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.
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.
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.