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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Sunday, February 21, 2010

WJN's journalistic triumph

More than twenty years ago, I met a new neighbor while we mowed our back yards. We were amused to learn that we both were editors (not a common occupation, even in Ann Arbor). I'd recently taken over the Ann Arbor Observer, while Nina Gelman ran the Washtenaw Jewish News.

Though Gelman has long since moved on--she married and moved to California--I've read the WJN ever since. And recently they've published two extraordinary stories. The December-January issue features an article by former Ann Arbor News staffer Art Aisner about the anti-Israel protests outside Beth Israel congregation on Washtenaw. Many publications, including the Observer, have written about the handful of people who picket the synagogue's Saturday services, but no one has done it as well as Aisner. Working with WJN editor Suzie Ayer, he's produced a compelling picture of the protesters, their motives, and the Jewish community's response. Smart, thorough, and fair, it's journalism at its best.

Some WJN readers felt Aisner was too fair. In the February issue, retired anthropology prof Steve Pastner riposted with a scholarly expose of the picketers' connections to groups advocating Israel's destruction. (The names of two protesters are misspelled in photo captions, but that's no reflection on Pastner--they're right in the text). The real eye-opener, though, was an op-ed piece by Laurel Federbush. "The few and the just" is a first-hand account of life inside the tiny cadre of protesters, as seen by a former member.

Federbush recalls how she joined the protests; her deepening involvement--"I digested the idea that the Zionists controlled the world, a tight-knit, elite cabal"; and her decision to break with what she now considers "a cult of sorts." But to her credit, this time, she's determined to resist polemics. "The few and the just" scrupulously maps the rugged landscape where emotion and politics meet. Candid and unsparing, it's an illuminating Ann Arbor memoir.

posted by John Hilton at 1:08 p.m. | 0 comments


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