Jeff Zaslow — A Jewish Soul

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JN Publisher Arthur Horwitz has this remembrance of Jeff Zaslow.

He was the best of us.

Jeff Zaslow

Supremely talented. Disarmingly humble. Relentlessly curious. Deeply rooted to his family and Jewish community. Jeff Zaslow touched and enhanced lives. For journalists who knew him and loved him, he was our yardstick for greatness.

While many tributes have been written about Jeff’s remarkable writing style and achievements, his Jewish neshamah, his Jewish soul, was at the core of his greatness and goodness. It was the wellspring of his abundant empathy and countless acts of lovingkindness. It was the source of the special radiance that attracted his wife, Sherry, and enveloped family, friends and colleagues in a warm glow when they were in his presence.

In our current era of digital media and instant information gratification, Jeff was an ink-under-the-fingernails guy. Reading newspapers was a lifelong addiction, providing daily highs of enlightenment, discovery and enchantment. And he made reading newspapers, especially when his work appeared in the Wall Street Journal, memorable for us.

It should be no surprise that while growing up in Philadelphia, part of Jeff’s insatiable newspaper appetite included the weekly Jewish Exponent (Sherry was a regular reader of the Jewish Review in her native Buffalo, N.Y.). Jeff appreciated the role of Jewish journalism in shaping and influencing a community. After moving to Detroit, the Jewish News filled that part of his information diet.

Jeff was more than an ardent Jewish News reader. He cheerfully agreed to speak at our events and harbored no shame in “talking us up” to advertisers. His wit and legendary sense of humor were on display as master of ceremonies at a “mini-roast” at the Jewish News in honor of my (now distant) 50th birthday. Sherry and Jeff shared their daughter, Alex, with us for one summer as an editorial intern. And as recently as last week, Jeff sent a generous donation, with an accompanying note, in support of the newly formed Detroit Jewish News Foundation.

Much has been written about Jeff’s unique ability to find a story idea and spin it into a magical and memorable yarn. I still recall a Shabbat dinner at our home that included Jeff, his family and David and Ilene Techner.

David, the respected director of the Ira Kaufman Chapel, knows a thing or two about trends in the funeral business. Jeff’s listening and questioning that evening resulted in two stories in the Wall Street Journal, including one that made the front page titled, “And He Was A Terrible Gambler: When Eulogists Get Carried Away.”

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lunchbox full of notes from readers lauding (or criticizing) a column I wrote or a cause I was advocating. The ones that will always mean the most to me are from Jeff. Here’s an excerpt from one that is vintage Jeff:

“Hey Arthur, I was touched when I came home from playing cards last night and Sherry told me she had been reading the Jewish News (her favorite Thursday activity) and that you had written about me. It was so nice of you, and your kind words mean a lot to me.

“Yes, I’m off for 22 Jewish Book Fairs. My next book ought to be ‘People of the Book … Festivals’ about the private lives of all of the ladies who run the book fairs! I should keep a diary. Anyway, heartfelt thanks again for including me (and Sully) in your column.

Good Shabbos, Jeff.”

He was — and will continue to be — our yardstick for greatness. He was the best of us.

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