On January 29, Americans for Peace Now honored me with their Press for Peace Award at Paper and Plastik in Los Angeles. For 23 years at the Jewish Journal I refused honors and dreaded going to the banquets where they handed them out.
But when APN asked me, I said yes. Peace Now in Israel, Shalom Achshav, was a scrappy group when it was founded by former IDF officers in 1978, to give vocal support to then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who was under pressure from his own party to reject a peace overture from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
It has fought consistently to protect Israel’s security and democracy against the effects of the occupation of the West Bank and Israeli policies in Jerusalem and Gaza. Sometimes it is a leading voice, sometimes a voice in the wilderness.
But APN gave me my first job in the LA Jewish community, organizing the group’s West Coast office in 1986. I soon moved from activism to journalism, but I have a warm spot for the people in Israel and the US who helped me begin my professional journey.
They honored the Israeli singer David Broza at the same event, so how could I say no? I fell in love with his music in Israel, and hearing him sing was a highlight of the night. Other highlights: surrounded by old APN colleagues, good friends, my daughter Noa, warm introductions from my former APN boss Mark Rosenblum and from my Jewish Journal partner David Suissa (braving the Lefty wave, perfectly), and perhaps most of all getting an introduction and blessing from one of the rabbis there that evening, Naomi Levy.
What did I say? Funny you should ask:
Thank you. Mark.
Naomi, your words moved me. But then everything about you moves and inspires me.
I’m deeply grateful to Americans for Peace Now for this award, and to all of you for being here tonight.
Especially my friends who trekked east and west, to David Suissa, who let the record show got the biggest laugh of the night at a Peace Now event…and my parents, Aaron and sari Eshman, who are my my lifelong inspirations for community and service.
I’m so honored to share this evening with David Broza. All my life I’ve been inspired by your songs and your activism. I got to hear you play last night at another event, and i just want to say it gave me a taam shel od, a taste for more.
So, when I left the journal and Mark asked me if I’d liked to be honored, I immediately said — yes.
My first job in the Jewish world was at Americans for Peace Now. It was 1986. If you had told me then I’d become editor and publisher of the Jewish Journal I’d have said, right, and that blowhard who just rebuilt the Wollman ice rink in Central Park will become President…
But it turns out I learned three lessons working at APN that would serve me well running a Jewish newspaper.
First, there is no such thing as Jewish unity. We fight. We disagree. That is our normal. I remember our first rally in Roxbury Park, when the Peace Now speakers were shouted down, spit at, when gentile police officers had to escort Jews to safety through a gauntlet of fellow Jews—that stuck with me.
At that same rally the actor Richard Dreyfuss gave a fiery speech against the occupation. One of those angry counter-demonstrators broke through the police cordon and moved toward Richard. And I thought, well, it’s over. Duddy Kravitz dies on my watch. The shark wins.
So this crazy guy rushes up to Richard and screams, “Dreyfuss! Dreyfuss! Hey Dreyfuss!…can I get your autograph?” That was the second lesson: the world is watching. We Jews are small in number. But especially in LA, people pay attention. What we say and do matters.
Third lesson: optimism. The Israelis I met at Peace Now fought wars, lost children, suffered wounds, saw setback after setback, but they believed that the struggle for a secure, just Israel living in peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs wasn’t just crucial, but possible.
They saw the future and tried to bring about the best version of it.
They knew that Israel would one day live up to the words of the prophets: to be a light among nations, to welcome the stranger, to defend against those who would come to hurt it, and, at the same time, to pursue justice.
Almost every news cycle proved just how wrong they were. But these activists never gave up.
I took these lessons with me to the Jewish Journal, along with this realization: I’m not an activist, I’m a journalist.
I cared about all these issues, but i believed, and still believe, as Tom Stoppard said, “If your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.”
And I believe we did some good journalism.
We brought in voices from all sides, including many Palestinian and Muslim voices.
We held leaders accountable, whether they ran community organizations, the State of Israel or the United States.
We took on subjects, events and issues that often upset our readers and advertisers.
Funny: many times some critic or other would accuse me of hiding the fact that I used to be on the APN payroll. And I always had the same reply: used to?
Seriously, I never hid it. I believed the choices we made for the paper weren’t good activism, but good journalism. I still believe that.
So…I’m very honored to receive this award from the organization where I started my journey in this community.
I still believe what I learned three decades ago:
That sometimes dissent is more important than unity.
That we all can be a prophetic voice, not just for the Jews, but for the world.
And that we must never, ever, ever lose hope.