Let’s face it. Journalism harbors more than its fair share of oddballs. I should know. Back in the 1990s, I was one of them. Nevertheless, The Jewish Week hosted me, and several others — and as a result produced some of the most consequential journalism in New York.
Consider: It’s 4 a.m. on Times Square. Even the hookers have gone to bed. (This was before Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ran them and all the porno film theaters out of the neighborhood and turned the place into a Disney movie set.) But I’m up. I’ve been working on some investigative piece, barely noticing that everyone, including the cleaning staff, has left.
To get me through these nights, I’ve napped on the couch in the office of my editor, Gary Rosenblatt; even brushed my teeth in the men’s room across the hall.
But in this case, I’m not the oddball.
That would be staff writer Steve Lipman, who greets me as I finally walk out the door at 4:30 a.m. to take the uptown No. 1 train home; he’s just walking in to start his “day” — before day has even come.
What kind of journalist starts his workday at 4:30 a.m.? One of the main reasons I went into journalism was that reporters generally don’t have to even show up until 10 a.m.
One of The Jewish Week’s virtues back then, and through the years of Rosenblatt’s tenure, was its willingness to accommodate both of us, our schedules and the office’s other quirky figures.
The women reporters back then, including Toby Axelrod, Jennifer Friedlin, Carolyn Slutsky, Julie Wiener and Tamar Snyder, did their jobs well and kept to normal schedules. My male colleagues? A different story.
There was Stewart Ain, a reporter who seemed to have somehow wandered off the set of Billy Wilder’s “The Front Page” and into the fifth-floor office on Times Square. Ain pounded out copy faster than a speeding bullet. His existence in 1994 seemed impossible. I swear I think I once heard him call out, “Hello, sweetheart, get me rewrite!”
Jonathan Mark was a kind grizzly bear in person. In his writing, he could sniff hypocrisy a mile away. If it was you he smelled, woe betide your fate on the receiving end. His word processor was his Gatling gun. At the same time, when writing features, Jonathan’s skill as a wordsmith could make stories sing like arias. Politically, he was way to my right. But if Jonathan saw you as an honest straight-shooting reporter, politics were irrelevant. He was your biggest booster and best friend; hard to imagine now, in this highly polarized age.
Adam Dickter was the quiet, stolid one. His grasp of city politics and the personal relationships behind them was encyclopedic. He was a workhorse, willing to take on any job that needed to be done, even if it was beyond — or beneath — his job title. Adam is the colleague that never failed to express his personal concern to me in regular cards, calls and notes about my travails as the father of two special needs children, even years after we had both left the office on Times Square and rarely saw each other.
And then there was Rob Goldblum — the zookeeper of this menagerie. We didn’t call him that, of course; we called him the managing editor. It is Rob who has, since 1993, presided over the newsroom, handed out the assignments and read pretty much every line of copy that went into each week’s newspaper edition. He still has his eyesight. I remain unsure as to how he accomplished this. Even stranger, he still has his genial mien. For me, he was an encourager and gentle critic for any idea I might come to him with. If not for Rob, I would never have found myself out in the Rockies, traveling the Western Range in Montana and Idaho, talking to the heads of extremist, often anti-Semitic militia groups; or in Moscow covering the emergence of Russia from the Soviet Union and the re-election campaign of President Boris Yeltsin.
Like I said, we had our eccentricities. But they were excellent journalists. When Gary Rosenblatt retired as editor last year, after leading The Jewish Week for 26 years, I sent him a note that said, “As per Pirke Avot, you raised up many disciples; maybe more than anyone in Jewish journalism. And for your having done so, the world will be a better place for many years after you have left The Jewish Week.”
That is true, also, of The Jewish Week itself, no matter what its future turns out to be, in print, online or beyond.
Larry Cohler-Esses is a former editor-at-large and staff writer for The Jewish Week.