Today on the Jewish calendar is Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av on which we Jews fast to mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. This year, on Tisha B’Av, I am also mourning the passing of a dear friend last Friday, David Twersky, the editor of the New Jersey Jewish News from 1993 to 2002.
Without exaggeration, I can say that David was a giant in the world of Jewish journalism, both in the United States and Israel. He became a major player in the world of New Jersey politics as well.
Prior to David’s arrival, the then Metro-West Jewish News was a typical Jewish Federation newspaper that reported significant issues and events affecting the Jewish community, but avoided any editorial content or commentary. All this changed when David became the editor.
Under David’s leadership, the name of this weekly paper was changed to the New Jersey Jewish News, and it became truly a statewide Jewish community newspaper, with regional editions as well outside Essex, Morris, and Sussex Counties, the Metro-West Jewish Federation area. It began to cover much more extensively New Jersey political and governmental issues affecting the Jewish community. As a result, David became a major player in New Jersey politics.
Jewish voters in New Jersey usually comprise approximately ten percent of the electorate. Given the fact that the New Jersey Jewish News was sui generis, the only Jewish newspaper in New Jersey with statewide circulation, a favorable (or unfavorable) editorial or column in the paper could have a real impact on a statewide election. Accordingly, virtually every candidate for New Jersey statewide office sought to establish a good relationship with David Twersky.
My relationship with David began while I served at Senior Policy Advisor on the Assembly Republican Staff of former Speaker Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian back in 1992. He regarded me as one of his significant Republican sources and would often quote me on key issues. Later, as I went on to serve in the Whitman administration, he covered me extensively and would often ask me to write guest editorials. His January, 2001 cover story on my service as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission is one I will always treasure.
I use the term “relationship”, because if you developed a good, trusting relationship with David, it was impossible not to regard him as a friend. Indeed, my friendship with David was proof of how two people opposite in every way could become the warmest of friends.
I was a conservative. David was a liberal. No matter. He was an authentic intellectual, and we both were willing to study positions that departed from our respective political philosophies and at times even embrace them. My friendship with David was what William F.Buckley once labelled his relationship with John Kenneth Galbraith – a “transideological friendship!”
On Israel, David was a Labor Zionist, and I was pro-Likud. No matter. We both loved Israel with a full heart and soul, and we had a powerful bond between the two of us because of that.
I am an Orthodox Jew, and David was a secular Jew. Again, no matter. David regarded Judaism as the basis for Jewish ethnic heritage, and he had all the respect in the world for my religious observance.
Actually, on the religious spectrum, David had one huge advantage over me. He was a cousin of his namesake, Rabbi David Twersky, the famous Grand Rabbi and spiritual leader of the village of New Square and of Skverer Hasidim worldwide, known as the “Skverer Rebbe”.
This familial relationship gave David what we Jews call in Yiddish “yichus”, meaning “distinguished birth” or “pedigree.” As David would remind me, if he and I would ever have gone together on Sunday to New Square to see the Skverer Rebbe, he would have been placed at the front of the line, while I would have waited with everybody else!
I shared many good times and conversations with David. Travelling with him in Israel was most enjoyable because of his extensive range of Israeli contacts, both governmental and non-governmental. He had lived in Israel for a number of years, and he was truly at home in both Israel and America.
Yet I must say that perhaps my most enjoyable activity with David was having him as a dinner guest in my home. My wife, Lynne is both a superb math teacher and the best Orthodox Jewish woman dinner hostess in the Western Hemisphere. Like the late famous Washington socialite Perla Mesta, Lynne is the “hostess with the mostess”. Nobody leaves her table without enjoying a lavish meal. David was most appreciative of having the opportunity to dine with us on a Sabbath or Jewish holiday.
My family and friends would enjoy David’s company immensely on these occasions. Lynne is visiting Israel right now, and anybody who knows me will get a real laugh out of her words in an email she sent me today: “I will always wonder how David was able to talk more than you at the table. He truly was brilliant, and knew just as much as you!”
David’s passing came after a long battle with cancer. I remember when he first became afflicted with this illness around ten years ago. When I heard the news, I visited him at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York. He told me how impressed he was with the quality of his treatment. When I was advised by my doctors in 2006 that I had prostate cancer, I remembered my conversation with David and went to Sloan-Kettering for treatment. They cured the cancer and saved my life.
David was not so fortunate. His cancer was of a most virulent type, and when I first saw him at Sloan-Kettering nearly a decade ago, the prognosis was not an optimistic one. Yet this great man was a fighter. He did not give up life without a most valiant battle.
He cherished his children, and we friends were all better off for having David in our lives. Rest in peace, my dear friend, David Twersky.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations. He currently serves on the political science faculty at Monmouth University.