When my friend Rob Eshman suggested I write a weekly neighborhood column in the Jewish Journal in August 2006, my immediate response was, “How can I do it every week? I can’t write about the same neighborhood week after week.”
His response: “So write about whatever you’re passionate about that week.”
Those words have stayed with me ever since, and whenever I wasn’t sure what to write about on any given week, I just followed Rob’s advice.
Well, now that I have to fill Rob’s pretty considerable shoes as the Journal’s publisher and editor-in-chief, I will try to do the same.
My first issue in my new role will be next week’s Sukkot issue. I approach this moment with some trepidation. Already, from my experience of just the past two weeks, I can tell you it is a huge amount of work to produce quality journalism every week.
When I started a spiritual magazine many years ago called OLAM, we had months to put it together. We could agonize for weeks over the articles, the writers, the images, the design, everything. Will I have as much time to agonize at the Jewish Journal? Not a chance. Will I try to be as meticulous? Yes. Wish me luck.
Producing a weekly community paper is, above all, an enormous responsibility. The eyes of a community are on you, on every word and on every image. The more I get into it, the more appreciation I have for what Rob did over the past 17 years as editor-in-chief, week in and week out.
First, I’m learning that everyone thinks they’re Ernest Hemingway, everyone has a piece that absolutely must be published. Rob knew how to manage sticky situations like this — where you want to be honest without hurting people’s feelings — with class and grace. Will I have the same grace? I don’t know. I’ll try.
Second, many readers get angry when they read content with which they disagree. Rob had this remarkable willingness to publish letters to the editor that completely reamed his own paper. Will I be as fearless? I don’t know. I’ll try.
Third, Rob was a journalist at heart. He loved news. He loved everything that would advance a story. He loved stories, period. Will I be as great a journalist and storyteller? I don’t know. I’ll try.
One of Rob’s great contributions to the Journal and to our community is his appreciation for diverse voices. I know from experience. Occasionally, I would send him an op-ed from another writer that I knew he would sharply disagree with, and I’d get this kind of response: “I disagree with it, but it’s well written and well argued.” And more often than not, he’d publish it.
You can never underestimate this talent. At a time when the nation has been as polarized as ever, when people are repulsed by views they disagree with, when disagreements easily turn into animosity, it takes guts to publish stuff you completely disagree with.
Will I have that same courage? I don’t know. I’ll try.
One thing I do know is this: If there is one thing that has bonded Rob and me over the years, it is our love of fresh and different voices, our love of trying new things, our love of shaking things up and keeping readers on their toes.
In fact, when he first brought up the idea that I take over his role, one thing he said was, “Hey, maybe the place can use some new blood.”
Am I that new blood? I don’t know. I certainly hope so.
What I can tell you is that Rob had a genius for constantly providing that new blood. His eyes and ears and taste buds were always open for something new to share with readers. If he tasted something he liked at my Shabbat table, he’d show up at my home the following week and film my mother making her famous galettes.
It is that openness I will miss the most. Those impromptu conversations in our offices about movies, food (always food), the Jewish community (don’t ask), a new book, Israeli politics (always polite), a new person we met, a cool event we attended or that was coming up, a story about one of our kids … there were always new stories to share.
Will I continue to follow Rob’s lead and tell all those new stories with fairness and passion? I’m not Hemingway, but I’ll try.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.