My DAVID Years
As most things in Vegas, it started at a party.
I was introduced to Martin Stein and we had a nice chat. At some point he mentioned he was going to be editing a new magazine and I mentioned I was a writer.
“We should talk further,” he suggested. So we did. The magazine in question was DAVID and by the time that first issue went to print, in May of 2010, I was onboard with a piece about the good work the JFSA was doing in Southern Nevada. By the second issue, I had two pieces in the publication, including the cover story, both looking at different aspects of local studentry, from the first Adelson High School graduating class to UNLV Fulbright recipients.
My association with DAVID was off to a great start.
Unfortunately, it was about to come to a screeching halt. Not knowing where my future was heading, I had accepted a position as an English teacher in Hungary for at least a year and was scheduled to leave in August, just as the magazine was prepping for its 5th issue. I had lunch with Martin and explained the situation. Surprisingly, my imminent departure didn’t faze him at all.
“You’ll have internet access, right?” He asked.
I assured him I would, and we then began to plan a strategy for still working from 6000 miles away.
August came, and I moved halfway around the world, settling into a small farming community in southern Hungary. The distance from Las Vegas didn’t hinder my writing at all. I was able to do interviews via online services and file my stories electronically with no problem. The magazine changed editors for a little while, but no matter, I kept writing and turning in stories. Sure, there were times I had to turn down tempting offers to meet the subject of my interviews for lunch or tour the locations I was writing about, but overall, everything was working out just fine.
At the end of my year in Hungary, though, I was offered a full-time gig in Lithuania. By this time, our publisher, Max, had pretty much taken over as editor and we again discussed my role with the magazine. The advantage from their end was I was now a European correspondent, with the ability to provide a much larger scope for our regional publication. Whenever I had a vacation someplace else in Europe, I would let Max know and he would come back at me with some sort of Jewish history near where I was going.
In this way, while on a trip to Barcelona, I visited the Sinagoga Major de Barcelona, the oldest known synagogue in Europe. That same trip also led me to the nearby city of Girona, where the Museu d’Historia Dels Jueus (Museum of Jewish History), housed in another restored medieval synagogue, was hosting an exhibition of artistically designed menorahs.
Then there was the trip to Lisbon, Portugal, which included a side trip to the small village of Tomar, about 90 miles away, where I went to visit the Museu Luso-Hebraico Abraham Zacuto (the Abraham Zacuto Portuguese Jewish Museum) housed, like so many other places of historical Jewish interest, in a restored place of worship. This time, the former temple was from the mid 15th century and had the stated purpose of trying “to establish a museum and library on the history of the Jews in all the nations of the world.”
Of course, while writing these pieces, I was able to take advantage of one of the things I love most about my job: The ability to get paid to learn new things. I feel bad for writers who focus on just one topic or specialize in a limited field. Over the course of the last 100 issues, not only have I learned and written about the history of European Jewry, but I’ve also had the chance to research and understand solar farms and water desalinization plants, explore the ins and outs of virtual reality and find out what it’s like to fly in a chartered jet. Not to mention all I’ve learned about my own religion’s history, from a look at what it’s like to spend the High Holy Days in Jerusalem to the farm in Palm Desert where the accoutrement for sukkot are grown. I was “introduced” to folks like rock promoter Bill Graham, South African activist Albie Sachs and Nobel Laureate in Literature Isaac Bashevis Singer. I even interviewed a couple of rabbis, just to round things out.
Sure, living so far away, 10 hours by the clock, has had certain disadvantages. Like back in July of 2011, when the Las Vegas based Pawn Stars was all the rage (“It is now the No. 1 show on cable,” star Rick Harrison had boasted.) we had scored the opportunity to grab an exclusive interview and I got the nod. Of course, Harrison and company were busy people (“A lot of Monday nights, I am the No. 1 show, including networks. I’m on in 130 countries, and, I think, 30 different languages.”) so their availability was severely limited and most definitely on their timetable, not mine. This led to a phone conversation with Harrison while he was driving around town on his way to pick someone up after work…about 5pm his time. 5 in the afternoon for him, though, was 3 am for me so I had to make sure my alarm was set (two, actually) so I could get up, throw down some coffee, and be coherent during our chat. He never knew.
But Rick Harrison was only one of the interesting people I’ve had the opportunity to talk to through this job. I had a conversation with former Miss World Linor Abargil, who shared with me her journey from victim, to survivor, to thriving wife and mother. I interviewed the Property Brothers and exotic animal rescuers Steven Lee August and Maria Gara (full disclosure, I already knew them from my time in Vegas, but this was the first time I ever interviewed them formally). I was also able to bring some attention to local Las Vegas artists and poets, doing pieces on people and events I wish I was able to see in person, not to mention discovering the new technology coming in to local hospitals and the UNLV medical school.
Personally, though, the highlight of these last 8 years and 100 issues was the trust placed in me by Max to grow beyond the regular articles and personality pieces. At the most basic level, this was expressed by getting an assignment like “write about the current refugee crisis” for the April 2016 issue. But then that easy missive was complicated by the directive to “reimagine it in terms of the Exodus from Egypt 4000 years ago.” Or being asked to look at unusual subjects like copyright in July of 2013 or the selfie culture in May of 2014 (both of which were combined into an article published in an academic journal in 2017).
That was the thing. Max would take my strengths and let me run with them. During the course of my time with DAVID I got married and became a father for the first time. These experiences were given space to be explored with pieces about traveling with my daughter and how parents place expectations on their children (October 2017) or even interviewing my own father for advice just before my little girl was born (June 2016).
I would get asked to write essays about what it might have been like to be the first people to see Earth from space (December 2016) or why it’s important to pass along your hobbies and interests with your children (June 2015). I even had the chance to write an imaginary commencement speech to a graduating class (June 2014 - which became a reality in 2017 when I delivered portions of that speech at an actual commencement). And because our magazine, like many others, hits the cultural holidays, I did several variations on dating for the February Valentine’s Day issue, but none was more personal or relevant than back in 2015 when I wrote about the bond between a person and their pet, focusing on my dog, Laika, who had travelled with me from the US to Hungary and then on to Lithuania.
There were even a few times when we decided to forego the articles altogether and I was asked to write pieces of fiction which would stretch my creative muscles. Pieces like “So You’re Engaged Now” from June 2013 allowed me to poke a little fun at overzealous Jewish mothers and over- the-top Vegas weddings (with a special shout out to my friend Monika, with whom I spent way to many hours sitting in coffee shops while writing these pieces) and “Sailing Against the Wind” in November of 2014 was a gentle jab at the over-commercialization of the holidays.
It was with pieces like “Shoes of Piety,” “Zayde’s Cup,” and “Little Histories,” though, where I was able to explore Jewish topics and themes while tying them back into the history of the diaspora in my adopted Lithuanian home. These stories put me in touch with a part of my own cultural history I hadn’t realized I had forgotten.
So, with these 100 issues, DAVID and I have both gone on an incredible journey of learning and exploration. I cannot wait to see what the next 100 issues hold for us.