David Twersky, a former editor of New Jersey Jewish News who sparked its growth from a single edition weekly to a five-paper chain, died July 16 after a 10-year battle with cancer. He was 60.
A passionate Zionist and political junkie, Twersky used his position as NJJN editor to develop relationships with politicians and Jewish leaders around the state, ruffling feathers and serving as peace-maker, often in the same article or conversation.
In weekly columns and editorials, he reflected a grasp of political minutiae and 20th-century Jewish and Zionist history he had absorbed as a student activist and Labor movement insider in Israel.
Twersky joined NJJN in 1993, when it was still known as the MetroWest Jewish News, serving a territory in Essex and Morris counties defined by its patron, the local Jewish federation, known today as United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Working closely with then associate publisher Amir Cohen, Twersky was instrumental in the acquisition of newspapers previously published by federations in Union County and the Princeton area. The paper would later absorb newspapers published in Middlesex and Monmouth counties, expanding its readership to over 50,000 households.
“David was all about perfection and a bigger vision. He was always looking to bring everything he knew into matters big and small,” said Cohen, who knew Twersky from their days at the Forward newspaper, where Twersky was Washington bureau chief. “The expansion ideas which became so successful in New Jersey actually started in conversations about our dreams for the Forward a few years earlier, and when I joined him at the Jewish News in ’94 he couldn’t wait to get started.”
Raised in the Bronx, Twersky was active in the Habonim youth movement. He was a leader of the Jewish student press movement in the early 1970s, and from 1974 to 1986 lived in Israel, where he was among a group, largely American, that reestablished Kibbutz Gezer. As a kibbutz activist he edited Shdemot, an English-language journal of the kibbutz movement, and founded and edited a magazine for the Israeli Labor Party called Spectrum.
In 1990, he became Washington bureau chief of the Forward, an English-language offspring of the venerable Yiddish daily. His coverage there of the writings of Lani Guinier, a law professor who had been nominated as assistant attorney general for civil rights, raised questions about her views that eventually led the Clinton administration to drop her nomination.
Twersky continued to cultivate sources in politics and Jewish life as editor of the Jewish News.
“David was having breakfast with governors,” remembered J.J. Goldberg, a lifelong friend and now a senior columnist at the Forward, in a eulogy delivered at Twersky’s funeral at Menorah Chapels at Millburn on July 18. “He was giving advice to senators. He was solving problems between different members of the congressional delegation when they would come to David.”
“David had a vision for Jewish journalism: that it could rise above local parochial concerns and reflexive adherence to a party line,” said Twersky’s successor as editor of NJJN, Andrew Silow-Carroll. “We’re the beneficiaries of his commitment to this ideal, as are our readers.”
“He was a great journalist. He really helped build the Jewish News into the great newspaper that it is today,” said Max Kleinman, executive vice president of UJC MetroWest.
“We had our differences. He was very passionate. But he did listen to other viewpoints, and sometimes he changed his mind after he saw the facts,” Kleinman said. “His death is a tremendous loss to the Jewish community, Jewish journalism, to the type of passion that animates one’s feelings about politics.”
After leaving NJJN in 2002 he joined The New York Sun as foreign editor and a columnist.
He displayed “an honesty that brooked no pleading on the right or left as he pursued the truth as he saw it and the Jewish cause for which he lived,” said an editorial in the Sun published July 17.
The editorial noted that Twersky supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the reelection of George W. Bush before “he’d switched back to the Democrats in 2008.”
“He didn’t write for his friends,” Goldberg said in his eulogy. “There were lifelong friends who broke with him because they disagreed with him, but he never broke with anybody because they disagreed with him.”
Twersky, who was on medical leave from his post as senior adviser for international affairs at the American Jewish Congress, was a resident of West Orange.
Twersky last wrote for NJJN in July 2009, in a piece on the NJ gubernatorial elections.
“American Jews have a vital stake in the outcome of the internal debates in both national parties,” he wrote, looking ahead to the 2010 midterm elections. “This has never been so true as now, when we have, as a community, become almost wholly aligned with the current governing party and as signs of Jewish life in the minority party continue to ebb, Eric Cantor notwithstanding.”
He ended with advice that reflected his vision for Jewish involvement: “So next November, vote local and think national.”
He is survived by his children, Michael Twersky and Anna Twersky. He was buried at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, NY.
Donations may be sent to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center or to Kehilat Birkat Shalom at Kibbutz Gezer (kbyonline.org, look for “Birkat Shalom, Gezer”).