Paper Chase

Texas Jewish Post Publisher Jimmy Wisch says he's being run out of town by leaders of the community he has served for 54 years. They say he's overstayed his welcome.

Wisch didn't quite get the outrage he had hoped for. He received a dozen phone calls, half a dozen letters to the editor, some private encouragement--and me.

"Now, you're a journalist, you should know this," he lectures me. "The only way you can be independent is if you are not beholden. So why would someone come down here from Washington and accept 6,000 subscriptions? Do you think they will refuse [the] federation if they ask them not to run a story?...Investigate this thing on your own. See for yourself."

I telephoned the federation's Gary Weinstein, who is cautious. The federation is in the middle of its largest capital campaign ever, hoping to raise $50 million dollars to build infrastructure for 10 Jewish charities. He doesn't want to jeopardize anything, but he wants the truth told. He agrees to arrange an interview: Steve Waldman (who happens to be my insurance agent and friend) Selly Belofsky, Weinstein, and another federation staffer will be there. The interview gets canceled twice. The federation agrees to provide documents that it says will tell its side of the story, but no attempts will be made to reschedule the interview.

I poke around with some off-the-record sources, phoning community leaders and friends, some of whom in different ways tell me to leave this story alone. It's not in the best interest of the community. It's airing our dirty linen. It's a shanda far de goyim--all remnants of an attitude that a secure community celebrating its Jewishness is not supposed to harbor. If a Jewish journalist is deterred from writing a story that might be critical of the federation, what hope did a Jewish newspaper assisted by the federation have? The story might be bad for the campaign, but isn't it worse for a community trying to develop a sense of self to remain uninformed?

Yes, Jimmy Wisch hadn't kept up with the times, and yes, his paper wasn't reaching--much less covering--the community. But was Jimmy Wisch treated fairly after serving the Jewish community for nearly 54 years? How did the federation justify taking resources given to charitable causes and giving them to a private enterprise? Was it the organization's intention to give Dallas Jewish Week a competitive advantage? These are questions that the federation had an obligation to answer either from an independent or a dependent press.

Dave Sorter, the newly appointed editor of the Dallas Jewish Week, believes he will have no problem maintaining the independence of his paper. "They [the federation] are not going to dictate a single thing on the editorial side, because I am not going to let them," insists Sorter, who just left his job as news editor at the Richardson News. "I have told them that, and Craig Burke has told them that."

On the other hand, spending a day with the Wisch family can also compromise independence. Over my protest, Jimmy insisted that he pay for my lunch. ("Don't talk nonsense. It's my pleasure.")

And how could I say no to Rene when she gave me five children's books for my own son? ("You said he likes it when you read to him? Here, take them.") When I was leaving, Rene said that she wanted to hug me and did. Then I turned to Jimmy and asked if he thought he was going to survive the war.

"I may lose money," he said. "I may die. I may have a heart attack."

"God forbid," Rene said. "I won't let you."

"But I am not going to let them do this."

Editor's note: Mark Donald's bar mitzvah story and photo appeared in theTexas Jewish Post some decades ago.

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