Learn and the world learns with you

Larry Levin, Publisher/CEO of the St. Louis Jewish Light

By Larry A. Levin

You really do learn something every day.  At least you do if you keep your eyes, ears, heart and mind open. I was talking with a reader in the Jewish community about the Light (since it was a private conversation, I decline to share identity).  During the course of discussion, the subject of my tenure as publisher came up.

The reader noted that while I brought a certain set of skills to the job, they did not include a lifetime of study and understanding of the immense scope of Jewish issues.  The implication was that while we have been able to accomplish a lot of stuff to make the publication better over the last couple of years, the depth of the truly Jewish component might be less than it would be had I come in with a strong, substantive Jewish background.

And you know what? The reader was absolutely right, and it was a shrewd and valuable observation.

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Even though I grew up Jewish and have never thought of myself otherwise, the role of Judaism in my experience has often been secondary or tertiary. So unlike some leaders of other Jewish publications, I don’t bring deep and lifelong knowledge to the table.

It is true.  There’s an awful lot I am learning on the fly, and I acknowledged as much to the reader.  I was such an outsider to the institutional Jewish community that despite living here for over 30 years (and belonging to a synagogue, and raising our children to be bar mitzvot and confirmands), when I took the position I had people ask me, “Now you just moved here from where?”  And little of my reading and personal education comprised Jewish literature or history.

That doesn’t mean, however, that my Jewish upbringing and identity haven’t informed me on any number of societal issues. My strong support of the environment is consonant with tikkun olam; of the arts, with the lengthy and proud tradition of Jewish culture; and of education, with my parents’ very Jewish commitment to raising informed and worldly kids.

But in terms of traditional Jewish education, I am a veritable babe in the woods. The Light has been blessed to have the continuous presence of editor in chief emeritus Bob Cohn for over four decades, and comparing my Jewish knowledge to Bob’s is like comparing a little league pitcher to Sandy Koufax.

And you know what? That’s OK.

I can’t beat myself up too much for what I don’t bring to the table. After all, with the team we’re building at the Light – our remarkable board, our exceptional news team of editor and managing editor Ellen Futterman and Mike Sherwin, and our rapidly developing depth in sales, marketing, technology and production, we’re well poised to handle the future needs of Jewish journalism, whatever they may be.  Simply put, the infrastructure is in place and I’m so proud of those who have gotten us here and are taking us into the future.

I would like to think that some of this organizational development inures from my parents, teachers and community having dealt me a yiddishe kop. But I fully recognize that none of it is a substitute for Torah, Talmud, Mishnah, or for that matter, of Moses, Maimonides, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel or Rabbi Harold Kushner.

The only thing I can really do is promise that I will do my best to continue learning as I go, and to apply that learning to our voyage here at the Light.  I am humble in the face of the immense knowledge and talent within our community, and after two years at the helm here, have a much better understanding of what I don’t understand.

I’m hoping that all of you will partner with me and the Light to enhance that understanding.  Talk to us, write to us, have dialogues with us, debate with us. Tell us what you like about how we reflect the Jewish world and ideas and how we don’t.  We relish all constructive feedback, both the good and the not as good.

In this way, our staff and I will continue our quest of lifelong learning about Judaism and providing the best independent Jewish news organization we can.  That’s the gift we can bring to you, and we are collectively and earnestly devoted to doing so.

Larry A. Levin is Publisher/CEO of the Jewish Light.