David Twersky–a veteran journalist, Labor Zionist activist and one-time kibbutznik and Israeli Labor Party official–passed away last Friday after a long struggle with cancer. I knew him only slightly, but felt indebted to him for publishing a number of my reviews and news commentaries in the New Jersey Jewish News, one of the first places that actually paid me for writing, which he edited (first as the Metro-West Jewish community federation paper that expanded into other New Jersey Jewish communities) from 1993 into the next decade.
Because I was not a student Zionist activist, and I later entered the Americans for Progressive Israel/Mapam-oriented Zionist stream, rather than his Habonim-Laborite ranks, I did not know him as a young man. But a number of people active in API or in left-Zionist student politics in the late ’60s/early ’70s did know him well and feel his passing keenly. In 1970, he become national chair of the North American Jewish Students Network and editor of the Jewish Student Press Service.
He made aliyah in 1974 and was in the group that revived Kibbutz Gezer in those years. He worked in international affairs for the Labor Party and edited Spectrum, the party’s English-language political monthly. He also started the English-language literary and political magazine, Shdemot, of the combined kibbutz movements. After serving in the Lebanon war in 1982, he became a legislative aide associated with such dovish Labor young Turks as Avram Burg and Yossi Beilin. In 1986, he returned to the U.S. out of family health concerns.
He joined the staff of the English-language Forward from its inception in 1990. As the Forward’s Washington correspondent, he scooped a number of major stories, some of which were difficult for friends and colleagues on the left to swallow. In the words of J.J. Goldberg, an old friend and colleague who writes of David in The Forward: “Most famously, he unearthed information that sabotaged the job prospects of Johnnetta Cole, a Clinton transition team appointee who was considered a leading candidate for secretary of education, and Lani Guinier, a law professor who was nominated to be assistant attorney general for civil rights.”
In trolling the Web for writings on his demise, I discovered that the defunct print neoconservative daily, The New York Sun, still has an active and rather impressive website. From The Sun’s editorial on his life and death, I’ve discovered that after supporting George W. Bush for President in 2004, David returned to the Democratic fold in 2008.
In the last years of his working life, he wrote a foreign affairs column for The Sun and also worked as director of international affairs for the American Jewish Congress. I had asked him how comfortable he felt as a liberal writing for The Sun; he pointed out that Jack Newfield (still around at the time) was also a liberal columnist for the Sun. Now both are gone.
Mainly out of concern for Israel, David (as I have indicated) had stopped being much of a liberal for a while. He would occasionally send me a sharp email questioning some position of the Meretz party that annoyed him. Like him, I value analysis over ideology and have not always followed a strictly liberal line, but I didn’t stray quite as far as he. It’s nice to know that he had voted for Obama.
In working with the American Jewish Congress, he participated in AJ Congress’s lurch to the right in recent years out of concern for Israel. There is a certain poignancy in his death coming in the very week that I was learning of the demise of the AJ Congress, a once bellwether liberal institution in the American Jewish community–see The Forward piece by Jerome Chanes on the history and legacy of AJ Congress. Congress suspended operations on the very day that David died. May their memories be for a blessing, as we Jews traditionally say.
Ralph, I appreciate your very thoughful piece on David Twersky. I read many of his articles in the Forward over the years; you helped me to better understand the sometimes alternating positions that he took over the years. And, yes, a “double loss” this week.