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Changing of the guard – The Jewish Ledger continues under new ownership

By Judie Jacobson

 

Henry M. Zachs

Henry M. Zachs

HARTFORD — As the Connecticut Jewish Ledger prepared to celebrate a milestone anniversary in June, the 85-year-old weekly – one of the country’s oldest  – also marked the end of an era. Earlier this month, ownership of the newspaper passed from NRG Connecticut LLC, headed by long-time publisher N. Richard Greenfield, to JHL Ledger Publications, a company owned by Hartford area philanthropist and businessman Henry M. Zachs. Included in the sale is the Connecticut paper’s sister publication, the Massachusetts Jewish Ledger, covering Western and Central Massachusetts, as well as the annual reference magazine All Things Jewish.

At the time of the sale, Greenfield, who took on the role of Ledger publisher after many successful years in the financial industry in New York City, had been publisher of the Ledger for 20 years, taking over from the late Bert Gaster in 1994. The day-to-day operation will continue to be led by the paper’s management team that includes Ledger Editor Judie Jacobson, Associate Publisher Leslie Iarusso, and Operations Director Hillary Pasternak.

“The Ledger has been a strong voice for the Jewish communities of Connecticut and Massachusetts for 85 years – providing lines of communication that unite our community, and supporting the efforts of our day schools, synagogues and organizations to reinvigorate and broaden Jewish religious and cultural life,” said Zachs in announcing the paper’s new ownership.

“Ricky Greenfield has done an outstanding job of serving the Ledger’s readership of all ages, affiliations and backgrounds. He has kept our community informed and up-to-date about the important issues affecting Jewish life locally, nationally, abroad and in Israel.

He has handed over a publication that is well-respected throughout the country and I am pleased for the opportunity to continue in that tradition,” Zachs added.

That is not to say that there will not be changes – especially on the paper’s “opinion” page.

“The Ledger has long served as a forum for discussion and debate,” says Zachs. “We will invigorate that discussion and broaden the spectrum of that debate by allowing for a wide range of opinions and ideas,” says. “If it’s true, as they say, that where there are two Jews there are three opinions – then we want to hear all three of those opinions. It can only work to strengthen us as a people and as a community.”

 

A Commitment to Community

Co-founded in April 1929 by Sam Neusner z”l and Rabbi Abraham Feldman z”l, to quote Neusner,“ as a vehicle of expression, a journal of Jewish public opinion, a record of its likes and events,” the Ledger originally published Hartford, New Haven and Springfield editions.  The New Haven edition, discontinued at some point, was again added for a short period in the 1990s. (Last year, the Massachusetts Ledger added to its coverage Worcester and its surrounding area.)

Neusner, who had been raised in Beverly, MA., worked for the Boston Jewish Advocate from 1924 to 1929, when he founded the Jewish Ledger in Springfield, MA. That same year, he moved to Hartford and founded the Jewish Ledger in Hartford, covering Connecticut and Massachusetts.

While Feldman, who was spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, limited his role to writing editorials, Neusner was charged with the day-to-day operation of the paper.

In 1958, Neusner hired Bert Gaster z”l to be the Ledger’s managing editor. When Neusner died in 1960, his wife Lee became publisher.

In 1967, Lee Neusner sold the Ledger to Gaster and Shirley Bunis, the Ledger’s business manager. In 1992. Gaster sold the Ledger to a consortium of businessmen that included N. Richard Greenfield.

Greenfield – “Ricky” to friends and associates – bought out his business partners in 1994, assuming the role of publisher and traveling regularly between Hartford and the suburban Boston town of Norwell, MA, where he still lives with his wife Karen.

 

A Man of Principle

N. Richard Greenfield

N. Richard Greenfield

Ricky Greenfield was no stranger to Jewish communal involvement. An active participant in Jewish affairs and Jewish life, Greenfield was well connected to a host of Jewish organizations. Among his many affiliations, he had served on the New York Board of Governors of the Middle East Forum, the National Board of Directors of the Zionist Organization of America, the New York Advisory Board of CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), and as chairman of the Board of the University of Connecticut Hillel.

Once at the helm of the Ledger, Greenfield eagerly took up the editorial mantel, using its pages to disseminate Jewish news and ideas as well as express his own viewpoint. His editorial efforts appeared not only in his own newspapers, but in other Jewish publications as well, both in print and online. Receiving the  lion’s share of his editorial support was the State of Israel.

“Ricky Greenfield has been a life-long supporter of Israel with a particular concern about the way Israel is portrayed by the media,” notes Cathrine Fischer Schwartz, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. “For most people, it would be enough to support the efforts of others. Being active with CAMERA or AIPAC would be sufficient – a rewarding avocation. But not for Ricky Greenfield. That’s why it made perfect sense when he retired from Bear Stearns, after a successful career on Wall Street, that he would put his resources where his passion is and buy the Connecticut Jewish Ledger. The Ledger became a platform for his views and an avenue through which he could support the greater Jewish community. The Ledger was a media sponsor of virtually every important event in the community and Ricky was present, more often than not, to show his support.”

Much like his relationship with Schwartz, along the way Greenfield cultivated close working relationships with many professional and lay leaders within the Connecticut and Massachusetts Jewish communities.

“It’s not like a professional relationship, but rather, like two friends working on a project together,” says Steve Friedlander, who has collaborated with Greenfield ever since signing on as executive director of UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk in 2004. “From day one, it was clear to me that this was a labor of love for Ricky, to build Jewish community. He wasn’t in it to make money.”

Friedlander is not the only one who classifies Greenfield’s motives as community-minded.

“Ricky Greenfield’s motivations in publishing the Connecticut Jewish Ledger have been to serve the Jewish community of the State of Connecticut in the way that only a statewide Jewish newspaper could. He has always understood that although our small state and its Jewish community are broken up into many regions, there are many important interests and concerns that we all share on a statewide basis,” says Gary Jones, director of the Connecticut Region Anti-Defamation League. “We all owe Ricky an immense debt of gratitude for making sure that the Ledger has continued to fulfill that function over all these years and for making sure that the Ledger would continue to be strong and vibrant after he left his role as publisher and owner.”

“Ricky Greenfield as publisher saw his stewardship of the Ledger not only as a business but as an historical and educational mission to the communities it served and we are the better for his work,” said Dr. Richard Freund, director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford. “We had students at the Greenberg Center studying back issues of the Ledger regularly to ascertain the scope of the community’s historical perspectives and ideas-it was that good! He re-invented the online and printed versions of the Ledger many times over the past 15 years, to keep it viable in a time when print media everywhere was changing. It is a testament to his tenacity  — and the tenacity of the staff — that people of all ages still look to the publication week by week for its views on Israel, Jewish life, and issues that involve Jews from eight to 80.”

“Ricky views the Jewish Ledger as a valued community asset.

His stewardship of the Ledger was marked by his true concern and passion for all things Israel and Jewish,” says Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky of the Benet Rothstein Jewish Center in Glastonbury. “He would wax nostalgic about the tight-knit community and family in which he grew up. He hoped that his contribution, through the pages of the Ledger, would bring that feeling of closeness to the homes of its subscribers. It is fair to say that thousands of local readers would agree that he has succeeded.”

As news of Greenfield’s departure spread, community leaders commented on the legacy he would leave behind.

“Ricky has contributed significantly to the unity of the Connecticut Jewish community by keeping us informed of our individual initiatives and our collective goals,” said Sharon Conway, director of the Southern New England Consortium’s (SNEC) Israeli Young Emissary Program. “ I believe he qualifies as the all-time best in the category of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger’s [annual end-of-year feature]  ‘Movers and Shakers’ for keeping the paper alive and current. Ricky’s quiet humility, his open-mindedness and his generosity will be missed.”

“As one of the last representatives of good New England freedom-minded traditions of writing, the Jewish Ledger under Ricky Greenfield remained one of the ‘crown jewels of the Jewish Life of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts’ and we can all be proud of the Connecticut and Western Massachusetts issues that it produced, even with limited staffing,” commented Freund.

Schwartz agrees. “Those of us who worked with him over these past years owe him a debt of gratitude,” she notes. “If it wasn’t for Ricky, I don’t know if we would’ve had a Jewish newspaper in Connecticut. While we didn’t always agree on everything, I had a great respect for Ricky, his accomplishments and integrity. Ricky is a man of principle and I wish him well as he begins the next chapter in his life.”

As for what lies ahead, Friedlander says that the sale of the Ledger does not signify Greenfield’s distancing from the Jewish community. “I think it will give Ricky more time to devote to strengthening the community.”

And Freund feels certain the Ledger’s future remains bright.

“Our hat’s off to Ricky for his service, and thanks to Henry Zachs’ sense of community we will continue to enjoy the Ledger for years to come,” he says. “I know that Rabbi Feldman, Sam Neusner, and Bert Gaster would be proud.”

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