The year was 1960. Tom Tugend, living in Israel and working as the temporary head of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s public relations department, had to make a choice: keep his job or return to Los Angeles to a UCLA job he’d had before moving to Israel. He went back to UCLA — and, for the sake of the Jewish media internationally, it was a good decision. Working at UCLA led to writing positions for Jewish newspapers locally, nationally and in Israel.
On March 25, the Benefactors of the Jewish Club of 1933 will recognize Tugend’s work, including his contributions to JTA, the Jerusalem Post, the London Jewish Chronicle and The Jewish Journal. The organization is awarding to Tugend, who was born in Germany in 1925, its 2012 Heritage Award, which recognizes European immigrants’ accomplishments in arts, writing, business and other fields.
“I’m still not sure who initiated it, but anyhow it’s always flattering when somebody thinks well enough of you to put you in [for] an award,” Tugend said. “None of us as journalists are overwhelmed by compliments, so it’s always nice.”
In fact, the board members at the organization chose Tugend from among seven nominees.
“Tom has a very distinguished background, he’s done a lot of wonderful things in the Jewish world, and he was born in Berlin,” Peter Rothholz, a Benefactors’ board member, said. “That combination is exactly what we honor at the Benefactors of the Jewish Club of 1933.” During the 1930s, German-speaking Jews, setting out to assist in the Americanization of German-speaking Jewish immigrants, formed what was then called the Jewish Club of 1933. In the 1980s, the group evolved into a philanthropic organization.
In 1984, toward the end of Tugend’s 30-year career at UCLA, where he worked as a science writer, the Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles. UCLA ran an international pressroom, and the Jerusalem Post and the London Jewish Chronicle asked Tugend to report on the Jewish athletes. This established his connections with those papers, which he continues to write for today.
Like many journalists, he wrote his first story as an undergraduate student — for UCLA’s campus newspaper. Unike many journalists, Tugend wrote for a U.S. Army newspaper, in his case, during the Korean War. Tugend had also served as a combat infantryman in France and Germany during World War II and as an American volunteer in an anti-tank unit during Israel’s War of independence. After his military stint, he worked as a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle. Later, he moonlighted as a copy editor at the Los Angeles Times. He has spent more than 50 years as a journalist, many of them while juggling a full-time job at UCLA to support his family. In 1993, he became a contributing editor at The Jewish Journal.
Tugend’s work for Jewish media often has dealt with Jewish figures in Hollywood. He called an interview he did with Stephen Spielberg for The Jewish Journal, prior to the release of “Schindler’s List,” “probably the best interview I ever had in my life.”
The award ceremony for the 2012 Heritage Award will take place during the Benefactors’ annual meeting and brunch on March 25 at the Los Angeles Jewish Home.