This column was born about 11 months ago, in which time I have tried to stay focused on sharing perspectives of this world from the inside out with you, our readers. Prior to the birth of this weekly column I had written on and off for the 5TJT over a 15-year span. As someone who earns a living selling advertising space, which requires me to effectively impart the importance of consistency in creating a lasting impact, by writing haphazardly I was in defiance of my own rule.
The decision to launch this column, while it was long overdue and would be the only way for the writer within me to fully emerge, was met with a fair share of inner turmoil and tension.
The pressure of having to organize my thoughts on a given topic to fit the narrowly defined parameters of my column was something that I knew I needed to do but was agonizing at the same time. I took solace in the fact that the world was busy enough, even pre-election and pre-pandemic, to find things to write about from a unique vantage point. However, it was not so much a question of finding things to write about as much as it was a question of producing material that people would be drawn towards consuming.
Once I mustered the courage to clear that hurdle, I was met by the next challenge, which I believe many writers and educators find themselves grappling with: why would anyone be interested in my opinion on various topics when there are writers, educators, and political pundits whose lives have been dedicated to their specific disciplines and whose opinions on these topics are more authoritative than my own?
This brought into focus a story I heard related by Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson that really resonated with me. Rabbi Jacobson had articulated this very struggle in his own life, saying that he had confided in his mentor regarding having anxiety upon coming to the realization that he had shared everything he had to offer. For someone whose livelihood is dependent on the spoken word and the manner in which it is presented, that is a truly sobering reality. His mentor shared the following story.
The Ba’al HaTanya was alone with his rebbetzin in their apartment when a convocation of his colleagues, fellow students of their revered rebbe, the Maggid, who had not long before passed away, came to accept him as their rebbe’s successor. As he saw them approaching from a distance, he lamented to his rebbetzin that he did not know what they wanted from him.
His rebbetzin replied, “They are not interested in anything from you. All they want is for you to teach them what your rebbe taught you.
The Ba’al HaTanya replied, “If that’s the case, I can talk without end.”
He continued with an idea that the Maggid of Mezeritch wrote on the verse in Melachim, “And now, take for me a musician; and it will be when the musician played that the hand of G-d will be upon him.” There is something interesting in the syntax of this verse that begs for exegesis, and the Maggid brings out a profound idea. He teaches that a “nagen” is an instrument and a “menagen” is a singer or a musician. The difference between a singer and a musician is that a singer sings songs that he or she is not necessarily one with. An instrument, however, is one with the tune that it produces. The Maggid goes on to explain that often we find students who don’t connect with the lessons of their teachers, or children who don’t follow in the footsteps of their parents, due to a disingenuousness in the way they are teaching. The hand of G-d rests on he or she who quits singing and begins playing.
This mentor then went on to tell Rabbi Jacobson that if he was sharing his own ideas with his worldwide audience, then his fears are real and will inevitably one day be realized. However, if he is teaching what his rebbe taught him, then he will never run out of things with which to educate his audience.
When this newspaper began back in the year 2000, it was the first of its kind, at least in the Five Towns. There were other newspapers, but this was the first Jewish newspaper that in addition to reporting news was meant to unite the disparate communities that it had come to represent.
In the interim, many newspapers and magazines have appeared, both locally and abroad, but there is something unique about the 5TJT as a whole and particularly the ideas expressed in this column, as well as those expressed by my esteemed father and older sister Malkie on a weekly basis.
Our father, who started this newspaper over 20 years ago, had maintained a weekly column in an English section in the Algemeiner Journal, the newspaper in which his father wrote weekly for decades, so Malkie and I are second- and third-generation journalists. Chazal state “V’ha’chut ha’meshulash lo b’meheirah yinateik,” which means, “A three-strand rope will not quickly be broken.”
I previously articulated an uncertainty many writers have about who is reading their writing and how great of an impact their ideas are actually having due to the qualifications of professionals whose research, ideas, and opinions in their areas of expertise are perhaps more authoritative. However, the difference perhaps between me and these professionals in this context is that journalism flows deeply within my blood. So while I may at times venture into areas that I am not proficient in, the opinions that I render do not begin and end with me but date back to my grandfather and come with the power of my father, which is where its uniqueness lies.
In a similar vein, while I don’t find myself often having to distinguish this newspaper from some of the others, when I do, I explain that there are people who go into media to earn a living and then there are people who go into media because they can’t see themselves doing anything else.
While I am invoking the memory of my grandfather, Nison Gordon, I should mention that his 31st yahrzeit will be observed on the sixth night of Chanukah, as many avid readers of this newspaper are surely aware and will be reminded of again between now and then. My father, although he did write in the Algemeiner Journal for a number of years, worked primarily in telemarketing before starting this newspaper. He always told me that his father discouraged him from going into journalism, probably because he didn’t own the newspaper that he wrote for and he just didn’t want my father to have to work alongside him in a newspaper that he himself didn’t own. But as Chazal say about Torah, it ends up returning to its host, and in this case it worked with journalism as well; despite an interruption in time, we ended up coming back to it and continue to do what is part of our very being.
G-d commenced the Ten Commandments with the word “Anochi,” which Chazal explain is an acrostic of the words “Ana Nafshi Ksavis Yehavis — I have given over myself in my writings.” If there was one thing that I had to point to with surety in my weekly reflections, it is just that — I leave you with my essence.
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at email@example.com.