Stuart Pilichowski knows how to make his voice heard.
Since moving to Israel in 1999, the 52-year-old garment company agent from Fairlawn, N.J., has been busy writing letters home – often addressed to newspapers. Whether he’s responding to critiques of Israeli counterterrorism tactics in New York’s Village Voice or an article in a vegetarian publication about falafel that he thought had “a slightly anti-Israel bent,” Pilichowski isn’t shy about putting fingers to keyboard when he feels the Jewish state is getting a bum rap.
Pilichowski has been particularly successful in writing to what is arguably the world’s most prestigious letters-to-the-editor page. In a feat that would be the envy of many a public relations professional, the Modern Orthodox grandfather of five has managed to get a whopping 19 letters relating to Israel published in The New York Times during the past seven years (including one in 2000 that he submitted under the pseudonym “Shmuel Carit,” because, he explained, the newspaper had just published another letter of his).
Writing from his home in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Zion – where he moved with his wife, following an initial stint in the West Bank community of Ginot Shomron – Pilichowski has rapped the Times for failing to include Israel in an editorial that listed places struck by terrorists (“Israeli citizens experience terrorism almost daily, either in the actual dastardly deed itself or in the successful attempt at thwarting this vicious worldwide scourge”), lamented last year’s Hamas election victory (“The Palestinian people have voted for the destruction and eradication of my country in no uncertain terms”) and jousted repeatedly with Times columnist Thomas Friedman (“I appreciate Mr. Friedman’s asking me to withdraw from territories captured in a defensive war, settled now close to 40 years by three generations of Israelis, in order to ‘have the moral high ground.’ Truly I do. But after witnessing what I’ll get in return from my Palestinian neighbors following former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of upward of 90 percent of the West Bank three years ago, I’ll have to say, Thanks, but no thanks”).
The prolific letter-writer spoke with the Forward via telephone about his epistolary activism, getting to know his Arab neighbors through his garment business-related travels and how living in Israel during the intifada has changed his outlook.
How often would you say you send a letter to the Times?
There’s no way of determining that. It’s whenever the mood hits me. When I first moved to Israel, I had a small e-mail list of friends basically, and I used to write cute anecdotes about my aliyah experience, and that was almost weekly, sometimes a few times a week, that I would write these anecdotes and send them out. And about a year after I moved to Israel, the intifada began, and my anecdotes turned a little bit more serious. And again I would write them not regularly, whenever the mood would hit me. And my list would grow over time. I don’t write so much anymore, but I do still write to this list, whenever the mood hits me. So if I’m reading something, and I don’t particularly agree with it, or there’s another way of looking at it, I’ll write about it.
What proportion of the letters you send in do you think the Times publishes?
I’m very careful in when I write and how I write, so a very large percentage of what I write gets published.
Would you say “most”?
For sure, most.
So you’re very sparing in the number you send, but you’ve had quite a few published.
I don’t write every day. I write when I feel strongly about something, and then I’ll take my time writing it and shaping it into something that I think the Times will publish.
That’s a pretty good track record.
Yeah, I think so too.
Do they edit them heavily?
No. There was one time when Ariel Sharon became the prime minister, and I wrote a letter congratulating him, or something, or hoping that this would begin a new era, and I think I wished him luck, and I put “God” in there somewhere, about “with the help of God, he’ll be successful in bringing peace to the region,” or something like that, and they took the “God” part out. They didn’t like that part. And then there was the issue, when I lived in Ginot Shomron, they didn’t want to list it as being in Israel. They wanted to list it as “Ginot Shomron, West Bank.”
And did you withdraw it?
No, they actually called me, we actually spoke on the phone for about15 minutes, discussing it back and forth, and I decided that my letter was more important than having the word “Israel” after the name of the city.
How do you feel about their decision?
I don’t agree with it. I think it’s wrong.
Even though Israel hasn’t annexed the West Bank?
As far as I’m concerned, that’s semantics, or a formality. What can I tell you? People that live there, they pay taxes to Israel, they fight in Israel’s army, they’re a part of Israel.
Has living in Israel affected your views very much?
I was a lot more dovish before I moved to Israel, and now I’m certainly probably more hawkish. And that’s coming from someone who relates on a regular basis with our Arab cousins. I’m not one of these people that never met an Arab. When I was in the States, I never met an Arab. When I moved to Israel, the furthest thing from my mind was realizing that one day I’d be traveling regularly to Jordan. And before the intifada, when I wasn’t traveling to Jordan, I was entering Palestinian cities, like Tulkarem and Gaza and Jenin regularly, a number of times a week, without any problem, sitting with Palestinians, sitting down and having coffee with them. I thought the messiah was coming the next day, until the intifada broke out.
You published a letter in the Times a couple days after the intifada broke out. You concluded: “the process of negotiating must continue. It’s only when the two sides come to an agreement that peace can come to the area.” Do you still feel that way?
I just don’t believe in the negotiating process as much as I used to, and that’s more a feeling of being let down by politicians than by the actual people.