November 20, 2019

Beginnings and Endings

Every newspaper editor knows that one day he will have to step down. He may put the idea out of mind or revel in denial. But the thought is always there, loitering out of sight. Departure may come suddenly by way of death, illness or age. Or it may spring up with the changes that appear everywhere, while the editor persists in remaining unchanged and, therefore, out of step. Or there may simply, and unexpectedly, be an offer he can’t refuse.

That time for stepping down apparently has arrived for me. This is my last week at The Jewish Journal and these words are something of a farewell.

I started this newspaper 15 years ago in September 1985, finding office space, hiring and training a staff, designing a prototype for what was to become The Jewish Journal. I was determined to hire people who could write well and who were capable of finding a voice within these pages. Reporting could be taught and learned. And so in the early years we had Yehuda Lev and Marlene Marks and David Margolis who, in turn, were followed by Rob Eshman and, in more recent times, by J.J. Goldberg and Teresa Strasser and Jane Ulman.

The first issue appeared February 28, 1986.

It was clear to me that accurate, informed and insightful writing from the Mideast was going to be essential, so I negotiated with The New York Times for the rights to reprint their chief mideast correspondent, Tom Friedman, who reported from Jerusalem. We needed additional coverage as well, so on one of my trips to Israel, I arranged for Eric Silver, a British-born Israeli citizen and veteran journalist, to cover the scene for us. Eric had written for The London Observer and Time magazine and, more recently, for The Jerusalem Report. He knew Israel well, having lived there more than 20 years. He was knowledgeable, possessed good judgment and could write with concision and grace.

A rule I set for myself was that since this was a community paper, The Journal’s door would always be open and telephone calls returned. One day a young, determined psychologist pressed her case in person. She wanted to write an advice column. I was less than enthusiastic. She persisted. Just give me a chance, she pleaded.

Okay, I said, but here are the guidelines: no psychological jargon; no sitting in the “catbird seat” pronouncing from on high. And, oh yes, I added, I want you to tell the complaining letter writer to pull up his or her socks; no sentimentalizing; no happy solutions for happy problems. And an occasional crack across the wrist, when it is called for, would also be nice to see in print from time to time, I concluded.To my astonishment, she followed my instructions to the letter, and thus began Dear Deborah.

It’ s an old axiom in journalism that a newspaper’s editor and its publisher must share a common set of goals. Their perception, their way of seeing things, needs to overlap if not reflect a kind of mirror image of one another. It helps as well if there is respect on both sides.

For about the past six or seven months, there has been a widening gap between The Journal’s publisher and me. When such a gap becomes irreparable, as ours has, one party has to leave. Given that the publisher is the owner of this newspaper and I am an employee, it has always been evident to me which one of us would go. Rob Eshman, who has been a remarkable managing editor these past years, will assume the role of editor-in-chief, commencing with this issue.

I appear to have landed on my feet and will be writing about the current presidential election campaign for The Forward, a national Jewish newspaper based in New York. (So you can read my writing there.) I will continue to reside in Los Angeles. There really is little time for regrets. At the moment, I am looking to join the candidates on at least one of their trips. After the election, I hope to remain with The Forward as their West Coast editor/writer. In short, I am still part of this community.

A final word: Everyone on a newspaper is expendable. Replacements can always be found. But not so for the paper’s readers. You are not expendable. To the degree that you have followed us each week, calling to criticize for errors in a story or simply for perceived errors of judgment; or have written to commend us for bringing you a particular news account, or just for the level of writing you found in these pages, I will remain ever grateful. It has been a wonderful 15 years.