,” Stephanie said.

Past the lobby, a private consulting area for patients examining various types of marijuana both with and without THC, including Jack Herer, OG Kush, Master Kush and Blue Dream (all four of which are grown in D.C. by cultivators licensed by the D.C. Department of Health). They can weigh the benefits and disadvantages of different consumption methods: smoking, vaporizers;  cooking it into butter or oil; tinctures; pills. There’s also a library with about two dozen books and a stand with more literature on medicinal marijuana.

“We really wanted it to not look like anything having to do with counter culture, that it looks warm and professional and a place that anybody could come in and feel comfortable,” Stephanie said.

There’s still stigma attached to dealing marijuana, even when it’s legal. But the Kahns said they’ve heard only support from their loved ones.

“A few years earlier, maybe not even 10, it would have been different,” Jeff said. “I think we would have gotten less support.”

Jeff and Stephanie have encountered those stigma. Stephanie’s mother and father suffered from diseases that would have benefitted from the drug. Her father, Jules Reifkind, had multiple sclerosis, her mother, Libby, had lung cancer. Their doctors both prescribed medicinal marijuana, and her father benefitted greatly from its healing properties.

When his doctor first told him to take marijuana, “my father was very, you know, middle class business man, and this was the ‘70s, and he was like, ‘Are you high?’” Stephanie said.

“Finally he did, and it made a huge difference,” Stephanie said. Jules died in 2005 at the age of 75.

But Libby never received that treatment, since she died two months after being diagnosed in 2009.

There will come day, Jeff said, when dispensaries won’t be necessary, when marijuana will be treated like any other prescription drug, when people like Stephanie’s parents won’t have to suffer when the drug they need is illegal.

“In the meantime,” Jeff said, “this a great way to be able to make sure people can get their medicine safely — safe medicine — without having to go to dangerous places to get it.”

This piece was updated 4:47 p.m. on Aug. 19 with new information from Jeff Kahn regarding the opening. 

To syndicate this piece, please contact me. You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and on my blog

Start the conversation below: Did the Kahns make the right move? Is it appropriate for a rabbi to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the nation’s capital?

UPDATE Aug. 18: This piece has been republished by New Voices Magazine

New trick I just learned. Maybe this is a no-brainer, but I’m pretty proud of myself.

Anyway, I needed to turn a PDF of “El túnel” by Ernesto Sabato into a Word document so I could easily load it onto my Kindle.

But when I did a simple copy and paste, this came up.


Far too many new paragraphs in the middle of paragraphs. Holy Indents, Batman!

So rather than go through and delete each paragraph symbol individually, I wondered if I could get Word to do the work.

And it did. Here’s how you can, too.

Use the Find and Replace command (Ctrl+F) and insert a space and a paragraph symbol (use the “Special” option to find the right paragraph symbol) in the first field. Including the space makes sure you’re not deleting new paragraphs that are legitimate.

Tell Word to replace those two characters with just a space.

Fixing extra paragraph breaks 2


Fixing extra paragraph breaks 3

At first, each fix was going to cost me three clicks. That means, total, I saved myself 7056 clicks.

It won’t fix everything about PDF’s funky text formatting (I’m going through right now and fixing page breaks, chapter/page number confusion, etc.) But it certainly saved me a lot of time.

Let’s file this in the “I love technology” archive. front page, Aug. 5, 2013 front page, Aug. 5, 2013

The Washington Post announced this afternoon that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, will buy the venerable paper and a number of other Post Co. newspapers for $250 million.

For any D.C. denizen, and for journalists across the world, this will come as a shock with a mix of apprehension.

I’m most certainly in that camp. Granted, it’s not surprising that The Post would need drastic change to survive the Internet age, like other newspapers across the country.

But the fact that the Graham family would sell the paper, and to the guy who founded Amazon to boot, seems just a little bizarre.

But let’s put this deal in perspective. The reporters and editors of The Post will still produce incredible journalism. All of the top management people are staying, including Katharine Weymouth, the fourth generation installment of the Graham family, who has owned The Post for 80 years. Bezos said he won’t even be involved in the day-to-day workings of the newspapers he just bought. And to clarify, Bezos is the sole owner of The Post, not Amazon. It seems The Post’s tradition of proprietary ownership is alive and well.

The Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.

– Jeff Bezos

Who owns the company won’t change the paper’s reporting excellence.

Especially over the past four decades, The Washington Post has earned a worldwide reputation for tough, penetrating, insightful, and indispensable journalism. With the investment by Mr. Bezos, that tradition will continue.

-Katharine Weymouth

To be blunt, not all of Bezos’s investments have worked (see and

However, according to the Washington Post:

Amazon’s sales have increased almost tenfold since 2004 and its stock price has quadrupled in the past five years.

It’s easy to see why. Bezos founded a company that has revolutionized more than one media industry. Just think about “Earth’s Largest Bookstore,” the Kindle, Kindle Singles (Amazon’s own brand of journalism).

In naming Bezos its “Businessperson of the Year” in 2012, Fortune called him “the ultimate disrupter…[who] has upended the book industry and displaced electronic merchants” while pushing into new businesses, such as TV and feature film production.

People much smarter and more well-informed than I will bring new facts to light and new analysis over the next few days. Take those predictions, and my own, on the future of D.C.’s hometown paper with a grain of salt. If somebody had the secret potion to make journalism profitable, we haven’t heard from them.

I’m optimistic that Jeff Bezos is just what The Post and affiliated newspapers need to thrive, not just survive.

Full disclosure: I am a daily print subscriber to The Post as well as an avid Kindle user, despite that one time Amazon failed to send me a book after I paid for it (don’t worry, I got a refund).