By Ben Patrusky

Joseph Berger, a consummate New York Times reporter, columnist and editor for more than three decades and the prolific author of several celebrated books, was elected the 73rd president of the Silurian Press Club on May 18 at the final lunch of the 2021 -2022 season, and the first to be held in-person since the onset of the Covid pandemic.

Joseph Berger

In assuming the presidency, Berger will relinquish editorship of Silurian News and pass the mantle to his newly elected successor as first vice president, Aileen Jacobson, an accomplished, now-retired Newsday reporter. Rounding out the officer roster are Carol Lawson, re-elected as secretary, and Karen Bedrosian Richardson as treasurer.

All current members of the board of governors were also re-elected to renewable one-year terms, along with one notable new addition, Chester Higgins Jr., the recipient of the Silurians 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award, and the first photojournalist to grace the Silurian board roster.

Berger, as president, succeeds Michael Serrill, who won plaudits for the skill and resourcefulness with which he continued to lead the organization through such unprecedented times. Though Silurian monthly “lunches” went virtual as the pandemic raged, Serrill, with the help of colleagues, delivered an outstanding procession of speakers – including (one small silver lining of the pandemic) several preeminent out-of-towners who normally would not have been available to appear but for Zoom. Among the illustrious presenters were: Marty Baron, recently retired editor of the Washington Post; Michael Wolff, author of “Fire and Fury,” a best-selling inside look at the Trump administration; Mikhail Zygar, a Russian writer and filmmaker, in conversation with former New York Times correspondent James Brooke, sharing their expertise on Ukraine from remote locations; Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst; and iconic caricaturist Ed Sorel.. Serrill also presided over the twice-postponed 2022 awards dinner honoring Higgins, the first in-person event of his presidential term.

As tradition has it, incoming president Berger will serve two consecutive one-year terms, beginning in June, with Jacobson set to succeed him at the end of his tenure.

During his years at the Times, Berger wrote stylishly — and with a fierce authority that comes from deep immersion and rigorous and clear-eyed reporting– about religion, education and the ethnic and cultural richness of New York City, He retired in 2014 but continues to contribute regularly to the Times. Prior to joining the Times, Berger worked as Newsday’s religion writer and at the New York Post covering such assignments as the 1973 Middle East War and Watergate.

Berger is the author of four well-received, wide-ranging books, which include: “The Young Scientists: America’s Future and the Winning of the Westinghouse”; “The World in a City: Traveling the Globe Through the Neighborhoods of New York City”; “The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles in America”; and “Displaced Person: Growing Up in America after the Holocaust,” the last an especially moving account of his and his family’s experience in the 1950s and 1960s. He has a fifth book in the works, a biography of Elie Weisel that is slated for publication in 2023.

Berger’s laudatory reportage and service to the journalism community have not gone unrecognized, He was for three consecutive years the winner of the Supple award, the Religious Newswriters Association’s highest honor. In 2011, he received the Silurians’ highly prized Peter Kihss Award for both his extraordinary journalistic achievements and his career-long dedication to mentoring and inspiring young reporters.

First vice president Aileen Jacobson, the new editor of Silurian News, wrote features and profiles as a staff writer for the Washington Post’s Sunday magazine. Then she moved to Newsday, where she first reported general news and later covered personal finance, the arts and books, and reviewed New York theater. In 2008, she began her ongoing freelance career as a contributor to the New York Times and other publications. She is the author of “Women in Charge: Dilemmas of Women in Authority” and co-author of “The Consumer Reports Money Book.” For the past year, she also served as editor of the Silurians website.

New board member Higgins spent four decades as a staff photographer at the New York Times, his work centered largely on the life and culture of people of African heritage. His photographs have appeared in a host of other outlets, including Look, Life, Newsweek, Fortune, Ebony, Essence and Black Enterprise. Higgins has also published several collections of his photography, among them “Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for People of Africa,” “Echo of the Spirit: A Photographer’s Journey,” and most recently, “Sacred Nile.” His work is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Upon completion of his term, immediate past president Serrill will rejoin the board of governors. Re-elected with him are: Linda Amster, David A. Andelman, Betsy Ashton, Suzanne Charlé, Jack Deacy. Bill Diehl, Allan Dodds Frank, Tony Guida, Fred Herzog, Myron Kandel, David Margolick, Ben Patrusky, Myron Rushetzky, Mort Sheinman and Scotti Williston.

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