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A Moment in History Passes

March 26, 1987
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A Moment is about to pass into history, and another is to take its place. On Monday, plans were finalized to transfer publication of the magazine Moment from the direction of its founder and editor, Leonard Fein, to that of Hershel Shanks, a lawyer, writer and editor who helms two scholarly journals. Moreover, the place of publication is moving, from Boston to Washington, and a completely new staff will be placing its mark on the esteemed Jewish monthly.

The acquisition can be chalked up to the reality of finances. Despite a long struggle, Fein has not been able to keep Moment’s financial resources on solid footing, losing $200,000 per year. Moment is published by Jewish Educational Ventures, a non-profit organization that also puts out Response magazine. The organization’s board–Fein, Steven M. Cohen and Carol Kur — will resign and be replaced.

Moment’s current small staff will work through April 30. Fein and an assistant will continue through May 30, when they will put their final issue of July-August to bed. Then, “On May 31, the phone will be disconnected,” Fein said with a sigh of obvious sadness.

The September issue of Moment will bear the name of Shanks on its masthead as the new publisher-editor. Suzanne Singer, now managing editor of Shanks’ two lucrative journals, Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) and Bible Review, will be executive editor of the magazine and the journals. Moment’s new managing editor will be Charlotte Anker, a Washington writer and editor, and Susan Laden will be executive director of operations, a position she now holds at the Biblical Archaeology Society.

When Shanks first approached Fein with his offer, Fein was not interested, but after several lengthy discussions he had changed his mind. Fein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “after 12 years of fighting the good fight, I just couldn’t do it. I’ve been sustained by wonderful, gracious and generous people, but it has been hard.”


The 52-year-old Fein, an oft-published writer and author who has taught political science and social policy at MIT and Brandeis and is on the board of several major Jewish organizations, said that “It’s been plain to everyone for a time that after 12 years of this kind of effort, I was not prepared to devote my time to fundraising. I did what I could with the help of really fine people, but it didn’t get easier.”

He said he thinks Shanks’ “track record suggests that between his experience and his resources he may be better off to do what I couldn’t do, which is to establish Moment as a solvent operation.”

The outspoken man with the sharp wit, known to all as Leibel, is ambivalent about stepping down from the magazine he founded as “a vehicle for raising the quality of Jewish discussion. This is not to say that I don’t have mixed feelings. One doesn’t end 12 years of obsession without second thoughts. This was my baby and I’m giving it up for adoption.”

However, he said, “I have examined the credentials of the adoptive parent and found him worthy. I think that he can be a nurturing parent.”

Shanks is a prolific writer himself. In addition to maintaining a full schedule as a Washington attorney, he has authored seven books on Jewish and legal issues: “The Art and Craft of Judging,” “City of David,” on the archaeology of Jerusalem, and “Judaism in Stone,” a book on ancient synagogues, among his works. He, too, forayed into publishing 12 years ago.

A native of Sharon, Pennsylvania, with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, a master’s in sociology from Columbia and a doctorate of jurisprudence from Harvard, the 57-year-old Shanks also worked for the Department of Justice.

Shanks told JTA he “felt there was an unfilled niche for a unified Jewish magazine and I think Moment is the closest to it.” He said he seeks an audience of “intelligent, aware Jews who are committed to seeking to learn to keep up with modern issues.” But, he said, he will be “broadening its appeal. It will be neither left nor right, neither Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. I am open to expression of opinions, ideas and responsible elements. There will be a commitment to open discussion.

“As an attorney, I’m a great believer in the First Amendment,” said Shanks. “I want everyone to be able to say what they want, to express responsible views.” However, he noted that at “the extreme ends there is obviously a judgment.” He specifically noted that he would not print articles by such people as Rabbi Meir Kahane or groups such as Jews for Jesus.

“Our arms are not only open, but we are going to seek out the best thinkers and best thoughts in the Jewish community that there are. We’re going to reach out and encompass the entire range of Jewish interests in a wide-ranging and engaging way. And we won’t flinch from engaging in controversial issues. I have a big enough group of supporters at this time to go forward and commit myself.”

Shanks’ 11 supporters — eight men and three women — encompass a range of scholars, lawyers and real estate developers, most from Washington, some from Palm Beach. Many of them are on the boards of major Jewish organizations. And he is, he said, “hoping to increase my hevra and to make the magazine self-sustaining.” But he emphasized that his financial backers would have “absolutely no control of the magazine at all.”

Plans for financial operations have not been completed yet, he said, but he stressed that those who have received subscription notices in the mail should “please, by all means, renew.”

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