Tuesday, October 27, 2020 -
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Journalists in Washington, DC

Are things back to normal in New Orleans?

“If you’re asking this, you obviously haven’t been to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.” So said Gail Chalew of New Orleans at the annual meeting of the American Jewish Press Assn. in Washington, DC.

“Being at Woodstock was a marker for the Baby Boomer generation. Being in New Orleans is a marker for this generation.”

Washington oozes power. I step outside my hotel in downtown DC for a short walk — no more than 10 minutes. In a couple of blocks, I pass the Embassy of Australia, the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, the National Association of Broadcasters.

The press association’s annual banquet is held in the Senate office room in which the McCarthy hearings were held, ditto Sen. Irving’s Watergate hearings, the Iran-contra hearings, and Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation.

As I enter, here is Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who is very familiar with Colorado. He has a son, Josh, in Vail, and he owns property in Vail.
In an impromptu address at the banquet, Lautenberg says: “I’ve been to Israel 80 times. Not bad for someone who never had a Bar Mitzvah.”

Robert Kern directs communications for the American Friends of Magen David Adom — the national Israeli emergency response team.
He was recently in Sderot, where there were 37 alerts in a single day!

“If no shelter is available, you crouch against the nearest wall, lean down and hope the rocket will fall on the other side of the wall.”

He told the banquet of a terrorist attack in which, as Palestinians were still firing, the Magen David Adom crew was already evacuating them, and was whispering to the dispatcher how many wounded there were.

Salai Meridor, Israel’s ambassador to the US, addressed the banquet. He has a connection. His father worked for JTA in Vienna before WW II. “His job saved his life.”

On Iran: “The world is facing a danger we haven’t seen since the 1930s.”

At an earlier session, Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi observed: “An EU diplomat, whom I can’t name, said that the policy of Israel and the US on Iran ‘not to take any option off the table’ makes our [diplomatic] work much easier.”

Meridor: “Iran has no refineries. The world lets Iran drive for free. It’s madness.”

The guest speaker at the banquet was Leon Wieseltier. He is literary editor of the New Republic, but no matter — “I’ve been a Jewish journalist since I covered the social science fair for the Yeshiva of Flatbush in 1960.”

Nuggets from his wide-ranging talk:

“The two roles of Jewish journalism are the fortification of Jewish life, and the criticism of Jewish life.”

“When I read certain things, I can sometimes smell the googling. When I hear certain derashos (sermons), I can hear the CD.”

“In the old days, when Jews conducted their business in a Jewish language, such as Yiddish, no one knew [what we were saying]. Now, there are no secrets. And people think Jewish culture can be transmitted in English.”

“The trials American Jewry faces are self-inflicted — not the case for the trials of Jews in Israel.”

“The premise of blogging: a person’s first thoughts are his best thoughts.”

“Journalists who post four times a day become sketch artists — they never get to the big story.”

“We live in the age of the herd of independent voices.”

“We live in a golden age of Jewish journalistic and intellectual openness.”
“I intensely dislike how Obama is running against Washington . . . in order to get here.”

“You can’t write critically about people you are going to dine with in the evening.”

“Journalism is the first line of intellectual defense. Every bit of dumbing down actually hurts democracy.”

“Twenty years ago the most important Jewish newspaper was . . . the New York Times. The nice thing is that this is no longer the case.”

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com

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