Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 169

July 21, 2023 (3 Av 5783)

Parasha Devarim
The Jewish Walter Cronkite?

Dear Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you both in good health and good cheer while enjoying a relaxing and fun-filled summer! Please join us this Saturday morning, in shul, for our Shabbat services, which begin promptly, after hair and make-up adjustments, at 10:15 am! We continue to grow in our number of attendees each week, so make sure to come early, and allow us to welcome you to our Kehilla!

Over the years, you have likely heard me reference my maternal grandmother, of blessed memory, Frieda Wolfe. Born in 1895 in the small town of Mulch, in the province of Grodna in White Russia, she immigrated to Canada through Belgium, circa 1917, escaping pogroms and persecution. She was an impactful person in my life and while it was fun to visit and kibbitz (talk and joke) with Bubbie, we all knew not to interrupt her during the CBS Evening News with anchorman Walter Cronkite, who Bubbie reminded us, “Is the most trusted man in America.” Cronkite was born in the small town of St. Joseph, Missouri, and passed away in New York in 2009. Ironically, like my Bubbie, he lived until the age of 93.

As a boy, Cronkite was an avid reader of books, magazines, and newspapers. In 1927, he moved with his family to Houston, where he worked on school newspapers in both middle school and high school. After graduating he studied political science at the University of Texas at Austin (1933–35) and, to help pay his tuition, worked as a correspondent for a Houston newspaper. In 1935, he left college to take a full-time position with the paper. In 1939, Cronkite became a news editor for United Press.

He would go on to cover some of the most important events in United States history. As an overseas war correspondent, he covered the Nürnberg trials, after which he attracted the attention of CBS vice president Edward R. Murrow.

Thereafter, working in a visual medium he initially knew little about and that was out of his comfort zone, Cronkite helped shape the face of television news. He had an unflappable calmness and an uncanny ability to extemporize verbally, which made him ideal for hosting the political news show Man of the Week (1952–53). He reported on the most traumatic and triumphant moments of American life in the 1960s, from the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 to the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969.

Cronkite continued in his position at CBS for decades, reporting on some of the most memorable events, including the Watergate scandal, the resignation of President Nixon, and the historic peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel. His adherence to journalistic integrity, exemplified by his sign-off line, “And that’s the way it is” endeared him to the American public.

At this time of year, we read the writings from a biblical scribe, who I refer to as The Jewish Walter Cronkite!

Jeremiah, whose prophetic Haftaroth readings we study at this time of year, is noted for reporting on some of the most historically significant events of our ancestors, including the Destruction of the Temple that is covered in his Book of Lamentations, which we will chant, this week, on Tisha B’Av.

Similar to Cronkite, Jeremiah received a standout early education in a small rural town. Jerimiah was the son of Hilkiah and was raised in the city of Anathoth, just north of Jerusalem. His priestly background undoubtedly offered him a good standard of education and intellectual independence.

Like Cronkite, who was plucked from his modest locale to cover events in the big city, Jeremiah was handpicked by Hashem at an early age. While Murrow gets credit for discovering Cronkite, God precociously selected Jeremiah as follows, “Before I created you in the womb, I selected you and consecrated you and separated you for this special purpose (Jer. 1:5).”

As Cronkite reported for decades, so too, we are told that Jeremiah was active as an “on the scene reporter” for over forty years, from the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah until the eleventh year of Zedekiah, when Jerusalem was finally destroyed. Also, like Cronkite, who was originally reluctant to work in a new medium, Jeremiah reacts to Hashem’s invitation as a typical reluctant prophet by commenting, “Oh, God, I do not know how to speak, I am still a Na’Ar (a novice).”

As Cronkite reported on major events, Jeremiah was the prophet who recorded the great renewal of the covenant and the finding of an authentic Torah scroll during King Josiah’s reformation. This archeological finding is marked by scholars as the beginning of the development of the documentary hypothesis, often referred to as JEPD. Josiah’s communal gathering was considered the greatest renewal of study and religious practice for the Jewish people in literally hundreds of years. Jeremiah was also the on-the-ground reporter who recorded the confluence of ethical and religious events leading to the destruction of the First Temple, the siege of the holy city, and even the catastrophe of the Babylonian exile.

Like Cronkite, who loved the American people, a Midrash on Psalms 90:2 says that Jeremiah was one of four prophets, along with Habakkuk, King David, and Moses, distinguished by their passionate ongoing love of the people of Israel.

Most comparably, Cronkite’s famous sign-off, “That’s the way it is” is almost a virtual lift from a 12th-century poem written by Baruch ben Shmuel of Mainz, in reflection of Jeremiah’s fifth and final chapter of Megillat Eicha. That poem has a repetitive phrase, “Oy mah haya lanu (That’s the way it was).” The parallel speaks for itself.

As we enter Shabbat and reflect on the meaning of Tisha B’av, perhaps we can challenge ourselves to study and reflect upon the texts of our Tanach in the months ahead, in the merit of the Prophet Jeremiah. Ultimately, it is the Bible that can guide us in our quest for knowledge, history, archeology, spirituality, and an enriched meaningful connection with our treasured Jewish life, both ancient and modern!

And, that’s the way it is!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
Tel: 201-562-5277

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