Note: Last week The Jewish Week marked the retirement of the paper’s longtime editor and publisher, Gary Rosenblatt. A gala, which honored Rosenblatt as well as the paper’s libel lawyer and board treasurer, Kai Falkenberg, and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, took place Nov. 13 at Guastavino’s in Manhattan. The profiles of Rosenblatt and Falkenberg that follow were published in the dinner journal given to attendees.
To hold The Jewish Week in your hands is, in many ways, to catch hold of New York’s Jewish community, in all its messiness and splendor.
We all have Gary Rosenblatt to thank for that.
In his 26 years leading The Jewish Week, Rosenblatt has experienced first-hand the great spectrum of Jewish life. And he has sought to wrangle all of that diversity into the pages of a weekly newspaper that may in fact be the only place where disparate parts of the community rub shoulders.
With a sense of openness and curiosity, he has traveled to synagogues in the suburbs, parlor meetings on Park Avenue, chasidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn, multidenominational learning sessions and events all over town. Perhaps no one else is more respected in more Jewish quarters than Rosenblatt, who has led the paper with an unusual combination of wisdom and humility, strength and sensitivity, creativity and high journalistic standards.
In addition to his award-winning writing and editing of The Jewish Week, he has initiated several innovative projects, including The Conversation, an annual off-the-record talkfest for Jewish professionals, thought leaders and artists. There’s no agenda, but varied opportunities to talk, strategize and collaborate on pressing issues. To Rosenblatt’s credit, he has attracted participants from all walks of Jewish life who’ve never spoken to one another, let alone spent a few days engaged in thoughtful discourse.
Rosenblatt’s spirit of unity might be traced back to his childhood in Annapolis, Md. His father served as rabbi of the one shul in the small town, where people from different backgrounds worshipped together. He would watch his father work on his sermons, and from that he gained an interest in and a love of words. From his mother, the rebbetzin par excellence, he learned about empathy.
Few in the Annapolis congregation aside from his family were observant, but they managed to get along. In New York, he has found the opposite: With so many shuls and organizations and the option of simply quitting one and joining another, getting along is not always a priority.
In the offices of The Jewish Week, Rosenblatt has fashioned an unusually collegial and calm newsroom. Rare are shouting and harsh words, or the chaos and drama often associated with deadlines. There’s a quiet dignity that Rosenblatt projects that tempers the place. And there’s humor — he often has a good line or rejoinder poised for telling. Even the jokes he has delivered before sound fresh.
All of that without coffee, and with nothing stronger than a soda. When a hardened newspaper pal took him out for a drink at the Yale Club and Rosenblatt ordered a ginger ale, the exasperated guy exclaimed, “You call yourself a journalist?”
This has been Rosenblatt’s second turn at The Jewish Week. In the 1970s, he was the youngest reporter in the newsroom by about 40 years — most of his colleagues had reported from overseas during World War II and were none too interested in getting out of their chairs or away from their manual typewriters. So Rosenblatt took on all the stories that involved reporting outside the office. He stayed for two years, before he was offered the top editorial job at the Baltimore Jewish Times.
In Baltimore, he grew the paper into the most successful Jewish weekly in the country. In 1985, he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for an investigative report, the first time that an article in a Jewish newspaper was cited by the prestigious competition, which dates back to 1917. After 19 years at the helm, he returned to New York City in 1993 to serve as editor and publisher of The Jewish Week. In these last decades, he has led the editorial staff in top-tier journalism. Along the way, he has garnered more awards and, courageously, published groundbreaking investigative reporting uncovering sexual abuse and lapses in communal leadership, along with his always incisive columns. Rosenblatt has shed light on issues that some would have preferred remained in shadow.
His philosophy of journalism is basic: “Try to be fair. Try to tell the truth. When writing a sensitive story, about someone in trouble, I think, ‘What if this were a member of my family?’ It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it — just try to be sensitive to other people, to keep in mind that you’re writing about real people and it has a ripple effect.”
“But,” he continues, “no matter what you do, someone’s going to be upset with you. It’s not that easy when you write about your own community.”
Rosenblatt skillfully walks that tightrope between reporting on a community, being deeply concerned about the issues the paper is covering and living amidst the people he is writing about.
Journalist Clyde Haberman says that he thought that he had the most difficult job in journalism when he covered Israel for The New York Times.
“Then I met Gary Rosenblatt and realized I had to take a back seat.”
As Rosenblatt writes in the introduction to his 2013 book “Between the Lines: Reflections on the American Jewish Experience,” “Not a day goes by when I don’t feel blessed to have the best job imaginable, for me.” He has had opportunities to interview national and world leaders, and along the way has forged friendships with many, including a close connection with the late Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. Another hero he mentions is Natan Sharansky. Over these years, he has traveled frequently to Israel, as well as to Russia, Germany and West Africa.
On an afternoon last month, Rosenblatt was packing up his Baltimore Orioles memorabilia (he is a devoted and long-suffering fan), cartons of books and hundreds of the thin reporter’s notebooks he usually keeps in his jacket pocket. While he’s leaving the Times Square corner office, he’ll continue to write a monthly column, along with other pieces, as editor-at-large. He’ll also continue to chair The Conversation and Write On For Israel, a Jewish Week educational program that prepares high school juniors and seniors for the challenges they’ll face on campus. And he’ll be spending more time at the gym and with his wife Judy and their kids and grandchildren.
In his farewell column in late September, he reflected on the community’s diversity and made a plea for Jewish unity, or at least for listening to one another. In print and in person, Gary Rosenblatt has modeled a vibrant and principled Jewish Commons where passionate discourse is exchanged, enriching us all.