When I shambled into the offices of the Jewish Bulletin for the first time, I was in a dark place. Sure, my girlfriend had just left me — but, can you believe it, that shlub, Bobby Jones, pitched a one-hitter (a one-hitter!) to wipe the Giants out of the playoffs.
I wore a tweed jacket and black pants (Dad always said that if you wore a matching suit, they’d think you were applying to be an accountant). To be truthful, I don’t remember a single question posed by Marc Klein, the editor and publisher. What I do remember is noticing the photos of his good-looking daughters on the desk. Man, did I want to get this job.
The October 2000 copy of the Jewish Bulletin I’d bought out of the box in front of the Berkeley-Richmond JCC was emblazoned with a front-page photo of Palestinian men operating a slingshot the size of a Buick LeSabre during the opening salvoes of something called “the intifada.”
Apparently, this intifada had started up right as I was getting hired. In later years, I joked that peace would therefore come to Israel when I left this job.
Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
Today’s my last day at j. I’d love to see sunshine and happiness flood over the Middle East this instant. But, then again, I’d love to see Barry Zito win the Cy Young Award.
When I close my eyes and try to sum up nearly eight years of reporting on the Bay Area Jewish community, I can’t pinpoint a definitive experience. Instead, I see disjointed visions jumping back and forth through time, Billy Pilgrim style. But what experiences they were:
• I see the snow — yes, snow! — swirling through Jerusalem outside our bus window. The U.C. Berkeley Birthright students around me laugh and whistle — and are completely oblivious to the rasping sound of the bus’ brakes locking up and causing us to slide eight feet past the stop sign.
• Scores of anti-Israel protests I’ve covered over the years are amalgamated into one Ur-protest. In my mind’s eye, the “People for Israel” and “People against Israel” placards whir by so rapidly that, by the end of it all, they read “People for against” and “People against for.” In my head, chants commencing with “2, 4, 6, 8” continue — to infinity, and beyond!
• Counterintuitively, I do remember sitting in marijuana guru Ed Rosenthal’s Oakland home. Throughout our two-hour talk, he systematically popped a series of pills into his mouth. “I’m a vitamin freak,” he noted. Later he showed me a picture of himself alongside Willie Nelson.
• Playing second base, I hit the dirt and come up throwing in the rabbis vs. congregants softball game. Playing right wing, I hit Shimon Israel — and he comes up cursing — in an Oakland Kochavim hockey game.
• Finally, I will never forget what David Apfelbaum, of David’s Deli in San Francisco, told me about surviving the Holocaust, losing most of his family and, two short decades later, coming face to face with the Western Wall, trailed by a friend snapping pictures: “I didn’t know I was doing this, but later he showed me the [photos]. First, I am walking very slowly, like a man on ice. And then, the closer I come to it, I am walking faster.
“And at the end — I am running.”
J. is blessed with solid editors, smart and creative writers and a local Jewish community that, on most days, is a joy to cover (we do run our share of articles that are relevant only to those quoted within them, but we are hardly the only newspaper guilty of this sin).
So now the time has come to say goodbye. Goodbye to the placard-wavers and the bullhorn-shouters. Goodbye to anti-Semitic graffiti artists. Goodbye to getting “tikkun olam” as the answer to a question. Goodbye to all of the good people doing good things and great people doing great things.
I want to thank the folks who were honest rather than tactful. I want to thank the editors who methodically made me a better writer. And I especially want to thank the people who gave me something to write about, every day, for years and years — and everyone who read the stories.
Joe Eskenazi is now a staff writer for S.F. Weekly. Letters to him can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.