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Forward’s Larry Cohler-Esses Wins Prize for Hamas Interview

Larry Cohler-Esses, assistant managing editor of the Forward, has won the second annual David Twersky Journalism Award for his April 19, 2012, exclusive Cairo interview with Mousa Abu Marzook, Hamas’s second-highest-ranking official.

Established in honor of Twersky’s distinguished life in journalism, the award recognizes the work of journalists at the Forward and at the New Jersey Jewish News, the two publications for which Twersky worked for nearly two decades. The judges look for pieces that reflect Twersky’s passion for Israel and his concern for politics on a local and global scale.

Cohler-Esses traveled to Cairo just before Passover of 2012. Egypt was in the throes of the Arab Spring, and Hamas officials appeared to be saying intriguing but contradictory things. Cohler-Esses was in search of the Hamas’s true position. The interview was on the record, without preconditions and with no topic or question proscribed in advance.

As well as the dangers of the trip, the Forward was mindful of both the historic nature of this opportunity and the risk that the representation of the discussion could be manipulated or misconstrued. It was the first time a high-ranking Hamas official had spoken to the Jewish press, hence Cohler-Esses was scrupulous in conveying the context and nuance of Abu Marzook’s words, in detail and at length.

To give adequate scope to that nuance, the article totaled more than 5,000 words. It was vitally important, but also engaging, not least because both men were so clearly profoundly interested in the other’s worldview. It was a milestone in American Jewish journalism and received widespread acclaim.

“The mission of the judges was to find that one piece that David would have considered most remarkable,” noted Amir Cohen, who headed the judges committee. Cohen worked with Twersky at both publications, and founded the award in his friend’s memory.

Also on the committee were Twersky’s children, Anna and Michael Twersky; Connecticut Jewish Ledger Publisher Ricky Greenfield, and former American Jewish Press Association President Elana Kahn-Oren. “This interview is a monumental achievement for the Forward, and it is no surprise the judges found it worthy of this year’s award,” Michael Twersky added.

The committee also named three runners-up, in order: “FEMA on the Bimah” by the Forward’s editor-in-chief, Jane Eisner; “Asylum Seekers” by New Jersey Jewish News’ Debra Rubin, and “Mission Possible” by last year’s winner, Andrew Silow-Carroll, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish News.

Cohler-Esses will receive a medal and a $1,000 honorarium at an award ceremony in May.

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