Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Appreciation of Sidney Zion

We mentioned the death of Sidney Zion and highlighted his appreciation for Menachem Begin and the Irgun.

Here is from Gary Rosenblatt's apprecition of Sidney Zion:

...I took the train up from Baltimore (where I was editing the Baltimore Jewish Times) to spend a long afternoon with him in his Upper West Side apartment. Ostensibly, I interviewed him, but more precisely I listened to him hold court on a wide variety of issues, from his affection for underdogs — like Revisionist heroes Ben Hecht and Peter Bergson, Israeli “tough guys” Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, and Jewish gangsters (especially Meyer Lansky) — to his corresponding contempt for the Establishment, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Supreme Court and American Jewish defense organizations.

Only a few months before we met, Sidney’s 18-year-old daughter, Libby, died during an emergency room visit to New York Hospital, and he had already begun a relentless legal battle that lasted years and resulted in sweeping reforms regarding hospital resident working conditions. It was that chapter of his life that headlined the obits for Sidney in the local papers last week, but I think he would have preferred being remembered equally for the enterprising reporting he did throughout his long career, especially when it came to defending Israel and needling American Jews about what he consider their enduring inferiority complex about being accepted.

“They’re so shreklich, so afraid,” he told me. “That fear in them is always there. Always. It’s terrible. They worry about anti-Semitism. They worry about what the goyim will think of them. Maybe Jews really believe they’re not as good as the next guy. But I sure as hell don’t feel that way. Jews shouldn’t be scared anymore. Never scared. They should be mad.”

Sidney was mad about so many things, but that’s because he believed in the pursuit of the truth and had no tolerance for those who compromised.

In a remarkable journalism career that didn’t start until he was 29 (having first been a trial lawyer and assistant U.S. attorney for New Jersey), he was a fixture here, working for The New York Times, Daily News, New York Post and New York Magazine. It was Sidney who in 1971 revealed that Daniel Ellsberg, a hero to those who opposed the Vietnam War, was the source of the leak of the Pentagon Papers, making Sidney an outcast to the press. But he dismissed angry colleagues as jealous hypocrites and insisted he was only doing his job, shedding light on a hot story.

Among his most memorable pieces were a lengthy 1979 critique of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Burger, a 20,000-word, behind-the-scenes story in 1978 on the Camp David peace accords (both written for the New York Times Magazine) and a 1983 “political obit” of Menachem Begin in Harper’s, which appeared shortly before the prime minister resigned. That piece was a tribute to Begin as a microcosm of the Jew in the 20th century, an outcast, but, above all, a survivor.
Like Sidney.

...For all his toughness, Sidney was a family man and shul-goer, and I would see him from time to time at weekday services, saying Kaddish for his wife, Elsa, who died in 2005.
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