A tale of 2 Jews

All columnists are hired to express their opinions, as opposed to reporters who are commanded to present the news as objectively as possible. 

Columnists are supposed to be subjective, and it really is an honor to be selected by editors to inflict yourself on others. It requires a dash of arrogance and a thick skin because no opinion — I repeat, no opinion — will be accepted by everyone, and the ones who don’t like it will make a stink.

Bernie Madoff, scumbag (Photo: Business Standard)

They used to call you on the phone or write letters to the editor. Now they assemble a lynch mob on Twitter, or light torches on Facebook.

Early on in my long tenure as a columnist, I decided I didn’t want to be the “Jewish columnist,” and generally steered clear of Jewish topics, jumping in only when they morphed from a “Jewish” subject to something larger, such as the 2018 mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The “Jewish columnist” might be too predictable, too one-dimensional.

When appropriate, I occasionally wrote about the Mideast and Israel, which I have visited three times, and covered Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic peace mission to Jerusalem in 1977. I made rare excursions into “anti-Semitism” topics, but always applied tests of proof. (As I do with racism.)

It was for the lack of such proof that I concluded that Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who is surely anti-Israel, was not anti-Semitic. Not long ago, some Jews and others were demanding that Temple prof Marc Lamont Hill be fired for pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel comments he made at a U.N. panel. I disagree with him, of course, but his remarks had nothing to do with his employment at Temple, and were defended, by me, as free speech.

So, I don’t see myself as a “Jewish” columnist. How do I picture myself? 

Not as white or male, but surely that colors the reserve of information in my brain. Mostly, because I was given the column franchise at the Philadelphia Daily News, I pictured myself as the lower middle-class, working class, common sense row house guy. Someone more likely to lean on a concept of fairness than on an academic degree.

I wrote only one column as a Jew, as if I were wearing a yellow Star of David on my chest.

That was in January 2005 when I tore into billionaire Bernie Madoff,  who stole more than $50 billion, mostly from his fellow Jews. “Who better to call the 70-year-old Madoff a sickening, loathsome maggot than another Jew?,” I wrote.

I didn’t want him to drop dead, I wrote. “I wish you 100 years — cent’anni, as my Italian friends say. 

“Right after you are sentenced to life.”

On Wednesday, we learned he made it only to 82, a shonda, a disgrace to the Jewish people, especially for feeding the vicious stereotype of Jews as cheats. Madoff was a gift to anti-Semites.

Ron Rubin, a credit. (Photo: Philly Voice)

On that same day, Page One of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the death of Ron Rubin, perhaps Philadelphia’s most successful college dropout. The renowned developer and visionary died at 89. 

Like many Jews of his generation, he lived in West Philly and was a graduate of West Philly High, before dropping out of Penn State.

Lucky for him, his father had a business and Rubin had a gift for business, underscoring another stereotype, but a positive one.

Rubin had a vision for Center City and with Willard Rouse is given credit for creating a modern skyline.

He was a civic leader, a philanthropist and a very modest man, who always tried to convince me he wasn’t worth a story on the few occasions I called. He preferred “doing” to talking.

He was as much a credit to his people as Madoff was a disgrace.

And this is something I might not have written if I were still employed at the Daily News. Because I didn’t want to be the “Jewish columnist.”

Note: Thanks to the handful of you who wondered if I was OK. I am fine, but skipped a few days as I am working on two long pieces that require a lot of research. I aim for two columns a week, but recently have been doing four or five. My activity is dictated by the flow of news, my energy, and my ability. 

26 thoughts on “A tale of 2 Jews”

  1. Awesome piece. Glad to see you’re doing well. I look forward to reading your upcoming pieces.

  2. Happy to hear you’re Ok and enjoyed this article and I always learn something from you!

  3. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    Keep up the good work! Its always good to hear from you.

    H.G. Callaway

  4. We used to say that some culture could rub off on you if you spent too much time with another tradition and religion. I grew up living a large part of my life as a kid in a Jewish Deli where I worked and was part of the family adopting respect for their traditions and religious holidays. In my adult life, my closest friend was a gentleman named Herb Paloff who passed away last year after twenty years of brotherhood. I have dealt with many cultures, many individuals across the spectrum but the humor, the allegiance, and the strong bond of friendship was never stronger than my affiliation with those who mastered the Shtick. My friend also had conversations with God and if humor weighs in being accepted above then God is laughing since he left us. The point I make is that we all have our human frailities and where we are born or how we live can be a judgement of our life but it is the individual who makes the choice of which road to take and at least up to now Journalism has been the recipient of one successful and talented person who just happens to be a Jew.

    Pallie !
    There you are ! I looked under the carpet. Out in the yard, thinking one of the critters either buried you or ate you. I even looked in the want ads for you ! Nutt’n’ . Now you show up talking about the good, the bad, but not the ugly . I assume that “Let ’em loose Larry” is Jewish !

  6. Hi, Stu. I take exception to your characterization of Prof. Hill’s activities as “free speech.” ZOA reports that Prof. Hill recently said “Black Lives Matter,” of which he’s an activist, “very explicitly is talking about the dismantling of, um. of the Zionist project, dismantling of a settler-colonial project and very explicitly embracing BDS on those grounds.”

    Israel is the ANTITHESIS of a “settler-colonial project.” Palestinian Jews, not Palestinian Arabs, are the natives who fought Assyrian, Babylonian, Seleucid and Roman empires, weren’t exiled by Rome and continued living there all through the continuous successive foreign empires’ rule from afar (I wrote a book about it) until today;s Israel’ in 1948 became the land of Israel’s NEXT NATIVE STATE. Its capital Jerusalem is the third time Jerusalem has been the capital of a land of Israel sovereign Jewish state. Palestinian Arabs have never ruled Jerusalem or Palestine ever, and foreign Arab empires only between 638 and 1099 (and invading Jordan for part 1948-67).

    Calling for “dismantling” the 3000-year Jewish homeland as a “settler-colonial project” denies the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in its historic homeland, violating the widely-adopted IHRA anti-semitism definition, and BDS is economic warfare, not just speech.

    1. I take his remarks, as I believe I said, to be anti-Israel, but not objectively anti-Semitic.
      The right of free speech extends to speech you and I may not like, even hateful speech. Opposing the existence of Israel is no “worse” than opposing the existence of the U.S.A.

  7. Stu, when you leave us with a pause on a byline of “Death becomes you”, minds start to wonder. GREAT to read you today and looking forward to more…

    As someone who lives in “The South” and knows folks at Butner (BM’s home since conviction), I reached out to friends there to inquire about the news today. Was met with “who cares?” Perhaps it’s the fact that BM was convicted of federal felonious crimes. Regardless of whether if affected one “group” or another, my friends saw the news as fact, not an event to be celebrated. Perhaps it’s news cycle, and like the border surge, court packing and voting laws, this news will be at the whim of the folks that “manage” the news.

    I am very happy folks like you and Ralph C keep the reporting facts straight, AND the comments OPEN!

  8. I await your columns every day when I check my email. You should have really run for Mayor Keep up the good work.

  9. Almost two years now and whether I comment or just read, I continue to learn something new from your well written column. Thanks Stu for not retiring.

  10. Stu–
    Never really thought of you as the “Jewish columnist” until you wrote this article.
    Always thought of you as a nice guy who I could hang out with because our politics line up the same way. BTW, I’m a Gentile and Catholic who couldn’t care less about your ethnicity.

  11. To paraphrase a line from Crocodile Dundee, “Stu! You frighten shit outta me!” I thought you had (a) kicked the bucket, (b) defected, (c) given up writing, or (d) lost your mind and were committed. Glad you are okay! Hey, Madoff was a crook but so was John Gotti. Neither was a representative of all Jews or Italians. You are (as you said) a columnist who happens to be Jewish; Madoff was a thief who happened to be Jewish. The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. Or something like that. Welcome back.

  12. Hi Stu. A great column as always. The Inquirer has become a very shallow publication since the departure of you and your then contemporaries. After 52 years of reading I recently gave up on the Inky and cancelled my subscription. I felt a bit sad with the decision.
    I do appreciate your thoughtful blogs; they are a joy to read. During college, I worked nights at a newsstand in the 30th Street Station Post Office. During lags, I read the Inquirer, Daily News, Bulletin, Philadelphia Journal (page 7) and The Philadelphia Tribune. I probably should have been reading my textbooks but I did cultivate a love of great reporting. I rank you among my enjoyable reads of Steve Lopez, Chuck Stone, Sandy Grady and other greats.

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