During his first days at The Jewish Week, Rich Waloff worried that he’d made a mistake in accepting the job of associate publisher.
He’d given up a successful post as business director of The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia, where he served more than 20 years, and now found himself commuting about four hours a day by car and train from his suburban Pennsylvania home to Times Square, and back.
But drawn to the challenge of succeeding in the world’s largest Jewish community — and global advertising center — he stuck with it and persevered. Today, 26 years later, as he steps down as publisher, Waloff, 70, takes pride in having overseen the growth of The Jewish Week Media Group (JWMG), which now includes The Jewish Week and New Jersey Jewish News. Among the initiatives that Waloff was deeply involved with were the company’s website (in 1997), a wide range of special issues, advertising supplements, educational projects, community forums and the annual Jewish Week kosher wine tasting event that draws more than 500 people each spring.
“We’ve come a long way,” Waloff said the other day. “When I started, the 92nd Street Y wasn’t an advertiser, which floored me. It was one of my first sales successes.”
In recent years, though, advertising successes at The Jewish Week and across the media world have been rare, creating a financial challenge that has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Waloff, who had set his retirement date before the pandemic struck, will serve as a consultant to JWMG, starting in July, as it negotiates a crisis that has hit it and other media and Jewish organizations hard.
He said he was honored to have worked with “smart, dedicated board presidents” Richard Hirsch, Peter Wang, Stuart Himmelfarb and, for the last several months, Kai Falkenberg, adding that “the entire staff are all hard-working professionals who care deeply” about the paper and its websites.
He noted his close relationship of more than 25 years with Gary Rosenblatt, the former editor and publisher, and managing editor Rob Goldblum, both of whom came to The Jewish Week in 1993 when the paper underwent a major makeover. Waloff was hired a year later to lead the business staff; he was named publisher when Rosenblatt stepped down in 2019.
Rosenblatt, currently editor at large, said, “It was an honor and privilege for me to work alongside Rich for more than 25 years. His caring nature and attention to detail on so many fronts, from sales to production to our website, was inspiring. And yet he always found time to be there for staff. He has been the heart of the operation, the go-to guy for all of us.”
Goldblum noted that although Waloff’s job was to “focus on the bottom line, he always supported our efforts to report tough stories, even ones that would hurt on the advertising side, and he freed up money so we could pursue investigative stories. Rich has had a keen sense of the purpose of an independent paper covering a tight-knit community. I have always considered him a partner in helping the editorial side do its reporting.”
“I will truly miss the staff at The Jewish Week and NJ Jewish News,” Waloff said. “It’s been a great run.”
In a career that has spanned 48 years in Jewish journalism, in Philadelphia and New York, Waloff developed a reputation as a creative marketing expert and tenacious salesman, but also as a caring, compassionate colleague — a view held by publishers and business managers at Jewish and secular newspapers in New York and around the country.
Waloff served on the board of the New York Press Association and was president of the American Jewish Press Association from 2003 to 2007. “Rich has led countless committees over the years” for the group, said Craig Burke, the current president of AJPA.
Falkenberg, president of The Jewish Week board, said that Waloff’s “steadfast leadership has helped The Jewish Week solidify its place as ‘the paper of record’ for the New York Jewish community. He brings a warmth, sincerity and dedication that will be sorely missed.”
Stuart Himmelfarb, a co-chair and immediate past president of The Jewish Week board, often referred to Waloff as “the hardest working guy in advertising in New York.” He cited “the energy and commitment Rich has brought to his work” in such a competitive market. Himmelfarb also noted Waloff’s “caring nature as a friend.”
Peter Wang, a co-chair and former board president, observed that “no matter how hard the challenges we’ve faced over the years — and we’ve faced our share — Rich approached them all with incredible skill and determination, as well as great humor and common sense.”
Richard Hirsch, a former board president who helped recruit Waloff, said he still remembers “the thumbs up” that the late Eugene Grant (a former president) and he gave each other after the hiring interview. “Rich deserves the highest praise for his diligence and humility to all who worked with him at the paper,” Hirsch said. “His guidance and concern were a true blessing.”
Those who worked closest with Waloff — both colleagues and advertisers — consistently described him as “a mensch,” “a gentleman.”
Jack Linder, a cousin of Waloff’s who gave him his first job at The Jewish Exponent, recalled that from the outset, “there was never a job he didn’t do, and do well.”
Editor in chief Andrew Silow-Carroll, who joined The Jewish Week in 2019, said: “I’ve compared Rich to the guy who keeps dozens of plates spinning on the ends of dozens of bamboo poles. Not only did he manage an endless list of responsibilities, but he always did so with a smile (and only the occasional deep sigh). I’ll miss him as a partner.”
Ruth Rothseid, advertising manager of The Jewish Week for the last 19 years, said Waloff “took on tasks he didn’t have to do. He was always there for you.”
Longtime advertisers cited Waloff’s patience and attentiveness. Gabe Geller of Royal Wine mentioned Waloff’s “calm and solutions-oriented manner,” Sheryl Stein of El Al spoke of his “sincerity” and good humor, and Lynda Clare of PKH (Presidential Kosher Holidays) Passover Vacations said he was “always accessible, efficient and really fair.”
When he wasn’t busy commuting — working while on the train — Waloff made time to study Jewish texts each week by phone with a chavruta (study partner) through Partners For Torah.
He said he decided to take on the discipline while flying to Israel in August 2006. It was at the outset of the Lebanon War and he and his wife, Eileen and their sons, Brandon and Kevin, were accompanying their closest friends and neighbors, Mark and Harriet Levin. They were en route to the funeral of the Levins’ son, Michael, a lone soldier in the IDF who was killed in action at the age of 22.
“We feel so very close to Rich, not just because he and Eileen came with us to Michael’s funeral,” Harriet Levin said, “but because he is the most kind and considerate person I know. Ever since Michael died, Rich sends us a Good Shabbat text every Friday. That’s the kind of person he is.”