Jonathan A. Greenblatt

Signing off: Why I’ll miss these leading lights of Jewish journalism

The Jewish theologian David Novak once wrote, “To be a Jew, essentially and not just accidentally, is to regard the Jewish people as one’s sole primal community. Election by the unique God requires total and unconditional loyalty to one people.”

I was reminded of this passage as I learned this week of the passing of Rabbi Mark S. Golub, the trailblazing rabbi and journalist who passed away last week at 77. Rabbi Golub was best known for having created the first national Jewish television network, Shalom TV, which was later renamed the Jewish Broadcasting Service. But in his actions, pursuits and his ideals, Rabbi Golub was someone who devoted his entire life to the service of the Jewish people and to bringing our at times disparate community closer together.

For Rabbi Golub, this meant not only a fervent commitment to the religious side of Judaism, but also a belief in creating a sense of community through open, meaningful dialogue across the religious and political spectrums.

While he spent many years as a pulpit rabbi in Stamford and Greenwich, his lifelong passion project was broadcasting, which he recognized early on as a powerful tool to foster dialogue and learning. Beginning as the general manager of the campus radio station at Columbia University, and later as the publisher of “Sh’ma Magazine,” which he created to “foster Jewish wisdom,” Rabbi Golub’s lifelong mission was to enhance Jewish understanding through the power of journalism.

His greatest achievement was the creation of Shalom TV, which he founded in 2003 with a mission to strengthen Jewish identity, inspire Jewish commitment and fostering meaningful conversations. The fledgling network grew from modest beginnings into JBS – a 24/7 Jewish cable network serving 75 million households representing every major cable system in the United States. The network has brought incredible Jewish programming and Jewish and Israeli speakers to every corner of the land.

From the outset, Rabbi Golub was more than just a behind-the-scenes producer and CEO. He literally was the face of the network. His signature program “L’Chayim,” featured him in enlightening conversations with world leaders. Through his gifts for storytelling and interviewing, his program gained widespread recognition and plaudits. In 2009, Newsweek named him one of the 50 most influential rabbis in the US.

Like many Jewish leaders I had the pleasure of calling Rabbi Golub a friend. I met him shortly after I joined ADL and Rabbi Golub welcomed me with open arms. He was someone whose wisdom I valued and whose humor I enjoyed. His passing is a deep loss for our community. It means that another of the bright lights of Jewish journalism has moved on. Fortunately, he left behind an amazing legacy – hundreds of interviews and videos on YouTube that are still just a few clicks away and will allow his voice to be heard long into the future.

There was another bright light who also closed his reporter’s notebook in December: Tom Tugend. Tom was a lifelong Jewish journalist who spent years chronicling our community and its successes, follies, and foibles from his perch in Los Angeles at the Jewish Journal and for JTA.

Tom, who died at his home in Sherman Oaks, California, was one of the best of his generation. Even as he passed, he was still busy pursuing his next story.

Born in Germany at the outside of the Third Reich, he escaped to America with his family in 1939 when he was just a teenager. He was drafted to serve in the US Army at 18 and sworn in during basic training. He served in France fighting SS units alongside the 63rd Infantry Division. He would go on to enlist as a fighter in Israel’s War of Independence and, after attending journalism school at UC Berkeley, served in the Korean War.

But writing was his calling. Tom went on to work for the San Francisco, The A.P. in Spain and as a night desk reporter at the Los Angeles Times before becoming a science writer at UCLA, where he worked for nearly three decades.

Having reached retirement age at 64, Tom launched himself into the next phase of his career, earning a reputation as the dean of American Jewish journalism. Tom wrote hundreds of articles over the next 30 years exploring every subject imaginable — everything from profiling celebrities to exploring trends in Hollywood filmmaking and covering the latest news on the Academy Awards. As a Los Angeles native who had enjoyed his dispatches over the years, I was profoundly saddened to learn of his passing.

I did not know him well – we only met once back in Los Angeles – but I tip my hat to Tom and the many others whose names you might not know but who are making contributions daily to the important task of covering our own community fairly, critically and without bias. They are not preoccupied with the silliness of social media. They are consulting sources, checking facts, and doing the nuts and bolts of basic journalism that helps our people make sense of this world.

I hope you will join with me in celebrating the contributions Tom, Rabbi Golub and others have made to Jewish journalism by reading one of their stories, watching a broadcast, or subscribing to one of their publications to support this important work in 2023 and beyond.

About the Author
Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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