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Jewish Journal

An Unexpected Love

by Marc Ballon

June 29, 2006 | 8:01 pm

When I joined The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles in late 2002 after 3 1/2 tumultuous years at the Los Angeles Times, I expected to stay at the paper a maximum of six months. My plan was to use The Journal as a safe haven while I hunted for a prestige magazine gig. After all, I considered myself a "real" journalist who had also logged time at such publications as Inc. magazine and Forbes. I thought I belonged at the Economist or U.S. News -- not at a small-circulation community newspaper. But a funny thing happened on my way out the door. I fell in love with The Jewish Journal and nearly everything about it, including the myriad opinionated readers who never hesitate to let me know when they think I've blown it. Far from serving as a springboard to bigger and better things, the job has proven the biggest and best position I've had in my 16 years as a reporter.

At the L.A. Times, I dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent. Visions of India, Ethiopia and France danced in my head. However, I only made it as far north as San Luis Obispo and as far south as San Diego while working there. At The Journal, by contrast, I have visited three countries, with more adventures sure to come. I witnessed the rebirth of Judaism in Russia after seven long decades of communist darkness. In Ukraine, I braved sub-zero temperatures to place a wreath on a memorial in Babi Yar for my 100,000 fallen Jewish brothers and sisters gunned down by Nazis. In Israel, which I had never before visited, I felt oneness with my people, an inexplicable kinship and pride that both surprised and delighted me. I cried when I saw the Western Wall.

At the paper, I have had the luxury to write about subjects ranging from business to politics to the arts. I have had the support of my editors to take chances with my writing and, in the process, I feel I have developed my own voice. My position as a chronicler of local Jewish life has allowed me to explore my roots and deepen my knowledge about Judaism. What I once thought of as a punitive religion full of Sturm und Drang, I now realize embodies the love, compassion and hope to heal both the material and spiritual world.

Through The Journal, I have come across some of the most dynamic, committed and innovative men and women I've ever encountered.

Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, has impressed me with his dedication to the dispossessed, including immigrant garment workers; Mark Meltzer and Evelyn Schecter of the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) have helped move JFLA from the fringes of Jewish communal life to center stage; Esther Netter, a one-woman dynamo and chief executive of the Zimmer Children's Museum, has transformed her little museum into a community hot spot.

Larry Greenfield, California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, embodies the compassionate conservatism to which many politicians only pay lip-service; Allyson Taylor of the American Jewish Congress and Roz Rothstein of the pro-Israel advocacy group, StandWithUs, fight anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head; Gary Stewart, formerly a Rhino Records executive who's now at iTunes, has shown himself to be as generous and kind as he is knowledgeable about popular music. Finally, few in Jewish L.A work as long or as hard to improve the plight of the Jewish people as Jewish Federation President John Fishel.

I have also had the privilege at The Journal of working with some of the finest reporters I've ever encountered, whose commitment to journalistic excellence is matched only by their fealty to the truth. Unlike many Jewish newspapers that operate under the auspices of local federations, The Jewish Journal is wholly independent and unafraid to tackle the tough stories, even if it means alienating advertisers. That unflinching dedication to the truth is what makes me most proud of the paper and continues to keep me here.

 

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