Jack Newfield, a columnist driven by commitment to social justice and political accountability, died Monday at 66. The cause was cancer.
Newfield was a supporter of Israel and also wrote extensively on matters regarding black-Jewish relations. Growing up in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, he attended a school that was 75 percent black, and traveled in the South as a young man to demonstrate for civil rights in the early 1960s. He was once incarcerated with Michael Schwerner, who was later murdered in Mississippi.
Mr. Newfield came to prominence writing for the Village Voice for 24 years, but later worked at the New York Post, Daily News and Sun, where his final column was published last month. He also wrote several books, including biographies of Sen. Robert Kennedy, boxing promoter Don King, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a critical view of the administration of Mayor Ed Koch, written with fellow Voice reporters.
Mr. Newfield told The Jewish Week in a 2002 interview that “tikkun olam,” repairing the world, was a guiding principle of his work. “It gave a name to what I was doing instinctively,” he said. “It’s important to have an equal sense of outrage at all forms of bigotry.” He once criticized a fellow Village Voice writer for anti-Israel columns, and also wrote a series in the Daily News criticizing then-Mayor David Dinkins for his handling of the Crown Heights riots in 1991.
Mr. Newfield lost his father at age 4 and was raised by his mother, a department store sales clerk. He went to Hebrew school and had a bar mitzvah, but did not have much of a Jewish identity until the early 1960s, when he dated the daughter of Holocaust survivors. “I talked to her parents about what happened in Poland during the war, and that became a very important experience,” he told The Jewish Week in 1998. “He was a great fighter for civil liberties and human rights, a courageous voice,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine. “He was proud of being Jewish and had an intense connection to the best in the progressive Jewish tradition.”
Mayor Koch, who had locked horns with Newfield during his years in public office, called him “an excellent writer whose legacy is his willingness to dig and dig for material, with great energy.”
Mr. Newfield is survived by his wife, Jane Eisenberg, a son, Joey, and a daughter, Rebecca.