“What do you know about falafel?”
The question wasn’t so much lobbed at as artfully dodged by the proprietors of Amsterdam Falafelshop, a beloved Washington, DC, haunt that closed down last month after nearly two decades serving up delicious chickpea balls in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC. Moment Senior Editor Dan Freedman interviewed the owner, Arianne Bennet, for his “Talk of the Table” column about the invention of falafel, or rather its disputed origins, Israeli or Arab. Naming the shop after the city where she and her late partner first experienced the food “took the bias out of it for every culture,” Bennet said, noting that people had a tendency to choose their falafel based on an allegiance to their country of origin. In Freedman’s telling, referring to falafel as Israel’s national dish or claiming that it was stolen from the Palestinians would bring equal condemnation from both sides.
“At first, it seems hard to believe that a walnut-sized amalgam of crushed chickpeas, spices and herbs could generate that level of controversy,” Freedman observed, “And honestly, after a few bites of crunchy goodness in a pita pocket with pickled vegetables and spicy sauce, who really cares?”
On Tuesday night, Freedman’s piece, which was published in Moment’s winter 2022 issue, won Best Magazine Column at the Dateline Awards and Hall of Fame ceremony of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The banquet room at the National Press Club was full of reporters, editors and producers—a seasoned amalgam themselves—who laughed delightedly when the MC read the winning headline, “Falafel: The Crunch that Binds or Ball of Confusion?”
Two other Moment contributors were honored as finalists at Tuesday’s event: Ellen Wexler, whose February 2022 article, “Trayon White Is Running for DC Mayor. Has the City Forgiven his Antisemitic Comments?” was nominated in the category of non-breaking news; and Sarah Posner, recognized in the Commentary & Criticism category for “Look Who’s Blowing Shofars,” which ran in the Spring 2022 issue and delved into what she called the “spiritual warfare” of Christian nationalists.
The Society of Professional Journalists, founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, is the oldest organization in the United States representing journalists. According to SPJ’s website, the society has about 6,000 members and “promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry.” SPJ offers professional development support to current and aspiring journalists and advocates for First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. The Dateline Awards, given out annually by the DC Chapter, recognize print, digital and broadcast journalists in the greater DC metropolitan area. Journalists with strong records covering the nation’s capital for at least 25 years are also eligible for the SPJDC’s Hall of Fame. This year’s inductees were White House correspondent April Ryan, DC Bureau Chief for 7News Sam Ford, and longtime Washington political reporter Jonathan D. Salant, who was introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
I had the pleasure of accompanying Freedman, Posner and Moment Book & Opinion Editor Amy E. Schwartz to the SPJDC ceremony. I sat next to Dan and enjoyed learning a bit more about his career. He spent 32 years at Hearst Newspapers’ Washington bureau, covering DC for papers in California, Texas, New York and Connecticut. “Mostly news, features, Supreme Court confirmations, rotation on the White House pool,” he recalled. He got into food writing after doing an award-winning series in 2003 on the federal school lunch program and even branched out into covering and judging wine. He returned to basic news and in-depth reporting for practical reasons. “But once I got to Moment, my inner food writer blossomed again,” he said. “It helps that I had Jewish grandparents who cooked many of the Jewish specialties—matzo ball soup, brisket, latkes, gefilte fish.” In addition to his grandparents, he’s also been inspired by his brother Paul Freedman, a professor of history at Yale and author of Ten Restaurants that Changed America.
Congrats to Dan, Sarah and Ellen for being recognized by the SPJDC for their great Moment content!