Obits, Jewish obits, and the Grey Lady of New York

The New York Times Public Editor (also known as an ombudsman) wrote an excellent piece the other day about the hows and whys of the Grey Lady’s Obits section. Columnist Arthur Brisbane offered insights into the way the section’s writers approach the process, and went into some detail about who gets selected for obits and why:

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"Times obituaries go not to the conventionally virtuous but to the famous, the influential, the offbeat and to others whose lives, through writerly intervention, can be alchemized into newsprint literature," he wrote. On the whole, it is nice to see that the NYT has a similar set of criteria for choosing an obit to the Eulogizer. Sometimes the quirky takes precedence over the virtuous, and good people who have been pillars of their community and excellent family members may just not make it.

However, the additional twist that makes the NYT column about the “macabre” (as one media colleague recently called it) art of obit writing worth noting, is that the article goes into the details of an exchange from last year with someone who didn’t get in to the Times (yup, that’s right, a Jewish obit):

Human worth is not truly the coin of the obituary realm. What is, then? That is what Stuart Friedland, a reader in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., wanted to know when The Times took a pass on his father, Jacob Friedland. The elder Mr. Friedland had led one of those quintessentially worthy lives: a leader in business, community and temple on Staten Island; a philanthropist, a veteran, a collector of art, a centenarian.

All this, Mr. Friedland lamented, and yet space was given on the obit pages instead to the sketchy and the quirky, including, as he said, “a veterinarian who tried to scam racing with a horse switcheroo and, of course, lest we forget, a lady in Iowa who sculpted cows out of butter.

So, for those of you who did not get to read about the remarkable Mr. Friedland in the Times last summer (no, he didn’t make it into the Eulogizer, either), click here for his obituary in a Staten Island newspaper  and click here for the paid obituary (“death notice”) that ran in the newspaper of his adopted hometown, Palm Beach, where he died at 100. 

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Follow the Eulogizer on Twitter @TheEulogizer

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