A Night Of Words

The Jewish Week's fundraiser overflowed with laughter, warmth and wit.

12/18/13
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Photos By Chaim Rabinowitz/Hello Video

In the festive, elegant setting of Sotheby’s, more than 300 people celebrated The Jewish Week at a Gala event Dec. 12 honoring community leader Jerry Levin and Jewish Week editor and publisher Gary Rosenblatt.

Levin, immediate past president of UJA-Federation and chairman and CEO of Wilton Brands, was presented with the Distinguished Leadership Award. UJA-Federation CEO and executive vice president John Ruskay said Levin’s “business acumen is legendary, but so is his heart,” and that his mantra is “What’s good for the Jewish community?” He noted that Levin was as modest in demeanor as he was effective in his abilities to steer the charity in difficult times.

Rosenblatt was honored for 20 years of leadership at The Jewish Week. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, described him as “the most significant Jewish journalist in America,” having “transformed” The Jewish Week “into a newspaper that is fully the match of the richness and complexity of the community that it covers.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles offered a stirring keynote message, emphasizing the critical role of words in Jewish life, from the creation of the world – an act of Divine speech (“Let there be light”) – to the power and relevance of journalism in the community.

Stuart Himmelfarb, president of the board of The Jewish Week, noted that the event, now held every two years, was the most successful of its kind. He said proceeds will sustain FJC-funded educational initiatives of The Jewish Week, including its community Forums and Investigative Journalism Fund, as well as Write On For Israel, Fresh Ink for Teens, 36 Under 36 and The Conversation.

Please read on for some of the remarks shared, and for each of the articles featured in the Gala's journal, about honorees Gary Rosenblatt and Jerry Levin and by scholar and writer Erica Brown, Rabbi David Wolpe, by journalist and author Ari Goldman and Sandee Brawarsky, the Jewish Week's culture critic.

Gary Rosenblatt: Walking The Line Between Insider And Outsider

BY SANDEE BRAWARSKY

In every profession, there are one or two people known by their first name. Mention the name and everyone connected to the profession knows who you’re talking about. In the world of Jewish journalism, it’s Gary.

Gary Rosenblatt is the dean of Jewish journalists, widely admired by his staff, colleagues and readers for his fine writing, integrity, creativity, humor too, and his understanding and genuine concern for the Jewish community he’s covering.

From his office overlooking Times Square, with multi-floor digital screens and billboards beaming everything from late-breaking news to the latest in Calvin Klein underwear just outside his window, he recalls the first published piece that he wrote for the school newspaper in seventh grade and especially the thrill of seeing his name in print. When he recently found the feature story about being a new kid in school, he said that with all the mismatched typefaces it looked more like a ransom note than a published piece of journalism.

In college, Rosenblatt began writing and reporting regularly for Yeshiva University’s Commentator. The paper came out biweekly, and the staff would trek downtown to the printer, where a typesetter set hot type and they read proofs. Afterwards, they’d head to their own table at Ratner’s for a 5 a.m. breakfast. Each of them would leave with a bag of onion rolls.

Decades later, he hasn’t lost the thrill of putting the paper together, and seeing his name on the masthead. And he still feels a sense of awe and gratitude for the post of covering the New York Jewish community for 20 years.

His first paying job in journalism wasn’t in newspapers, but for TV Guide, where he was sports editor. “Not as glamorous as it sounds,” he assures. He picked up some freelance writing and eventually got a full-time job in 1972 at The Jewish Week, under the editorship of Phil Hochstein. Most of his colleagues were more than twice his age, experienced in reporting from overseas work during World War II. So he took on all of the stories that required hitting the sidewalks of New York City and loved it. He stayed for two years until he got the top editorial job at the Baltimore Jewish Times.

In Baltimore, he built the paper into one of the country’s leading Jewish weeklies, and he garnered many prizes for his own writing. In 1985, he was one of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, the first time that an article in a Jewish publication was cited by the Pulitzer judges. And after 19 years, he returned to New York City in 1993 as editor and publisher of The Jewish Week. Back in New York, he won more awards, and did major investigative reporting — including exposés of sexual abuse in the Jewish community — that made headlines outside of The Jewish Week.

After the Pulitzer nomination, many asked him whether he’d leave Jewish journalism and go work for a secular paper. But by then he felt thoroughly invested in writing about, and sometimes influencing, Jewish life.

The best praise for any writer comes from his peers. Joseph Berger, a veteran reporter for The New York Times, comments, “Gary Rosenblatt has been the combined Woodward-Bernstein and Walter Lippmann of Jewish journalism, consistently reporting and commenting in incisive, thorough, fair and lively fashion, all while editing a must-read newspaper. He has done it all while never being anything less than a mensch, never trumpeting his own achievements, which are considerable, and while engaging with sensitivity in the wider community.”

And from his colleague on the West Coast, Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal in Los Angeles: “One of the great joys of editing a Jewish newspaper is that you get to be a peer of Gary Rosenblatt. Over the years I’ve turned to him many times for editorial advice and insight. No one I know combines his passion for Judaism and journalism. I’ve seen how he wrestles to reconcile the often opposing demands of both — and how we all benefit from the result. And along the way I’ve learned Gary’s two secrets to success: an unshakeable faith that good journalism actually strengthens Jewish community, and a sense of justice as sharp as his sense of humor.”

Rosenblatt grew up in Annapolis, Md., a small town with one shul where people from different backgrounds worshipped together, and where his father served as rabbi. He would watch his father work long hours on his sermons, and from his rabbinic example, Rosenblatt gained an interest and love of words. From his mother, a rebbetzin par excellence, he learned about caring and kindness.

Few in the Annapolis congregation were observant, and they all got along, another lesson of his early life. In New York, he sometimes finds the opposite: With so many shuls and organizations and the option of simply quitting one and joining another, getting along is less often a necessity.

He has never felt jaded about observing Jewish life. Even after attending his 35th GA, the annual summit or General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, last month, he’s still enthusiastic, ever attuned to the community’s evolution.

“It’s easier for a journalist to cover a community from the outside,” he says, but he’s been an insider all his life. His constant challenge is to find a steady balance.

“You want to be supportive of the community,” he says, “but you don’t want to be a cheerleader, or to suspend critical observations.” He notes that the journalistic ethic of exposing truths and the communal ethic of covering up, and not causing embarrassment, can collide.

“I don’t have a simple formula for it. I’m always aware of it and trying to walk that tightrope,” he says. Rosenblatt’s office is filled with books, family photos, baseball memorabilia, awards and journalistic mementos like a manual typewriter and a framed poster recalling an earlier era, with an ink-stained reporter in a fedora calling out, “Sweetheart, get me rewrite.”

“The writing doesn’t get easier,” he says. Still, he tinkers with his leads, and can’t get going on his weekly column until he has that first paragraph in place. About the transition from print to the Internet, he’s excited about the possibilities. “It’s out there for everybody, instantly,” he says. “The tough part is that the story never ends. We have to update all the time.”

For Rosenblatt, The Jewish Week is an integral part of the community it covers, and he has helped establish a number of Jewish Week programs that extend beyond the newspaper to help bolster and educate the community. Frequently, he moderates public forums with newsmakers, like the recent event featuring author Yossi Klein Halevi and Ambassador Michael Oren, which drew more than 1,200 New Yorkers. Other initiatives include Fresh Ink, a publication by and for Jewish teens; Write On For Israel, a program of journalism and Israel education for high schoolers preparing for campus life, and The Conversation, an annual retreat that brings together a wide range of people involved in Jewish life to share their thoughts and vision. He points out that none of these projects was part of a grand scheme, but rather that each seemed like the right thing for The Jewish Week to establish.

His advice to young reporters is that even as the world of communications is rapidly changing, there will always be a need for talented journalists.

Rosenblatt and his wife, Judy, have a daughter and two sons, and six grandchildren. He praises Judy, who has had a distinguished career in Jewish education, as his best critic.

“Everybody needs an editor,” he says. 

Jerry Levin:
The Soul Of A Volunteer

BY SANDEE BRAWARSKY

It was a group of young people who filed into his office at Pillsbury in 1975 that probably changed the course of Jerry Levin’s philanthropic life.

He was then working in senior management at the company’s Minneapolis headquarters. Unfolding the story in his well-spoken manner, Levin explains that his own background was secular, and that while he realized that his colleagues knew that he was Jewish, he didn’t think much about religion. So he wasn’t aware that the young people who showed up in his office with a problem they wanted to discuss privately were all Jews. They proceeded to tell him of a daily Christian prayer breakfast, hosted by their department heads, which they were required to attend. If they didn’t show up, they felt it would be a career problem. And they told him that their religious holidays weren’t recognized.

In his characteristic way, Levin listened and then said that maybe he could improve things. And he did.

“It was no big deal. What was going on was inappropriate,” he recalls in an interview.

At that point, he realized that if this was going on at Pillsbury, it was probably happening at General Mills, 3M and at other big corporations and banks around the city. So he decided to call a meeting of the highest-ranking Jews he could find in each institution, and gathered them all at a Minneapolis club where he had been the second Jew to be admitted.

When he told the others what happened, they all agreed to look into what was going on at their companies, where all of them were pretty much sure they were the only Jews employed. Two weeks later, he hosted another lunch and the executives came back with a list of 150 Jews working in corporate Minneapolis. They decided to jointly host a get-together and hear directly about any problems people faced in their workplaces. At the suggestion of Jerry’s wife Carol, they turned to the local federation, which hosted the meeting; Sen. Rudy Boschwitz served as guest speaker. More than 200 young people showed up, and an organization took off from there, leading to much professional and private networking, many marriages, and a sense of community that hadn’t previously existed.

Levin, who had been involved in supporting the arts, music, hospitals and education, wherever his career took him, also got involved philanthropically in the Minneapolis Jewish community. When Pillsbury was sold, he moved to New York City in 1990 to become chief executive at Revlon. After a short time, he got involved with UJA-Federation of New York, primarily doing fund-raising. Later, Levin became chair of the annual campaign and then chairman of the board and then president, all the while continuing his distinguished corporate career and traveling extensively. He just completed his three-year term as president.

In addition to Revlon, Levin previously served as chief executive of American Household (formerly named Sunbeam), Burger King, Coleman, Sharper Image and Haagen-Dazs. He also previously served on the boards of Saks, Wendy’s and Apogee.

Levin now serves as chairman and CEO of Wilton Brands, a branded consumer product company, and sits on the boards of Ecolabs and US Bank.

At UJA-Federation, he was the chief lay leader, along with Alisa Doctoroff, who served as chair of the board and succeeds him as president.

Levin’s wife Carol also plays a large role in New York’s communal and philanthropic life. As president of Shalva: The Association for Mentally & Physically Challenged Children in Israel, she works to improve the lives of children with special needs and to promote disability awareness.

John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, who has worked very closely with Levin over many years, comments, “Jerry Levin epitomizes excellent Jewish communal leadership: Jerry is generous, a gifted problem solver with a laser-like focus on what is good for the entire Jewish community and the Jewish people. We are all blessed to have Jerry and his wife Carol as senior leaders of UJA-Federation and the New York Jewish community.”

As a leader, Levin tries to get out into the field when he can, visiting both local projects and Israel as often as he can. (And, he says, now that he is no longer president, he looks forward to future trips that don’t involve spending all of their time sitting in meeting rooms.)

“At UJA-Federation, I used my skills and experience as a CEO substantially,” he says. “In reality, it’s harder to manage a nonprofit than a for-profit, with the volunteer and donor elements. In business, you have to be a good listener, let everyone have a say, and then you can thank everyone for their input and make a decision. You can’t do that at UJA. It’s a consensus.

“But I really love working with them,” he adds. “It’s just a little slower than I’m used to. We’ve accomplished fabulous things.”

He’s proud of the many initiatives pursued during his presidency, including the recession-inspired Connect to Care, which mobilizes the vast network of agencies to leverage communal support and a wide range of services for individuals in need. He was particularly pleased that in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, the community rallied immediately, and network agencies and volunteers were among the first to step up, helping out on the ground, from the very first day.

“We made a huge difference,” he says.

What would he do with additional resources for UJA-Federation? “Our resources grow modestly but our needs grow exponentially. A lot of our existing programs need more support. We’re seeing more aged people, with everyone living longer. "We would like to experiment more, to fund new things. The Pew [Research Center] study pointed out problems and opportunities.”

Stuart Himmelfarb, president of The Jewish Week, praises Levin for his achievements during his philanthropic career and notes how important his ongoing support of the newspaper is to the Board and the staff team. “Jerry embodies the spirit of our Distinguished Leadership Award. We could not have selected a better exemplar of the power of volunteering and the benefits of wise, energetic leadership to the Jewish community — and to the Jewish people. We congratulate Jerry and Carol on this well-deserved honor, and look forward to highlighting news of their future achievements in The Jewish Week.”

He and Carol are the parents of a son and daughter, both married and living in the metropolitan area, and four grandchildren.

Levin remains very active in UJA, serving as a chair and member of several committees. He has yet to slow down: He also serves on the University of Michigan’s President’s Council, Advisory Council of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Business international board and Hillel International’s International Board of Governors. He is also very involved in the Hampton Synagogue and serves as trustee.

His longtime assistant Deanne McKee reports that his door is open to a long line of young people seeking educational and career advice.

“It’s a tough world now for kids looking for job,” he says. As always, he’s helping people make significant connections.

The Art
Of Sacred Writing

BY ERICA BROWN

Rabbi Judah, a Talmud scholar and scribe was once asked by Rabbi Yishmael to name his profession. Rabbi Judah told him that he was a scribe. Rabbi Yishmael responded: “Son, be careful in your work for it is the work of Heaven. If you omit a single letter or add a letter, you destroy the whole world.”

When you believe your work is the work of heavens itself, then every word, indeed every letter, counts. Together those letters — all 304,805 in the Torah, to be precise — create a spiritual universe whose very fabric serves as the foundation for our lives and our people. Letters are the basis of words. Words are the basis of sentences. Sentences are the basis of narratives.

Narratives are the basis of identity.

Where does Jewish news fit into this picture of eternity? Words with staying power are not what we usually associate with a daily or weekly newspaper. When it’s read, if it’s read. Thoreau advised, “Read not the Times, read the Eternities.” Forget the paper. Stick with the sacred and enduring.

In the spirit of enduring words, there are detailed Jewish laws surrounding the ink and parchment used to write a Torah scroll.

Even someone well versed in halacha, Jewish law, may never encounter them, relegated as they are to those with professional expertise and specific use for these matters. Yet in these laws rests a certain understanding of the significance of writing generally and of sacred writing in particular.

In Deuteronomy, Moses is exhorted to transcribe God’s teachings for the sake of posterity: “Therefore write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel,” [Deut. 31:19)]. Arguments dominate the medieval world as to what specifically constitutes this poem; is it a reference to a specific set of verses or does it refer to the Torah generally as it evolved from the creation stories to the exodus and then through the wilderness years.

Writing was also required for other important documents. Marriage and divorce documents, tefillin and mezuzot are laws are legal documents dependent on writing: “Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” [Deut. 6:9] Later, in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet is told to write down a divine message on a scroll and deliver it to the people. Since Jeremiah was in jail at the time, he enlisted the help of the scribe Baruch to whom he recited the message [Jer. 36:18].

In the Talmud, the question of what should be written down was matched by detailed discussions of where these words should be written — on parchment — and with what materials. What kind of ink should be used? The Jerusalem Talmud insists that the laws about such matters are so old they were handed down to Moses at Sinai: “It is a tradition given to Moses at Sinai that one should write on parchment and with ink” [JT Megillah 71d].

In the writing of the Torah’s letters, only black, permanent — non-erasable — ink is permitted. If any other ink is used, the scroll is not kosher. How this ink was made was also the subject of lengthy Talmudic discussion — oils, tar and waxes were burned and combined with sap. The liquid was then dried out and later mixed with the juice of gall nuts. In other words, if your goal is permanence, then what you used to create “forever” documents matters.

A quill or reed was dipped into this into this complex mixture. Any metal writing instrument was banned for fear it would puncture the parchment. Since metals were used in the making of weaponry, use of a quill was required to obviate the association of the Torah with unnecessary violence. When you are after the transcendent, everything must come together to create it: form, substance, method.

All permanence, however, is an illusion. No ink lasts forever, even if some are more durable than others. Parchment is surely sturdier than paper, narrative more sturdy than news. But even they will one day disintegrate. Ultimately, what is sacred is how we stitch together the moments in time that will transcend the ordinary, often not knowing what those moments are when we live through them. Even God had to command Moses to write it all down. Moses may have not realized on his own that some of our sadder stories, our complaints and difficulties were worth the memories.

We count on those who give us the news and their analysis of it to do the stitching for us, to offer us order and coherence in times of uncertainty and pain. They record our joys, too, and, when we look back, they present us with an album of our lives.

We may not look at the work of journalists as anything more than what the Talmud calls “hayei sha’a,” the work of the moment, rather than “hayei olam,” the work of eternity. But we do not know what moments will remain embedded within: the times, seasons and events that will shape and transform us. Sometimes we realize we are living through a moment of history.

Sometimes we will not know that for a long time. Often we don’t realize what the factors are that have influenced us until we look back on the record.

Journalists — responsible, hard-working writers who have stuck to it over decades — are among those we count on to create that record for us. They understand that words can, as Rabbi Yishmael said, create and destroy worlds. Gary Rosenblatt, The Jewish Week’s editor and publisher, has been stitching our Jewish lives together one week at a time, one word at a time, helping us make sense of our Jewish lives now, as we live them. Our ink is more easily spilled today. Our “parchment” gets dropped into recycling, but words still have the power to shape us. He deserves our heartfelt appreciation. He has brought so many of those words into existence. 

Erica Brown is the scholar-in-residence for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her latest book is “Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death” (Simon and Schuster). She writes the monthly “Jew By Voice” column for The Jewish Week.

Why Writing Matters

By Rabbi David Wolpe

Everywhere in the world that you step inside a synagogue, of one thing you may the certain: the architectural focus will be on a book. Small or large, modern or old, the design will direct one’s eyes toward the ark. That is so natural to Jews that we don’t often stop to ponder its peculiarity. But of all the marvels of creation, why should we venerate words?

We are told in that very book that it was with words that God fashioned the universe: “God said: Let there be light!” The magic of creation is in utterance. Each morning in our prayers Jews say,  “Blessed be God who spoke and the world came into being.” The earliest Aramaic translation of the Torah says that God, in creating human beings, fashioned a “speaking animal.”

Teach these words to your children, our prayers insist. Speak of them; place them upon your heart. We are word besotted: Scrolls and books (and now, with kindles, scrolling through books) are the Jewish jewels. We certainly do not disdain music or the pictorial arts. They are, in their way, dear to the Jewish people. But we are the people of the word.

Words are our portable culture. Wandering for centuries, we could not carry structures or icons. The words were our salvation.

In Jewish meditation, the practice whereby one clears one’s mind of all possible encumbrances, most Jewish practitioners insist that we focus not on a sound, but on a word. Words are our mantra. When we have private meditations, as in the Amidah, we speak words in a barely audible voice. Even our silences are a tribute to words.

Writing matters because of the strange alchemy by which marks on a page can transfer what is inside my head to what is inside yours. Perhaps we rarely pause to wonder at the transference, but it is more miraculous than a moon shot. Here we are, each of us, locked in a cask of self, and we are given a way to share that self with another in complex, subtle shades. So we speak. So we write. When a writer arises among the Jewish people with something worthwhile to say, allied to the power of expression, we pay attention.

Writing is the form of magic that allows your words to endure. For most of history enduring was hit or miss; every classicist knows that most Greek and Roman writing, for example, is long lost. The Torah itself mentions books that no longer exist. But in those writings fortunate enough to escape what scholar Stephen Greenblatt calls “The Great Vanishing,” we can peek inside the minds of those long gone.

Putting aside the form of writing, writing is still where the great arguments, agreements and inspiration takes place in the Jewish community. Whether through novels or tweets, Jews write to and sometimes at one another. In the pages of a Jewish newspaper, you find long discursive pieces, quick, pointed objections, debates, reporting, spiritually uplifting passages, history, speculation — all the vast array of written forms deployed to cover a diverse world.  Jews blanket themselves with words. They keep us warm.

Words tell us who we are. Some children who survived the Shoah were hidden in a monastery. After the war there was no easy way to identify which children had been hidden there by Jewish parents and which by others, and the Jewish community desperately wanted to identify the Jewish children to seek to reunite families, and simply to keep them as Jews. So, the story goes, volunteers walked among the children and began saying “Shema Yisroel.” Even very young children, their memory of evening prayers with parents suddenly revived, finished the sentence, and the volunteers knew that they were Jews.

Words, writing, speaking, learning — they are our lifeblood. Listen, Israel. 

Rabbi David Wolpe, spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, writes the weekly “Musings” column in The Jewish Week. He is the author of “Why Faith Matters” (HarperOne) and several other books. Rabbi Wolpe was named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek.

The Staying Power
Of Jewish Media

BY ARI GOLDMAN

Let’s face it, folks. The newspaper we are celebrating at tonight’s gala dinner is something of an anachronism. Newspapers, with their ink and paper and subscription models, are so 19th century. The 19th century is when they emerged in great number, and then they flourished throughout most of the 20th century. But today, in 2013, why even bother with a newspaper?

Just go online.

The truth is that The Jewish Week is a whole lot more than a newspaper. It is a community — of subscribers, of writers, of bloggers, of artists, of newsmakers, of advertisers and of readers who just stumble across its content online. People access The Jewish Week in many ways — on paper, online and, increasingly, through educational programs like book talks, public forums, Israel advocacy and teen programs.

This is not your grandfather’s (or even your father’s) Jewish Week. It has boldly stepped into the 21st century, which is the reason it is still here and thriving.

The last few years have not been kind to American newspapers. A combination of a bad economy, slumping ad sales and declining circulation has led to newspaper closings around the country. Many of those that have survived have done so by cutting back on staff and news coverage. 

But amid this turmoil, ethnic papers have held their own. According to the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY, there are 270 news outlets that produce news in 36 languages today in New York City alone. Among them are 15 daily papers as well as scores of weeklies in Chinese, Spanish, Urdu, Russian and other languages. And the number is growing.
Garry Pierre-Pierre, the founder of the Haitian Times and the director of the CUNY center, noted that papers like The Jewish Week are the envy of the ethic press.

“The question that we all grapple with is: What happens after a group assimilates?” he said. “Does that mean the end? The Jewish community has shown the way for the other ethnic papers. Jews are part of the mainstream, yet there is a vibrant Jewish press.”

In a bit of an overstatement, Pierre-Pierre said that the Jewish community is “a very cohesive group and supportive of each other.” When I tried to disabuse him of that claim, he quickly added that he admired the “strong bond with Israel” that pervades the community. He also praised the Jewish business community and Jewish communal organizations for their support of Jewish journalism.

The ethnic and community newspapers, he added, have been way ahead of the mainstream media in convening the community for cultural and communal purposes, from disaster relief to religious celebrations.

Many of the ethnic and community papers in New York have an Internet presence, but paper is still king, especially in the immigrant community. People in many parts of Europe, Latin America and Asia have the newspaper habit, and they bring it with them when they arrive in New York. And advertisers are still paying a lot more for print ads than for online ads.

Some of the ethnic papers have seen opportunity in the decline of the mainstream media. Many have moved into the vacuum left by the mainstream media. And, if there is any coverage at all, the mainstream media tends to cover ethnic communities when there are problems. The job of the ethnic press is to write about things that are good, too. That doesn’t mean only cheerleading. The press has a watchdog function as well. Finding the balance between being a watchdog and being an advocate is the tightrope that all ethnic editors walk.

In my career as a journalist, I’ve written for the mainstream press as a reporter for The New York Times and as a columnist for the New York Daily News, but I have to claim a special satisfaction in writing for The Jewish Week. I know that somewhere, perhaps after a Shabbat dinner, someone will sit in their easy chair, open The Jewish Week, read my words and feel a little bit more connected to the Jewish world. 

Ari Goldman, who teaches in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, writes the “Mixed Media” column for The Jewish Week.

A Leader Who Listens, Cares And Responds

John Ruskay’s remarks presenting to Jerry Levin:

I am deeply honored to participate in this tribute to Jerry Levin and Gary Rosenblatt — two men who have each enriched our community in extraordinary ways. While I will be making the presentation to Jerry, I can’t resist adding a brief word about my friend Gary Rosenblatt.

Gary, your leadership has elevated The Jewish Week to be, arguably, the most important and respected Jewish weekly in North America. And you are dealing with a challenging community. Most institutional leaders feel that their institution is not being given adequate recognition; and if it is covered, you got it wrong half the time.

When you took over the reins of The Jewish Week, it was not where it is today. You have elevated The Jewish Week, and in doing so, you have made us — our community — far better. Your journalism illuminates and challenges. It holds up a mirror. While some would prefer to avoid, truth is we need that.

The Jewish Week weaves together the New York Jewish community.  Under your leadership, it does so with quality, integrity, and a passionate commitment to strengthening Jewish life. For this, Gary, my friend and colleague, we are grateful that we can come together tonight to both acknowledge and salute you.

And now, to my partner, my friend, Jerry Levin.

We live in a city where the term “Jewish leader” is used liberally. In one way or another, everyone in this room is a Jewish leader. So what is it that sets Jerry Levin apart?

Jerry’s business acumen is legendary. But so is his heart. And that’s what he brought to UJA-Federation where he served for three years as Campaign Chair; three years as Board Chair, and then three years as President. During this period, we faced huge challenges: the 2008 economic downturn; wars in Israel; Hurricane Sandy. Multiple agencies at-risk and far more.

To each of these issues – Jerry brought smarts. Experience. His ability to cut to the core of an issue and come to a decision. 

Jerry listens, respectfully leads. Probes. And then hones in laser-like on the solution. He is as deft as he is fair. It is remarkable to witness.

While Jerry’s record of leadership is extraordinary, it is Jerry’s human qualities for me that set him apart. I want to cite three.

First, At UJA-Federation, the CEO, President, and Board Chair work very closely together daily. At every decision point, your key lens was always: “What’s good for the Jewish community?” This was your mantra.

It guided you and was a model for all of us.

Second, Jerry leads – and lives – with a rare combination of recognizing the significance of issues, and with humor. With Carol, they share a joyous embrace of life.

Third, Jerry is generous. When asked for support, it is hard for Jerry to say anything but yes. When people ask Jerry for advice, for counsel, or for funding, Jerry’s heart and head instinctively always say yes.

I am not sure I have ever worked with a leader who is as generous through and through as Jerry Levin. And I believe that generosity comes from a place of recognizing that despite challenges that he and all of us face, we are among the most fortunate human beings who have ever lived, certainly the most privileged Jews.

This opens Jerry’s heart – which is large — and extends Jerry’s hand to help.

This is why, Jerry, being your partner, working so closely with you, has been such a pleasure. But in truth, it has been enriching and ennobling. You enrich and ennoble everyone with whom you interact – by who you are; how you live; and how you conduct yourself.

It is these qualities that have brought so many of us here tonight: to honor you, and to thank you.

On behalf of the leadership of The Jewish Week and the leadership of the New York Jewish community, I am honored to present you with the Jewish Week’s Distinguished Leadership Award.

John Ruskay is CEO and executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York.

Honoring The Imperatives Of Jewish Journalism

Leon Wieseltier’s remarks presenting to Gary Rosenblatt:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am Thea Wieseltier’s brother.

I am also Gary Rosenblatt’s friend and admirer; and it is one of life’s sweetest privileges, to admire one’s friends. I regard Gary as the most significant Jewish journalist in America. There are many American journalists who are Jews, but there are not many Jewish journalists in America – I mean journalists who have chosen to consecrate their talents and their ambitions to Jewish journalism. Of that latter group, Gary Rosenblatt is the dean, the mara d’atra, the editor-in-chief-in-chief.

Jewish journalism in America goes back to 1823, when a printer in New York named Jackson – the Jacksons of Lublin, I guess – founded a paper called The Jew, as a response to Christian missionary activity. Its subject was not the news. The news began to appear in The Occident, the first commercially successful Jewish newspaper in America, which Isaac Leeser founded in Philadelphia two decades later, though it was also concerned mainly with matters of religion.

The first Jewish newspaper that lived up to the name was probably The Asmonean, the first Anglo-Jewish weekly, which was started by Robert Lyon in New York in 1849. But most of the Jewish papers that followed in the century to come, in a variety of languages, were mainly vehicles for the expression of their editor’s opinions, or organs of a religious denomination or an ideological movement, or journals of literature and culture, or bulletins of particular organizations and institutions. It was not until our own time that the Jewish newspaper in America acquired journalistic rigor, and began to devote itself to the coverage of the Jewish community as it actually lived, with commonly accepted methods of careful and critical reporting. The figure who was most responsible for this professionalization of Jewish journalism in America is the extraordinary man we honor tonight.

The professionalization of American Jewish journalism was a rocky affair. The task of journalism is the exposure of truth, however inconvenient or unpleasant; but the Jewish community does not like to read unflattering things about itself. The professionalization of Jewish journalism seemed to many like a kind of self-libeling, a professionalization of lashon hara, a way of damaging the image, and therefore the interests, of the Jewish community in the wider world.

In many countries of the exile such an anxiety was perfectly justified. (It helped, of course, when Jewish papers were published in languages that non-Jews could not read, and which most Jews now cannot read either.) But America is not like the rest of the exile. The social and political confidence that American Jews enjoy is founded in American realities; and it is a measure of the difference that America made for the Jewish people, and of the American Jewish achievement in these unprecedentedly fortunate conditions, that it was here that Jewish journalism began to cover Jewish communities with the same conscientiousness and the same temerity with which American journalism covered American communities. We learned to scandalize ourselves, and this was a mark of our maturity as a community.

Our journalism is one of our instruments of heshbon ha’nefesh, of personal and communal self-reckoning. However discomfiting it sometimes may be, we should be proud of it. Our journalism is evidence of an inner strength, and evidence also that we take the responsibilities of an open society seriously.

The individual who, in my view, has most consummately exemplified this achievement, and who has most ardently devoted his life to it, is Gary Rosenblatt. First he took a Jewish paper in Baltimore and made it into required reading for engaged Jews everywhere, and then he transformed the Jewish Week of New York into a newspaper that is fully the match of the richness and the complexity of the community that it covers. Under Gary’s leadership, this paper has broken momentously important stories, sometimes under his own byline, that have had an indelible local and national impact. His journalistic practice has instructed us and improved us.

Gary has found a way to honor all the imperatives of Jewish journalism: criticism and celebration, expose and edification, honesty and ahavat yisrael. Truth-telling, after all, is also a Jewish value: hocheach tochiach et amitecha, the Torah teaches, you shall reprove and castigate your fellow man; qabel at haemet mimi she’omro, the Talmud teaches, accept the truth from whoever utters it. In his work Gary is fearless and compassionate. In his person he is scrupulous, wise, generous, hilarious, steadfast, and inspiring. The backstory about Gary Rosenblatt is that he is one of the glories of American Jewry. I thank you for the privilege of presenting my friend with this wonderful award, which is truly his just deserts.

Leon Wieseltier is literary editor of The New Republic.

About The Jewish Week Media Group

THE JEWISH WEEK (PRINT) is an independent weekly Jewish community newspaper, widely recognized as the largest and most respected Jewish media vehicle in America.

With three regional editions — Manhattan/Bronx, Westchester and Long Island/Queens/Brooklyn/Staten Island — it reaches more than 60,000 households each week, with more than 150,000 readers.

The Jewish Week is proud to have received journalism awards from the New York Press Association, the American Jewish Press Association and the Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism, as well as a Laurel from the Columbia Review of Journalism, reflecting the editorial excellence in each issue. Rounding out the print issue are 22 special feature sections ranging from Israel Now, 36 Under 36 and the Jewish Wedding, to Education, Healthcare and more.

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THE CONVERSATION: JEWISH IN AMERICA is a project based on the simple concept of bringing together, on an annual basis, a diverse group of approximately 50 American Jews who are leaders in their respective fields to talk openly about the future of Jewish life in this country and what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century. Sponsored by The Jewish Week, The Conversation provides a safe and creative place for people from a wide span of religious, political and generational perspectives — but who share a love for the Jewish people and care about its history, survival and advancement — to meet, talk, and imagine together.

Our experience is that ideas that surface through discussions at The Conversation will percolate and influence how issues are framed and dealt with in the future.

WRITE ON FOR ISRAEL is a Jewish Week program that uses the lens of journalism to transform Jewish teens into confident spokespeople and opinion leaders in preparation for the challenges they will face at college and beyond.

The goal of Write On For Israel is to give students the training and self-confidence to build support for Israel on campus through the study of Jewish history and current events, exploring journalism and media analysis and practicing Israel advocacy skills. The program includes an eight-day visit to Israel, featuring meetings with journalists, IDF officers, government leaders, Israeli teens and others.

FRESH INK FOR TEENS is a web magazine whose content is prepared by and for Jewish teens from around the world.

Written with high standards of journalism, Fresh Ink for Teens covers high school life, politics, Israel, sports, culture, college preparation, Judaism, family matters and more through original articles and insightful essays. Creative writing and poetry are also welcome.

Originally published as a print supplement to The Jewish Week, Fresh Ink was founded 18 years ago and has won awards from the American Jewish Press Association. Now, there is an active Fresh Ink Facebook community of over 5,000 individuals with 35 percent residing in Israel.

36 UNDER 36 is an annual print and online special section of The Jewish Week that profiles 36 talented young people across a wide field of vocations who have made noteworthy contributions to Jewish life. Those selected are musicians, advocates for social justice, Jewish educators who redefine spirituality, ardent environmentalists, philanthropists and others, all reinventing, expanding and improving Jewish life. 

The Jewish Week proudly offers these programs as a reflection of our commitment not only to report on the Jewish community, but to be an active part of it, fostering its growth and depth.

THE BLUEPRINT: Recognizing the need to reach Jewish individuals in their 20s and 30s, The Jewish Week Media Group acquired New York, Jerusalem and Los Angeles Blueprint in the summer of 2012.

Blueprint, founded in 2001, is a go-to guide for everything Jewish for Jewish single professionals, including articles about Jews in the arts, lectures, Shabbat services and programs, along with hundreds of calendar listings of Jewish events, updated daily.

Each month Blueprint receives over 50,000 visitors and over 600,000 page views (Urchin Software Corporation). Readers range in age, affiliation and interests, but the majority are young single Jews in their 20s and 30s who are looking to get involved Jewishly, meet new people and add value to their lives.

Last Update:

12/20/2013 - 11:29

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