Jacob Kamaras was a student at Brandeis University in 2006 when he wrote of being exhausted and nauseated after “wolfing down 10 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.”
But the “reigning watermelon and matzo-ball eating champion” at his college had room to declare competitive eating a sport.
Now Kamaras, who went on to become editor of The Justice, his campus paper, is preparing to fress on San Diego’s Jewish community, where he hopes to do justice to its online daily news and opinion site.
On Oct. 26, Donald H. Harrison, 76, announced that Kamaras, 35, would succeed him as editor and publisher of San Diego Jewish World. Harrison will become editor emeritus.
The news came out of the blue, but it’s been a work in progress for nine years — since Kamaras became acquainted with Harrison first as a fellow Jewish journalist and later a PR professional.
“Don and I met for the first time when I was engaged to my wife, Megan, and was visiting her family in San Diego,” Kamaras said. “Don gave me a tour of Jewish landmarks in San Diego. We kept in touch over the years before my family moved to San Diego in February 2018.”
Kamaras said SDJW had no opening, but he and Harrison had various informal conversations — which later became more formal — surrounding the future of the site and his impending retirement.
“My sense surrounding the future of the SDJW and Jewish news in San Diego was: ‘If I don’t do this, then who will?’ And so now, I’ve been acclimating to the site as managing editor, working the SDJW into my daily routine, and preparing to take over on January 1.”
More a labor of love than a moneymaking machine, San Diego Jewish World will change hands for a ceremonial $1, Kamaras told Times of San Diego.
“So yes, sweat equity,” he said. “More important than sweat equity is Don’s interest in making sure that a daily online Jewish news product in San Diego and the community he created through the SDJW both live on, and therefore he was happy to pass the site on to someone who he trusted, knowing that the outlet would be in good hands.”
Harrison said he’s mostly recovered from recent brain surgery, but still walks with a limp “— a neurological issue, I am told.”
He said he’ll probably require a walking stick for life to compensate for lameness in his left leg.
“Some friends joke that since I already have the walking stick, or staff, I should grow a white beard and start wearing a cloak, and I can then go trick-or-treating as Moses,” Harrison said via email.
Harrison says he sounded out others for editor of SDJW but Kamaras seemed the best fit.
“Had there been no Jacob,” he said, “I would have continued editing SDJW until someone else came along. … Jacob has had experiences as both a reporter and as the [Jewish News Syndicate] editor. He is young, wants to establish himself in the Jewish community, and has good connections already.”
In fact, Kamaras’ father-in-law, Brian Marcus, is president of Congregation Adat Yeshurun, where the Orthodox Kamaras has been active.
“In our agreement, one provision was if for any reason Jacob had to abandon SDJW, ownership would revert to me,” Harrison said.
Who is Jacob Kamaras?
He’s the Brooklyn-born son of Philip and Ellen Kamaras — a New York lawyer and life coach, respectively. His sister, Sarah, is a documentary filmmaker and producer.
Bar mitzvahed in 1999 at Agudath Israel of Madison in Brooklyn, Kamaras played middle school and high school basketball at Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn.
“At 6-foot-3, it was always a natural assumption that I’d perform well at basketball, but the height ended up creating a bit too much pressure and took away some of the fun,” he said. “Standing taller than most of my peers in yeshiva, my coaches always played me at the center position and discouraged me from dribbling too much or taking three-pointers, which also deprived me of a lot of the fun associated with competitive basketball.”
But he combined his love of sports with writing. During the summer of 2006, he worked for his hometown paper covering New York Mets single-A affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones.
(He said he had the “privilege” of covering one of the longest games in pro baseball history: a 26-inning marathon between the Cyclones and the Oneonta Tigers lasting 6 hours and 40 minutes. He’d later write about a real marathon — how Peretz Chein, the 30-year-old rabbi of the Chabad House at Brandeis, in his first 26.2-miler, completed the Cape Cod Marathon in Falmouth, Mass.)
Kamaras says attending Brandeis — in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Massachusetts — was his own choice.
“I was drawn to the school’s large Jewish community, beautiful suburban campus and relatively small student body,” he said. “It kind of felt like going back to Jewish summer camp, in a good way.”
Kamaras confided in 2013 that he met his future wife through an online dating service — SawYouAtSinai.com — where his mother was a volunteer matchmaker.
“My first date through SYAS — set up by my mother herself — was with Megan (a native La Jollan),” he wrote. “I had finally answered that burning question: ‘What turns a simple cup of coffee, or a dinner, into the night you find your life partner?’”
Professionally, he covered sports for The Jersey Journal of Jersey City before joining The Jewish State, a weekly in central New Jersey.
He was editor for 11 months of an AOL-owned Patch site in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, then returned to Jewish journalism in 2011 when he took a job with the Jewish news service JNS.org, launching the wire service’s product and growing its distribution to more than 75 Jewish community newspapers and websites across the nation.
In January 2020, Kamaras founded the PR firm Stellar Jay Communications, where he continues to serve clients. (One is the government of Azerbaijan, which has paid Stellar Jay $129,000 since 2020.) He’s also an associate at J Cubed Communications, a Tel Aviv-based international PR firm that represents The Jewish Agency for Israel, Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Ruderman Family Foundation, the University of Haifa, Jerusalem College of Technology and other groups.
His wife, Megan, played a role in moving to San Diego from Houston.
“The fact that Megan’s family lives in San Diego was the primary reason why we moved here,” he said. “In the ensuing years, the weather, nature and overall lifestyle have been a great bonus, not to mention all the wonderful friends we’ve made here.”
Megan is founder and CEO of FuelEd, a startup that trains teachers in social and emotional competencies to improve student outcomes and teacher retention.
This interview was conducted in the past week via email.
Times of San Diego: How will you market SDJW to a younger audience? What role will social media play?
Jacob Kamaras: I plan to recruit dozens of writers from the younger generations in the San Diego Jewish community to share their commentary on various Jewishly relevant topics. In turn, I hope these writers will help the SDJW build community and amplify the impact of our content by sharing their columns on social media.
Can you share any details on SDJW’s inaugural gala fundraiser in early 2022? Where and when? Celebrity appearances or entertainment as draw?
We plan to honor multiple individuals, including Don Harrison. I am still sorting out the details regarding the specific date, venue, food, entertainment, and themes for the event.
Will SDJW income help pay your bills, or will you continue your work with Stellar Jay and J Cubed?
I will continue my work with Stellar Jay and J Cubed. My expectation is that my PR work will still account for most of my income, with the SDJW serving as supplementary income — but I’m certainly open to the future growth and success of the news site reversing that equation!
Do you plan any redesign of the website, which is essentially unchanged in a decade? What changes do you foresee?
It’s too soon to say for certain. But once we sufficiently increase advertising revenue and donations, upgrading the website design and its SEO will likely be a priority.
Do you consider San Diego Jewish Journal your local competition? What role does it play in the community, and how do you avoid duplicating it?
Since the San Diego Jewish Journal and the other local Jewish publication, L’Chaim San Diego Magazine, are print monthlies, I don’t view them as competition for our online-only operation. I think there’s room for all three outlets to continue strengthening the menu of Jewish news that’s available to our community.
Naturally, the print monthlies will focus more on long-form content and features. The SDJW also has room for features, but we operate in a faster-paced online news environment. That said, I don’t want to become caught up in always chasing every garden variety breaking news story. I do believe in quality over quantity, even for a frequently updated online news product.
How will you avoid any conflicts of interests between PR work for clients and SDJW coverage of those clients?
We will be transparent, disclosing any such instances through editor’s notes at the bottom of the articles.
Do you hope to gain new advertisers or sponsors?
Yes, gaining new advertisers and sponsors is a major priority.
Antisemitism has risen in recent years. What is SDJW’s role in combating this scourge?
We’re a news organization, not an advocacy organization that directly combats antisemitism as a cornerstone of our mission. At the same time, as “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” (Louis D. Brandeis), our continuous coverage of antisemitism on local, national, and global scales plays a crucial role in raising awareness around the issue — and it’s my hope that greater awareness ultimately does support the fight against antisemitism.
Many San Diego Jews disdain the BDS movement but also wish Israel had a better record on human rights. Do you lean more to AIPAC or J Street? How will SDJW balance these interests?
I support Israel, and Israel has played a significant role in formulating my Jewish identity. But I don’t find it productive to publicly label myself or put myself in a box regarding the specificity and nuance of my views, especially because my personal views are completely separate from our professional news product. The SDJW’s role is to convey all relevant perspectives on Israel in a balanced manner, through both our news and opinion content.
As I learned in my 2019 survey of local rabbis, many congregations are split between Trump followers and haters. How will you navigate these competing views in your coverage?
Trend stories in the news section should convey both sides, while the opinion section should give space to both sides through separate posts. The only reason for an imbalance would be that writers from one side or perspective are submitting columns more frequently than writers from the other side of the issue.
How much original reporting do you plan to do? What kinds of stories interest you?
That’s an open question. I’m still determining how much time I have for original reporting, but I definitely plan to ramp up that work once I become editor/publisher and once revenue increases, enabling me to increase my time commitment to the venture.
Will you continue covering the fall of Chabad of Poway Yisroel Goldstein? How should SDJW deal with local Jews who make bad news — like former Mayor Bob Filner?
We will continue to cover the Poway issue, within reason. I believe it’s important to not ignore this kind of bad news, but also important not to harp on it through incessant coverage.
Will SDJW become a more active affiliate of JNS or other services?
We are currently a JNS subscriber and view JNS as an important partner. In terms of becoming a more active affiliate of JNS or any other news organization, it’s too soon to say. Currently, there are no active discussions about merging with or getting acquired by another outlet, but I’m not closed off to that possibility in the long run.
Your Patch bio in 2010 said: “In general, I’m socially conservative, so although I’m a registered Democrat I often feel more Republican. … Across the board, my views are moderate and I don’t lose any sleep over local or national politics.” Does this still describe you?
My views have evolved in a more progressive direction since that statement from 2010, but I’d still describe myself as moderate, and not overly passionate or intense about politics in one direction or another. And as a journalist, I strive for balance and objectivity regardless of any personal views. That’s easier said than done, but I think I’ve been able to accomplish that so far in my career.
What role will Don Harrison play in SDJW after Jan. 1?
Don will become editor emeritus, and he intends to continue writing and reporting for SDJW, with an emphasis on travel stories and book reviews. On a personal level, I have tremendous respect for Don and his life’s work, and I consider him an important mentor.