Let me be clear. I am well aware of the fact that, for Americans and especially for people from New York, having a famous whatever with Jewish connections is not such a big deal, considering the impact of Jewish population in the cultural, political and intellectual life of the country. In Italy we are not completely unfamiliar with this situation, despite the enormous difference in numbers (in Italy there are only 25,000 Jews).
However, as a member of the staff of Pagine Ebraiche, the national Italian Jewish magazine published by the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, I got pretty elated when I found out that Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of the New York Times, was about to be one of the guests of honor of Crescere tra le righe. It’s a prestigious conference focused on the relationship between journalism, publishing and new generations, held every year on the suggestive Tuscany hills.
Being a young female journalist, I guess that excitement was inevitable. But being a Jewish journalist, I was determined to find out more about what has represented an intriguing issue to me since the announcement of her appointment in 2011: Jill Abramson’s Jewishness.
I had read a lot about Abramson for a portrait I wrote for Giorgio Albertini/Pagine Ebraiche after her appointment, including Josh Nathan-Kazis’s piece on Abramson in the Forward. He explained:
Abramson’s own Jewish identity is of a very particular kind. In an early version of the Times’ own story on her promotion, Abramson declared that ‘the Times substituted for religion’ in her childhood home — a quip that drew fire from some right-wing commentators. But in fact, her upbringing was typically Jewish, in an Upper West Side-in-the-’60s sort of way”.
Now I was ready to have the opportunity to find out more. Provided that she would talk to me about it, since it was also specified that “Abramson declined to answer questions about her current religious practice.
When the day finally arrived, I saw her sitting in the front row of the hall wearing a bright red scarf and minding her own business. To my amazement, nobody recognized her. After she had been officially introduced on the stage, the tune of course changed. But, in the meantime Abramson had already agreed to give me the interview and she honored her commitment.
We started talking about the future of journalism and the new generations. In spite of the crisis, she deemed that there is room for the young people’s aspirations in the world of journalism. “We must bear in mind that new generations have access to different experiences compared to the old ones. If newspapers don’t get this, if they don’t acknowledge the original and new perspective on the world brought by young people, they miss an essential input and they risk to loose their capability to portray the world,” Abramson said.
We also covered her experience at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School as well as her reflection on the question “Do the ends justify the means?” (mentioned in Nathan-Kazis’ 2011 Forward piece).
Then I started to ask questions on Jewish subjects. Abramson described the deep connection between New York and its Jewish community (“There have been so many Jews who made a significant impact on its life”). We discussed the fact that belonging to a minority and coming from a different background from the mainstream culture gave people the ability of looking to the world with different eyes, which is something you want to have in a newsroom.
“I have read that your sister attended a Sunday school at Temple Emanu-El on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Do you also have any special Jewish memory?” I then asked her.
“Well not really, because my parents were not religious at all. But I think that my most important Jewish moment is going to take place very soon, next September, when my daughter gets married,” she answers. “I am so nervous because I have no clue of what I’m supposed to do. But for my daughter I am not worried. She will know what to do. Her husband has taught her a lot.”
Back at home, I start researching the marriage. I realize that Abramson’s daughter, Cornelia — a “surgeon (in training), sometimes medical journalist, admirer of big ideas, and unwavering cheerleader for social justice and NYC entrepreneurship” as she describes herself on Twitter — and her fiancé have a wedding website. They are getting married in the Hamptons.
As the website’s events sections advises, “Stiletto warning - Parts of the ceremony and cocktail reception will be held over grass lawn. Complimentary flip flops will be provided. For those who cannot part with their heels, we recommend Solemates!” In the photo album of the happy couple, you cannot help noticing that Cornelia has the very same piercing blue eyes of her mom, and Mr. Goldstone is probably the son-in-law that many yiddishe mamas might dream of — a surgeon, nice and even sporty (there are pictures of the couple skiing and sailing).
And the best was yet to come. Because in the gift registry, compiled, among others, in the prestigious Michael C. Fina on Park Avenue, you find an article that in the future Goldstones’ love-nest cannot miss: a white seder plate in Bernardaud china.
What else to say? Oh, yes. Mazal tov!
P.S. If you are willing to practice your Italian, you can read the original interview online here.
Jill Abramson’s Jewish Moment