‘New tires’ for old colleagues

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 24, 2011 – Gail Appleson is a firm writer at Armstrong Teasdale LLP in St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

By Gail Appleson

Vacations pretty much always take their toll on synagogue attendance during the summer months, but the sanctuary  was packed Saturday morning at Kol Rinah’s special service to honor Rabbi Emeritus Mark Fasman and his wife, Alice, who are moving Reno, Nevada.  

Fasman, clearly loved by his congregants, served as rabbi for Shaare Zedek Synagogue for the past 14 years before becoming the first rabbi of Kol Rinah, which was formed through a merger in 2012.

Although I’ve met Fasman only a few times, I know it has to be difficult to pull up roots after so many years in St. Louis. It’s one thing to start over when you’re in your 20s, but quite another when you’re older.  I know because I was of a certain age when I moved here from Manhattan, after living in New York City for about 23 years.

To say it was a big change is an understatement. Among the realities of my new life was the fact that I had left a huge melting pot where everybody knows a few Yiddish expressions to a place where some folks have never even heard the word “schlep.” Suddenly, being Jewish was an oddity.

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My first job here was a reporting position at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Judy Newmark, the paper’s theater critic, was quick to realize I might be feeling a bit uncomfortable. She swooped over to my desk and led me through the newsroom, enthusiastically pointing out each of my Jewish colleagues. 

“There’s one,” she said emphatically. “And there’s another!”

And so it went as we walked through the room and heads turned with puzzled expressions.

Not only were a number of other reporters and editors Jewish, but it appeared that we were all … well, let’s just say, seasoned journalists. I knew we had to have a lot in common. First of all, most of us were probably raised in a culture that stressed the pursuit of justice and tikkun olam, a responsibility to try to fix the world’s wrongs. 

In addition, we grew up at a time when society was changing.  Our lives were shaped by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the emergence of feminism. Then in 1974, Washington Post investigative reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward made history with their amazing nonfiction book “All the President’s Men,” about the Watergate break-in. 

Given our backgrounds, journalism was the perfect profession. It certainly was at that time. Many of us went on to have glorious careers. We led privileged lives venturing places the average person never saw and asking questions no one else could dare. It was our duty to inform, explain and uncover. We were the public’s ears and eyes … the world’s storytellers.

While we gladly welcomed the internet as an invaluable investigative and communications tool in this process, it led to the decline of just about every type of print media company, regardless of size or location.  Shortly after I arrived at the Post-Dispatch, it, too, began layoffs and buyouts.  Many of my colleagues lost their jobs or, like me, voluntarily gave up their cherished careers to escape the inevitable.

Recently, the Post-Dispatch announced another round of layoffs. However, nine newspaper employees voluntarily resigned last week, effectively saving the jobs of four reporters and a copy editor who would have been terminated. Among those who agreed to leave were Margaret Gillerman and Michael Sorkin, who had been reporters at the paper for many years. Gillerman, too, was among the first “class” of the Light’s Unsung Heroes in 2010, honored for her volunteerism in both the local Jewish and secular communities.

Although theater critic Newmark is still with the paper, many of the Jewish colleagues I met that day of our newsroom excursion are gone.

Gillerman and Sorkin were in my thoughts Saturday as Rabbi Noah Arnow spoke of the Fasmans’ contribution to the St. Louis Jewish community and their new life in Reno. In his talk, he referenced the city of Akron, Ohio, once known as the rubber capital of the world and home to major tire manufacturers.

Arnow said that in Akron, the word “retire” means something different than giving up your job. It means putting on new tires to make new journeys.

In addition to sending my best to the Fasmans as they embark on their new adventure, I also wish my former Post-Dispatch colleagues well as they “retire.” They have been molded by their experiences and sense of responsibility for tikkun olam in a way that will never change. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they will always be journalists – just traveling on new tires.

Gail Appleson is a writer for Armstrong Teasdale LLP and freelancer who lives in St. Louis.