By Larry Gordon
It all starts with the ability and confidence to write a first sentence like this one. Once you have that first sentence on your screen, the rest should flow from there. (Now let’s see if that is actually true.)
I think I was always enamored, not just by the ability to put words on paper, but watching them be printed, reproduced, and distributed. Sometimes I pass by a newspaper rack or box where there is a stack of 5TJT papers waiting to be picked up and I cannot help but think to myself, “Wow, that’s a lot of papers.”
Right now it seems that I am surrounded by writers, or at least people who express themselves best when facing a blank computer screen, as I was a few minutes ago, before I started typing these words.
I say surrounded, because, as you know, as a kid I was in a rather unique circumstance. My father was a writer, and as far as I can recall he was always either on the phone with rabbanim here in the U.S., or at times—even though it was costly back then—with news-making rabbinical and political personalities in Israel.
And when he was not meeting with someone on a Sunday in our living room, he was in the basement in a small room that we referred to as his “office.” That office, which I used to visit until we sold the house a few years ago, was a rather austere and even poorly heated place. There were two windows in the office but the shades were always down. There was a couch, too, but no one ever sat on it. The couch ended up being the location in his office where he piled up the editions of the newspapers he wrote for. Those papers were The Day, The Morning Journal, The Forward, The Algemeiner Journal, plus a few others. In the 1960s, The Day merged with The Morning Journal and became Der Tog Morgen Journal in Yiddish.
The way my father eventually explained it to me, the unions put these then-daily newspapers out of business. In other words, media was expanding, business was dwindling, and the typesetters, printers, and delivery truck drivers all wanted more money. That’s not a workable combination.
As in every business, there is the unavoidable need to generate income and then there is the more desirable aspect of sitting back at your desk (or on a couch that is actually used for sitting) and thinking about what subject you’d like to tackle next.
Take this subject, for example. I dreamed up this idea you are reading about during that extra hour we were afforded this past Saturday night into Sunday morning. What I really wanted to address here are the authors of two of our weekly columns that developed over these last few years. But first let me state that each of our kids possesses unique and creative talents, some in directions to which I can hardly relate.
As the grandchildren begin to grow up, we are witnessing some of those talents evolving in the next generation. For instance, a few of them have natural artistic ability to draw or paint, and they do so beautifully. That comes from my wife, who has always been a talented artist. I have trouble drawing a straight line even with a ruler. Believe it or not, when I am interviewing someone and taking notes by hand, my biggest challenge is deciphering my own handwriting later.
For now let’s limit this essay to our two homegrown writers, Malkie Hirsch and Yochanan Gordon. The main question is: where did this ability to write so well and in such a poignantly expressive fashion come from? I cannot precisely say where they got it from, but I can explore how I developed this interest that advanced into the publication you are now reading.
Many years ago, I had this odd recurring dream in which I was typing on a typewriter and watching the words appear on the front page of The New York Times as I keyed them in. I used to wake up, recall the dream, and think to myself, “Wow, that was odd.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that it was my destiny, but it seems to have worked out that way. Thank G-d, we are able to employ 23 people and manage to produce nice-looking and informative editions week after week.
I often think about how my dad evolved into journalism to the extent that he did without any professional training or vocational goals. It was a very different time, with many more obstacles but much less competition. He came to this country from Belarus with his family in 1934 at the age of 16. Within ten years he was married and working for one of those daily Yiddish papers, communicating his unique perspective on Orthodox life and the struggle to establish itself and survive in the new world.
One of my clear recollections is watching my dad on Wednesday evening reviewing advance copies of the newspaper spread across our dining-room table. I used to wonder to myself whether he was reading the very same column that he himself had written. And, I wondered quietly, if he wrote it, why did he have to read it again? I later learned that these columns go through several proofreaders, and depending on their dispositions and personalities, sometimes a sentence can be turned that changes the thrust of what the writer was trying to say.
Additionally, once your written words are in print, the piece sometimes exudes a different feel or flavor. Very often these essays are rushed because you want them to be relevant and timely, and as a result they may be hastily done to meet a deadline.
You might be questioning what the point is of reading an article you’ve written once it is already in print. The answer is that when I read my printed article I discover ideas that I wish I could have phrased or communicated differently. When that happens I try to make a mental note for the future.
Now, about those two weekly writers, Malkie and Yochanan. Most of the time I read their articles and make comments or suggest changes on occasion. When I suggest something to Malkie, she usually says something along the lines of, “You’re the editor; go ahead and edit.” Yochanan, on the other hand, takes what I say under advisement and makes the changes himself.
Malkie’s articles are inspired, as the readers know, by the challenging emotional circumstances she battled her way through. She has evolved into an outstanding writer who has crafted the ability to reach people in a deep and profound fashion. Sometimes I sit here mesmerized and awestruck when I read her words.
Yochanan is one of the most plugged-in people I know, with an uncanny ability to communicate a clear Torah message inside contemporary ideas, and that is probably the best way one can get through to people.
Yochanan is in the office with me every day as he and his brother Dovi are on our sales team. When we occasionally talk about how they got into this business, they remind me that, in essence, it is a third-generation vocation.
Was I so moved and inspired by observing my dad on the phone and at his typewriter? Or was it watching him standing at our dining-room table all those Wednesday nights, leaning on his elbows and turning pages?
My guess is that as he developed a career as a gifted and impactful writer and observer of Jewish life, he had no idea how closely he was being watched. And then as I developed this craft and made it mine over the last four decades, apparently I was being carefully observed, too.
This is the result.
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.