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I chat by phone with Gene Lichtenstein Friday afternoon, June 25, 2004. I run down my list of previous interviews, including Gary Rosenblatt.

"I would think that Gary is as knowledgeable as anyone."

"Yeah. He also gave me the least. He gave me nothing. It was a complete wash, but it's a good get. I didn't get any information from him, but yeah, I can tell everybody that I interviewed Gary. Here's what he said."

"If you interview Gary, all the doors will be open."

"Even though he might as well have just spoken about the weather for 30 minutes. It was so nothing, so safe. It was the worst interview I've done."

"I'm willing to be interviewed but I am not a good yardstick of Jewish journalism. All of the editors of Jewish newspapers I know are all Jewish in a way that I am not. They're observant Jews. They live in a Jewish world. All their friends are Jewish. All the people they see at parties are Jewish. Their wives are Jewish. They look at Judaism and Israel and being a Jew in America from a different perspective than I do. I don't belong to a synagogue. I never have. My children were not bar mitzvahed. I don't belong to Jewish organizations and I don't live in a Jewish world. Gary is Orthodox. They all go to synagogue on Yom Kippur. I don't. They are all committed to Judaism and I'm not. I'm not even a rebel. It's just a fluke that I edited a Jewish newspaper."

I meet Gene Lichtenstein at the Farmers Market near Fairfax Blvd on Thursday morning, July 1, 2004.

His hands move constantly during our interview, gesturing, scratching, emphasizing points.

He talks about his time creating The Jewish Journal of the North Shore for a Boston-area Jewish Federation (1983-85). "I had enough run-ins with the Federation and with a couple of people on the board who were ardent Zionists. I'm not a Zionist."

"Would you prefer a binational state?"

"I don't know. I'm certainly opposed to what Israel is doing. If I had to choose between a Jewish state and a democratic state, I'd choose a democratic one.

"I was at an 84th birthday party for Stanley Sheinbaum. I was sitting at a table with bright liberal Jews. We were all with Peace Now. Soon we were talking about this issue. I said something about in America, do you think of yourself as a Jew first or an American first? This smart young woman who'd helped run Tom Hayden's campaign and was in Peace Now as an activist, said, I'm a Jew first. I almost fell out of the chair. I said that I think of myself first as an American.

"That question assumes that I have a stake in Israel and I don't feel like I have a stake in Israel.

"When I started the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, I did not know Jewish Los Angeles. The paper was controversial. One, my stance on certain issues was not something the community accepted. And it was community-based enough. I was more interested in foreign, national, political and cultural issues. I was not interested enough in local news. If you look at the Northern California Jewish Bulletin, you'll see that that's a local paper. And that's what the community expected.

"Also, I was naive about certain issue. I remember devoting an early issue to intermarriage. I thought it was a joke. I couldn't imagine that in 1986, people would take intermarriage seriously. I had a great Roy Lichtenstein-style cartoon with balloons coming out and a story that made a joke of the whole thing. The publisher said, boy, you really put your foot in it.

"I was up front with my lack of knowledge of Judaism. He said, we'll get you up to snuff. Well, I learned pretty fast."

"What did you get the most hate mail over?"

"Not attacking the Palestinians. The first Intifada occurred. There was a small Peace Now demonstration and Orthodox Rabbi Abner Weiss led a counter-demonstration with placards and drowned them out and wouldn't let them speak. A lot of people said the Peace Now people should keep quiet and not criticize Israel. I wrote an editorial saying that silence was a form of speech. And that's everything that America is opposed to. If you felt Israel was wrong, not to speak to was to join the other side and to give up your responsibility as a concerned citizen to exercise your voice.

"The paper got known to be too liberal. I didn't think it was liberal at all. I would always publish other views. Rabbi Harold Schulweis wrote this piece attacking me. I published it. He later called me and said, 'My wife says you were right.'

"Yehuda Lev had been considered for the editorship of the paper and almost got it. I hired two people who were up for the job and I hired them both -- Yehuda and Marlene Marks. Yehuda couldn't get over that I had hired the competition.

"Yehuda was liberal and left. He was against bureaucracy and authority. He was very critical of Jewish organizations. He often got his facts wrong. I didn't know that at first. I learned the hard way. But he was a good writer. I got pressured to fire him. Finally, the implication was fire him or you go, but I didn't fire him."

"What about hiring Teresa Strasser?"

"That was my idea. Teresa had lived in San Francisco and done book reviews and pieces for them. She came down here and was looking for something. I said, why don't you write about being a single Jewish woman in LA. She said, can I really do that? I said of course. But I want to give you the first three subjects. Write about your mother. So she wrote this piece about her mother taking her at age 14 to get fitted for a diaphragm. We got a lot of mail for that."

Gene laughs. "More con than pro. I thought her stuff was so good, other newspaper would pick it up. I paid her more than I could afford. I told her, I know you can't live on what we pay so I'm going to give you double. But when we sell it, I want a little back. She said fine. Well, no paper would print her. They all said, what's so Jewish about this?

"We wrote a piece about Israel Bonds and we got a lot of antagonism for that. It was mostly the stuff on Israel that got most of the complaints.

"When Salam-Al Marayiti, the head of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, was selected [around 1999] by Richard Gephardt to serve on the anti-terrorist committee. The Jewish community exploded against that. How can a Muslim... I called Salam and interviewed him. I wrote a piece that he reflected a Muslim perspective and there's nothing wrong with that. And for the Jewish community to object was unfair. We should endorse it. We were the only Jewish newspaper that said so. And Gephardt yanked him.

"I learned about Judaism. I went to Israel every year and interviewed Peres, Sharon, Rabin.

"My criticism of Jewish organizations and Jewish identity issues was that American Jews thought of themselves too often as victims. They were sold this to solidify the community.

"When I grew up, you did not apologize for being an anti-Semite. That was given. Jews were outsiders. True, but I was never a victim. I was never willing to concede that I couldn't move freely and compete. Jewish community papers too often confirm that sense of victimhood. I saw my role as leading the Jewish community into America. You could still live in a Jewish community but not be too distrustful of Americans. You could move freely back and forth. I chose to live freely. Most of my readers chose to live in the Jewish community. That's fine. I just wanted them to feel that the doors were open.

"I had a series of lunches with a wealthy powerful Jewish realtor in LA. He was at the center of the Jewish community. He told me at one of these lunches that if Hubert Humphrey had won [in 1968], he would've been the first secretary of HUD. He'd been very critical of the paper and tried to shut it down and almost succeeded [circa 1995]. He brought it up at the Federation."

"His primary problem with the paper was?"

"Israel. He said to me at lunch at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, you can't have confusion. You can't have different views. You can't have them question. In the end, you can't trust the Gentiles.

"I almost fell out of my chair."

"Did he say goyim or Gentiles?"

"I don't know. I hate that word goyim, so I block on it."

"Do you hate the word shiksa?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Shaygetz?"

"Yeah, I do not like those words."

"Kike?"

"I do not like that. Schvartze. I do not like that. Never use those words.

"I heard that [you can't trust the Gentiles] again and again from wealthy self-made Jews in LA. I opposed that view. You can't trust some Gentiles but I can say the same thing about Jews. That was the central clashing point. I saw my role as educating the reader so that he could see America as a safe open place with some anti-Semitism.

"Anti-Semites are now the people out of power. They lack the education and the skills. They're not modernists. Society has bypassed them."

"How much of your vision did you get to fulfill?"

"It was in the paper most issues. My being a psychologist helped. I didn't try to be politically didact. I'd write something agreeing with the people I disagreed with. It's called feeding the symptom. Yes, this is the way people feel. And therefore, and then the hook.

"It's ok to be frightened of elevators or to fear that your next-door-neighbor is out to get you. He often is. So it's sensible... It's called paradoxical intervention in therapy.

"If the consequence of your fear is that you never go outside your house, perhaps it would be better to find a way to go outside your house and at the same time understand that your neighbor may not like you.

"Paul Conrad of The Los Angeles Times did a series of cartoons [against Israel during the first Intifada]. The Federation and the synagogues ordered a boycott of The LA Times. They asked their membership to cancel their subscriptions. I didn't know Conrad. I went down and spent an afternoon interviewing him. In the next issue of the Jewish Journal, Conrad's cartoons were on the cover of the paper. I wrote a piece about Conrad saying he was a populist from the Midwest and how incensed he was at social injustice and civil rights. How he drew cartoons against anti-Semites and anti-Blacks. He saw Palestinians vs Israel as a civil rights issue. He saw the Palestinians as the blacks. He was not an anti-Semite. Boycotting The LA Times was foolish and Conrad was getting a bad rap.

"The Federation had a meeting with The LA Times a week or so later and The Times editor pulled out the Jewish Journal and said, well, not everyone in the Jewish community feels that way. Look. Stanley Hirsh was the president of the Federation then. That was a hot issue.

"Stanley Hirsh became the publisher when Ed Brennglass died (1999)."

"What were the dynamics behind Stanley giving you the hook?"

"Stanley was like a bull in a china shop. A self-made man, he was aggressive and sensitive and defensive about the other presidents of the Federation who were lawyers, accountants and doctors. In cultural class and manner, Stanley was roughhewn and he boasted about that. I was defined by him, correctly, as an intellectual. That was negative from his point of view.

"When he became publisher, I thought it wasn't going to work. To my surprise, it worked well. Ed Brennglass ran a tight ship. Stanley asked me what we need. The paper had become profitable and all the money had gone to charity. I said we can't go on this way. We have to pour some of the money back into the paper. I want raises for the staff and hire a couple of people. He said, do it.

"We spent the money. The next year, our expenses zoomed. He said, you've got to cut back. I found ways to cut back $100,000, which is what we had ballooned up. In January 2000, he came to me, liking the kudos the paper had received. He said the paper is a success due to you. I'm giving you a $10,000 raise. I'd put in requests for raises for everyone and he had been tight on that. I was putting in for $500, $1000 and $2000 raises for the staff but not me.

"Then, over the next six months, how do I say this? Two things happened. Critics of the paper who said we weren't covering the community well enough reached him. He felt that. Second, he wanted editorial control. He'd say, I want this on the cover. Why don't you do this story? He was a forceful personality. He wanted to demonstrate that he was the boss of the whole thing. It came out in ugly ways at meetings in our office. He did get out of control."

"Did he think Rob would be more malleable?"

"Stanley called me in and fired me in September 2000. He said, it isn't working out. You don't listen to my orders. It's not a community newspaper. I said, you gave me a $10,000 raise six months ago. What's changed? Has the paper changed in six months? No. So, we haggled over what he would give me as a severance. This was in the middle of the week. He asked me to clear out my desk by Friday. I said I'd rather do it on Saturday. He said fine.

"On Sunday, I get a call from Stanley. He wanted to know if I had time for a cup of coffee. I said yeah. He said, where do you live? I'll meet you. I said OK

"He'd called Rob down on Friday about becoming the editor. I thought Rob would become a great editor.

"Stanley said, I'll get to it right away. You had said to me, let me stay until Christmas. That will give me a chance to find something else. I had said no. I want to change my mind. So you want to stay until the new year? Yes. And you will look for another editor? Exactly. The same terms of severance will stand.

"I said, why? He said, well, Rob came by the office on Friday. And he's worse than you are. He wants his own way. I'm going to hire someone else. I thought about it for a day. I called Rob to ask what was going on. Rob told me. He went down there and told Stanley that he wanted a raise and he wanted to do this and that. I thought Rob deserved it. I thought he could do the job and do it well. He had a different approach from mine. He was a part of the community. Even at the end of 16 years, I was not really a part of the community. I still didn't belong to a synagogue. His wife was a [Conservative] rabbi.

"I felt like without Rob or me, he could not put out a paper.

"I called Stanley on Monday and said no. I did have an ace in the hole. I had gotten a call that weekend from JJ Goldberg. 'I hear you're leaving and would you cover the presidential elections for me.' He wasn't going to give me my [Journal] salary but it was something.

"He couldn't fire Rob. Rob said, if he doesn't make me the editor, I'm quitting. He had to hire Rob. He couldn't deal with shutting down the paper. The word would've gotten out that he had fired me and Rob. Rob's parents belong to the Hillside Country Club. His father was an advertising executive. Yeah, they're wealthy."

"His brother is very wealthy. He lives in Sun Valley, Idaho. He's a broker. His sister has a wealthy husband and they live outside of Stanford. Rob's wife has a good income from her books."

"I interviewed Sheldon Teitelbaum. He had some critical things to say about you. Maybe you could look them over?"

"I'm sure he did."

I give Gene my three-page transcript of my Sheldon interview.

Here are excerpts:

Sheli: "[Gene had] been an editor at Esquire. He was a New York Jewish intellectual. He'd never belong to a synagogue or have any pronounced interest in Israel, so far as I knew. He was of that generation that prized people like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, and Mordecai Richler. [Gene knew all of those writers but Mailer.] He was new to town. He had no sense of the community, not that any of us did.

"I volunteered to make my niche covering anything that had to do with Israel. Within my first month, I wrote an article about Dennis Prager, who was the head of a major program at Brandeis Bardin. I remember Gene coming back to me that he had run into Barbi Weinstein [the first female president of the Federation who sat on the Journal's four man editorial board, married to Larry]. She'd read my piece and insisted that it was not possible that whoever made whatever quote was made. I explained to Gene that I had learned early in my career never to go anywhere without a tape recorder. I immediately come home after an interview and transcribe it. I never use a notepad. I find that it helps with accuracy. Also, when you interview someone, you're not always listening. Your mind is racing. You're dealing with noise. You're thinking of your next question. I found it is helpful to listen a second time.

"I told Gene that I had the tape. I have the transcript. As a journalist, I'd learned that was all you needed. His response was that it was not the truth or accuracy that he was interested in, it was the impression ostensibly made of somebody who is hostile. I said I was not hostile. You can hear it on the tape. I was just having a nice chat. He would not check it. His line from then on, 'I'm more interested in the impression you make in the community than in your craft and your veracity.'"

"He didn't want you to rock the boat."

"Depends who's boat. He wouldn't mind rocking boats he didn't have a foot in. With impunity, he could've run pieces against Marvin Hier and the Wiesenthal Center. He could've written critically of Chabad. Nobody [at the Federation] would've said a word. But there were things that were the bailiwicks of the machers. The paper's independence was nonsense. It was never independent. The Federation put up the money and agreed to buy a set number of issues.

"There was a time that I couldn't bear to read the paper because I thought it was a crock of s---. It's not the case under the stewardship of Rob Eshman [present editor].

"I had a visceral response to Gene's refusal to back us. I had just come out of the Israeli army, where your commander says follow me. He doesn't send you ahead of him. He sets the tone and pulls you forward. He's responsible for you if you cut your finger. And nobody's left behind. That was the credo I internalized during my five years in the army and afterwards in the reserves. It shocked me to see an editor, in the first month, not only fold in front of the community, but offer up his own people as sacrificial lambs. I was gone within eight months. I got an offer from USC that paid better."

Gene: "That was the second or third issue of the paper. Brandeis-Bardin had been the institute that everyone on the board [of the Journal] had become a member of. Shlomo Bardin had gotten them interested in Judaism. It was their alma mater. Sheldon's piece attacked Prager and the Bardin board for letting him go on and not wanting to air the dirty linen of Prager being a terrible head of Brandeis Bardin.

"So Barbie, a member of the four-member editorial board, was hostile and critical. She wanted me to kill the story or hear the tapes. I asked Sheldon about the tapes. I was getting a lot of heat on that piece. I said to her, I have the tapes. She said, I want to listen to them. I said why? I can't allow that. She got very angry and offended. I stood up to them. She then demanded at the editorial board be able to read my editorials and any piece that they wanted prior to publication. I said no. If you do that, you don't need me. You need an efficient managing editor who can process the paper. So you should let me go. That was my way of saying I was going to resign.

"They took a vote. They came down on my side. She resigned.

"I listened to the tape. I told Sheldon that his questions were very aggressive and very hostile. I said to him that I'd interviewed many people and been in on many interviews, but I had never heard any interview as hostile and aggressive as that. I think you ought to change your way of doing it.

"He didn't hear me.

"I found his writing dense. Because of my experience at Esquire, I was much more interested in good writing than in journalism. Each one of these people -- Steve was a wonderful writer. Yehuda was a good writer. Tom Waldman was a decent writer. Sheldon, a reporter, was too dense and I had a hard time getting through his pieces. Too many facts compressed. You had to get into it and push and it was too much work.

"He was very ambitious. He wanted to do everything. He said, I want to write a column about Israel. I said great. He'd say, I want to do this. I'd say great. He'd say, I want to do that. I'd say great. I'd read the material and say, this doesn't work, and I began to peel back.

"He came into my office one day. I think he lasted about a year. He said, I'm having a problem with you. I said, let's talk about it. My office is always open. What is it?

"He said you let me do this and then you don't run it. I said, I'm having a hard time with the writing. You get a lot of facts and you're really energetic but you're writing is too dense. It requires too much editing time for me. They're very hard to edit. I'm doing this alone. I'm doing this alone. I don't have the time to give it the editing it needs.

"It is true that I did not want him to rock the boat, but when he did, I really stood up for him. And this happened with other stories."

Sheli: "The second thing that drove me crazy about Gene was that he had no feeling for Israel. He admitted it. He even said to me, 'Our readers have little interest in reading about Israel.' He'd never even been to Israel before he took the job, as far as I recall. After a few freebie trips, he became the Sunday morning pundit. He didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

Gene didn't have any feeling for Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. The only one who used to write about it was Yehuda Lev who was to the left of Tommy Lapid [an opponent of Orthodox sway in politics].

"If you have enough confidence as an editor to hire people, you should back them. If you can't back them, you should fire them. Gene did neither, but he was livid when I ran screaming into the night. I left after he told me he was promoting me.

I left the Journal after a two week vacation spent interviewing at USC. Upon my return, Gene called me in and said he had thought long and hard, and was going to beef up the Israel coverage and was naming me an associate editor. Now this can be construed as he said, she said except for one thing. Tom Waldman and a woman working there by the name of Amy, whom I can still reach, were privy to my looking for a job because I couldn't stand working there. Indeed, Amy and Tom argued endlessly over whether it was appropriate for me to have used my vacation in this fashion. Amy was of the opinion that it was not, no matter what the reason. A very strange case to make in a country that only allows you two weeks a year of free time. In any event, once I got to USC I got Tom a job there, as he was unhappy at the paper. Both of them can and will attest that Gene did not fire me. Naomi, meanwhile, tells the story that Gene was so livid when I came in and turned in my notice that he said "I want him out of here now, not in two weeks." Why would he be livid if he had gently suggested I look for work elsewhere? It was because after hearing him out about his plans for me and the paper, I said sorry Gene, but I am out of here.

"If I had the type of relationship with Gene that he and I both attest to, why would I ever be confiding in the guy? He just loved psycho-analyzing me. And he's still doing it to this day."

Gene: "The paper was independent. I ran a lot of stories the board objected to. We ran a piece critical of Marvin Hier and the Wiesenthal Center by Yehuda Lev. Marvin was furious. I offered to come down to meet him. He read me the riot act. A lot of members of my board were on the board of the Wiesenthal Center.

"I listened and said, you're telling me that this is wrong and this is wrong and this is wrong in the article. As well as the tone. He said yes. I said, let me check. I went back and checked. The tone was hostile but the facts were wrong. I called him and apologized. You're absolutely right. It's my fault. I should've checked. I want you to promise to call me every time we run a piece on the Wiesenthal Center to let me know if the facts are right.

"I did not offer to promote Sheldon."

Sheldon writes:

Let me tell you the quintessential Gene story. When I went for my interview, the first thing he asked was, "How can you justify, as an American citizen, having served in a foreign army?" Talk about flummoxed! First, I said, I was not a US citizen. Second, I was drafted. Third, most Jews do not consider Israel a foreign country in the sense he meant. No goy has ever asked me that question in 20 years here. But the editor of the major Jewish paper for the second biggest Jewish community did. I knew I was in trouble then and there.

"Did you go to any AJPA meetings?"

"Yeah."

"What adjectives would you use to describe them?"

"They were sort of dull."

"Terribly dull."

"There were about a half dozen people I liked. The rest of the people represented small town community papers and I felt their views were dominant because there were more of them. That was not what I was interested in. Marc Klein put out a paper in San Francisco that I didn't like. Their interests and my interests were not congruent. I'm not sure I was right. I felt we didn't do a good enough job publishing community news.

"We published wedding announcements when people married non-Jews. That was controversial."

"Were there any great stories during your tenure that you couldn't get in the paper?"

"There was one story that I killed [circa 1988] but not through pressure. My killing it was unpopular. Naomi Pfefferman, who I had hired, had done a long piece about the University of Judaism. There was a female professor there, a poet [Marsha Falk], who was popular among the students and had published a lot and had a PhD. When it came time for tenure, the president David Lieber, vetoed her tenure. He was popular and he was leaving. He was a humane decent man but he had a hard time with women. The faculty had been for her. There were some ugly incidents concerning students who had protested. Naomi had done a terrific job. We had the story. I regret that we didn't run it.

"I got calls from people on the board of the University of Judaism. Kill the story. They hadn't read it.

"I did some background. He [Dr. David Lieber] said to me, 'I can't bear this woman. She was obnoxious.' If we ran the story in its entirety, we would've had to come out with the reason she was denied tenure -- that the president and some of the faculty found her obnoxious. They didn't want her as a colleague.

"I should've run it but I didn't want to hurt her feelings."

"She didn't realize that?"

"No. Nor did Naomi. People thought I was knuckling under. The poet had had dinner at my house. In fairness to David Lieber, I would've had to say that, so I killed the story. If I were working at The New York Times, I wouldn't have killed the story, but I felt that a community newspaper has an obligation to people in the community to not hurt them unnecessarily. That is not a journalistic view."

Dr. David Lieber replies to my inquiry on this matter:

I am sorry that a legal agreement we reached with the professor in question precludes me from divulging the details of the case. All I can say is that an academic review committee of her peers, including a distinguished professor in her field from another university, voted unanimously not to recommend her for tenure.

Mr. Lichtenstein was a very competent editor. The same cannot be said of many of his "journalists," most of whom were part-time and did not know how to research a story. Thus the writer in question never interviewed either me or the dean of the school in which the professor taught, nor did she inquire about the circumstances of the professor's leaving the university at which she taught prior to coming to the University of Judaism.

"I changed one story," says Gene. "I ran a story about a rabbi who had been a rabbi [Robert Kirschner] in San Francisco and had been caught out sexually. He came down one summer to teach at HUC. He turned out the dean at HUC and he were buddies. That nobody on the faculty nor the students had been consulted. So we wrote the story outing him and the dean. They rescinded the offer or he backed out. We did it in full.

"Then, about three years later, when he was at the Skirball, Debra Nussbaum Cohen did a series on sex and the rabbinate. About five pieces. We ran them as one long piece. There was a lot about him. We had already run that in the HUC story. We mentioned him in passing but we didn't replay.

"The author [Debra Nussbaum Cohen says it was not her on the phone to Gene, she remembers no such conversation] sent me a hot letter and sent a short piece to [Buzz] magazine that we had knuckled under to the Skirball, which was not true. I called her, you're wrong. She said, why wouldn't you run it? I said, we already did it. I didn't see the need to shoot him again. He has a full-time job. She said, no, you're just chicken. You're just knuckling under. I said, why are you so aggressive on this point? She said, well, I'm the voice of his wife. I'm speaking out in defense of his wife.

[Debra says she would never speak this way. She considers such an approach to journalism to be unprofessional.]

"I said, boy, who appointed you to that job. She said, you don't understand. I said, let me suggest something to you as the defendant. If he doesn't have a job at the Skirball, he's living with his mother because he's paying everything in alimony, his wife's income is going to be cut. As her defendant, you should think about that. She didn't reply.

"I didn't knuckle under. I'm sure I toned some things down when pressure was applied. But on major issues, we ran the stories. Sheldon did not have to edit [for content] except when it was too dense [stylistically]."

I tell Gene that Debra disputes that such a conversation ever took place. I press him for more details. He writes:

This is what I recall. Telling her how much I admired her series on sex and the rabbis. We condensed the series into one or two pieces, probably one long story and featured it on the cover. I thought she would be pleased. Instead she complained that we and many other papers backed away from the series. She had critical words about our avoiding the rabbi in our own backyard---i.e. Kirschner---and implied that we did not want to alienate someone---I don't remember whether it was Uri Herscher at the Skirball or the rabbinate in LA that she had in mind; perhaps the point was made clearer in the short piece she did for [Buzz].

Somewhere in our conversation she indicated that in the series she had in effect spoken up for Mrs. Kirschner and all the other betrayed women. I was surprised. She was explicit---I remember that because I thought she was claiming a lot for herself and was unaware of the possible consequences; namely, if Kirschner was out of a job, his child support payments might dwindle and his wife would not be helped at all. I don't know if that was a real consequence or not, just that it crossed my mind, though I did not argue the point. Somewhere in all of this---at that time (I believe) or another time---I remember meeting Deborah Nussbaum Cohen; my recollection is that she was in town and came by the office. It was the only time I ever met or saw her and if need be could describe her in a general way to you.

I supply this to Debra Nussbaum Cohen who replies:

Ah, you're stirring the deep recesses of my memory with all of this old stuff.... I did visit LA and the offices of the Jewish Journal at some point years ago (I don't remember precisely what year it was) and I remember being happy to meet a columnist of theirs whose work I admired -- her name was Marlene Adler Marks. I have no memory of any meeting with Gene, though it is possible we said hello if he was there while I was at the office. What I most recall about that trip, particularly during my visit to the Jewish Journal office, is that I had the highest fever of my adult life and was feeling seriously sick -- woozy and groggy and sweaty etc.... I remember asking Marlene for some Tylenol but she didn't have any. Though I had a speaking gig booked that night, I believe, I had to cancel it and I went straight to the airport from the Jewish Journal office. I rebooked my flight and went straight from the airport to the doctor's office upon my arrival in New York....it was also memorable because I felt so terrible and the doctor kind of blew me off saying it was just a bug....the next morning I went to a holistic MD, got my first acupuncture treatment while sick (I'd tried to induce labor with my overdue first-born that way) and felt my fever go down while I still had the acupuncture needles in me.

You can see that I have a pretty good memory for specifics, yet I do not recall ever having any conversation with Gene Licthtenstein like the one he cites...I did, however, write a piece after the JTA series ran for BUZZ magazine (not the LA Times) related to it and might have spoken with him for that....I frankly don't remember, and I don't believe I've ever said what he cites me as saying....

You will do what you wish with all this, I suppose, but a) I have no interest in getting into a back-and-forth with Gene about something that may or may not have happened so long ago and b) it wouldn't be very responsible to publish as fact a purported conversation that one of the supposed participants has no memory of, and that the other has a faulty memory of at best -- he doesn't remember the name of the magazine [Gene said Los Angeles Magazine when it was Buzz] the article was in, he doesn't remember if we spoke in person or by phone, why would you trust that he remembers what he believes I said correctly? In any case, it's not the type of thing I have ever said or can imagine saying....

Gene writes me 7/1/04:

Thank you for not asking me "what do you think of [Rob's] editorship of the Journal," which is not an infrequent question. For the record, I think he's a terrific editor and is doing a great job.

Good writing was the central focus of the Journal when I started it. My judgments may have been faulty, but the concern was paramount. Steve Weinstein, for example, was a writer, not a journalist. He was lured away from The Journal within a year by the LA Times to write features about popular culture; Joe Domanick had no reporting experience either, but turned out to be an exceptionally good reporter and magazine writer. He was pulled away by the LA Weekly and the LA Times.

Columnists were seen by me as writers who would serve as the spine of the paper. I started with Yehuda Lev, who was a wonderful writer. By the time he moved to Rhode Island, he was old and tired and spent, though occasionally produced something wonderful. Marlene Marks, who had wanted to be the editor of the paper, came by about a year after we had been publishing. Her husband had just died. She wrote two rather boring, sophmoric pieces about Judaism and the community, which I turned down. I told her to write about being in the hospital when she heard that her husband had died, and her anger at the doctors and rabbi, etc. She did, and was off and running. Her columns were about herself and women and being a single mother in LA, and in the first few years they were pretty terrific. Later she became a celebrity and her columns were a bit ponderous and full of herself. During the last year that I was at the paper, I couldn't bear to read them and asked Rob to take over the responsibility (this was before she developed cancer).

Anyway, I could cite many other writers---Steve Leder, David Margolis, Dov Aharoni, JJ Goldberg, Teresa Strasser, Rob Eshman, Eric Silver, Helen Davis--all of whom I brought to the paper because of their writing. Stephen Leder, who is rabbi at Wilshire Blvd. Temple, was then an assistant rabbi who wrote the Torah Portion, which had been guarded by the Board of Rabbis, who zealously made sure every rabbi who wanted got a shot at it. Most of the writing was dreadful until Leder came along; at which point I dispensed with the Board and signed him on. Read some of his columns; they were very good. The Federation, the Board, the publisher of the newspaper all pressured me to rotate, but I stayed with Steve until he had to bow out because of time.

The same thing applied to Dov Aharoni, an extreme right wing Orthodox rabbi. I don't think he and I agreed on a single issue; but he was a wonderful writer. The Federation in the person of Stanley Hirsh, who was also a member of the newspaper's board of directors, pressed me not to run him: He was too extreme, too divisive. We kept publishing him until he withdrew to attend law school. Even when it came to hiring reporters, such as Naomi Pfefferman and Julie Fax, good writing was a central factor.

I approached JJ Goldberg and asked if he'd write for us if I could put together a consortium of Jewish newspapers to pay him a decent salary. He agreed and I called David Twersky, who then edited the NJ newspaper, and asked him to help line up some papers. That's how JJ came to write a column.

On the other hand, [a right-winger], who has a large following in LA, asked if he could write a column for us. I had published a few pieces by him, but found his writing pompous, overblown and boring. I turned him down because of the writing, though he was convinced it was because I disagreed with him about policy. What he didn't understand was that I was desperate for good writers on the right (Aharoni was a case in point), but unwilling to publish bad writing.

I ask Gene via email: "Publisher Stanley Hirsh wanted a gossip column. Why did you not give him one?"

Gene replies:

Several reasons: First, Stanley was always pressing to put his foot in the editorial door, usually by floating suggestions that were passed along to him by friends at lunch. I was chary of encouraging this.

Second, his suggestion did not necessarily exclude people who were his friends or acquaintances, of whom there were many. More than once he pushed me to run an interview with someone he knew, or to whom he owed a favor, and he wanted that story published in a favorable light. Ted Stein, an ambitious opportunist, was one example. Stanley was after me to get a story that showed all the good things he did for the Jewish community. That was just one example. But it was his mantra---stories about people who make a contribution to the Jewish community. Happy stories for happy people is the way I thought of them, and I tried my best to resist.

Third, behind the notion of a gossip column was his idea that this would win friends and influence people in the community; namely, it was meant to be a feelgood column; who was seen at which parties. I had told Deborah Berger---she was a psychologist who wrote our advice column--- that I did not want a lot of one-upsman psychologizing in the column, and that she should tell readers, when appropriate, to pull up their own socks; an occasional rap across the knuckles, I told her. If we ran a gossip column, I wanted it to have a bit of a sting. That was not what Stanley (or the newspaper's board) wanted. I just saw him calling me all the time and telling me which parties were taking place and to send someone over. Not for me.

Finally, no one on the staff could do it properly; or had the contacts (maybe Tom Tugend, but it was not something he would want to do, and besides he was married and on a low half-time salary). So it meant hiring someone with money we did not have. Among my list of priorities---given all the booby traps I saw---this ranked low. But it was high on Stanley's list.

Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, writes 7/14/04: "I just read Geneís interview with you. Really interesting. I canít imagine that outside of me, you and Gene anyone would be interested, but I appreciate your doing it. Gene is thoughtful and independent, and much of what is good about the paper was his doing. BTW, he was wrong on most, if not all, the facts concerning my family and its Rothschildean wealth. But as we sat around the 17th century Carerra marble mantle piece in the family library on the ancestral Eshman manse next door to the Heinzís little place, we all had a good, rich laugh."