Thirty one years of Jewish journalism


In March of 1981, 52 Americans held hostage by Iran returned home via Andrews Air Force Base. Along with dozens of other news media from around the world, I stood on a street in Prince George’s County to cover the event.

Every tree, every pole in the vicinity had a yellow ribbon tied around it. At the time, I was working for the Prince George’s Journal, based in College Park. My assignment was to get local color and comment from county residents on this emotional day. It was a Tuesday, a deadline day. Time enough to get back to College Park, type up the story and get it in for Friday’s publication.

I got into my brown Honda Civic, drove onto the Beltway and within minutes my car lost power. I frantically pumped the gas pedal — nothing. So I pulled over onto the shoulder of the Beltway directly in front of the former Capital Centre.

Remember 1981? No cellphones, no laptops. Just put up the hood and hope that someone, a good Samaritan sees you there. I was on deadline for this article, I had about two hours to get it done. After waiting a relatively short time I looked in my rearview mirror to see a Prince George’s County police car. The officer, though, was not in uniform.

He asked me if he could call a tow truck. I told him that I was a reporter on deadline with an editor who wouldn’t care that my car broke down on what was the biggest story at the time. The officer said, “get in.”

He asked me where the office was located. It was located in the Executive Building on Route 1 in College Park. The officer took me all the way to the office. I thanked him. I even wrote about him in a later column. I made deadline, and three days later my story appeared.

One other example.

In June of 1982, Israel sent in its forces into Lebanon in what was called “Operation Peace for Galilee.” The movement was meant to stop the buildup of Palestinian irregulars and their weapons on Israel’s border with Lebanon.

Again, on a deadline day, my then editor Gary Rosenblatt of the Baltimore Jewish Times sent me to a speech being given nearby by Lawrence Eagleburger, then the under secretary of state for political affairs under President Ronald Reagan.

There were questions aplenty asked by the audience, mostly about Israel’s incursion into Lebanon. I raced back to my downtown Baltimore office, put the yellow newsprint paper in the typewriter and banged out the story.

I remember feeling a bit relaxed only because I had been the only reporter there. I’d have the rest of the area press “scooped.”

Again, it was a Tuesday. I finished the story, and on Friday our readers read a story no one else had.

Today the returning hostages and Eagleburger speech would have been uploaded, online and viral before I even got back to my office.

Photographs from either event would turn your next-door neighbor into a photojournalist. Blogs would give others a taste of what was seen. In other words, between the event and the social network, the story would have been told, and told quite well.

And I remember going to my editors especially at the Baltimore Jewish Times and pleading that we get desktop computers and a network and a modem. We had to jokingly “wrestle” the Smith Coronas away from some of our typewriter-loving colleagues.

For what it’s worth, this is most probably my final Editor’s Notebook for Washington Jewish Week. I leave the executive editor position of WJW, the Baltimore Jewish Times and Baltimore Style magazine on Sept. 13, erev Yom Kippur.

I’ve seen incredible, amazing changes in Jewish journalism over the 31 years I’ve served. I spent the first half of my career covering mostly issues that were important to the generation of Jews who witnessed the Holocaust and then the creation of the state of Israel. There were connective issues such as the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.

But since then, I believe the Nov. 4, 1995, assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Sept. 11, 2001, have become the dates branded on the minds of younger adults. Israel, and for that matter Judaism and synagogue, have to have re-invented meanings and attachments for our younger generations.

So do Jewish newspapers. And I get that. While I’m still going to hopefully keep my connections to Jewish journalism, I’m also going to work on the future of Judaism, which for me involves a great game of “cars” and “trains” with my 3-1/2-year-old grandson Nani Jacobs-Komisar, and God willing, whomever his siblings and cousins are.

Thanks to Craig Burke and the partners for this opportunity in Washington, and to Gary Rosenblatt and the Buerger family for the same in Baltimore.

Both Washington Jewish Week and Baltimore Jewish Times are in great hands. Meredith Jacobs in Washington and Maayan Jaffe in Baltimore. You can’t do any better than that.

Keep moving forward. Now I’m going to be a reader. That means I get to write letters to the editor.

Thank you my colleagues. Because you were also my friends.

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