Friday, April 13, 2007

Zell: 'One tough Jew'

Sam Zell got the treatment today from the largest Jewish newspapers in Los Angeles and New York. The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and The Forward recycle the stories of Zell's reputation as a open-shirt-wearing, motorcycle-riding, grave-dancing business maverick.

But, more fascinating, is that both papers note the oddity of Zell, whose parents fled Poland the night before Nazi invasion, placing the winning bid for the Tribune Co, which owns the Los Angeles Times.

From The Forward:

The irony of Zell’s latest success is that it will likely make him the owner of a company that has been the very antithesis of the Jewish summer camp culture in which Zell was molded. The Chicago Tribune, the company’s flagship publication, has had a famously antagonistic relationship with the Jewish community in Chicago — historically because of its right-wing, isolationist stance during World War II, and more recently because of its critical coverage of Israel. Newspaper watchers say that Zell and the Tribune will be an interesting mix.

“The paper has a reputation for having a thick glass ceiling for Jews,” said Michael Siegel, who for 25 years has been the rabbi at Chicago’s Anshe Emet Synagogue, where Zell is a member. “For someone like Sam Zell, who is noted as a grave dancer, here is he is more of a grave spinner. There are probably some past owners and executives who are spinning in their graves right now.”

And from The Jewish Journal:

Happily for them, most of the old-time Los Angeles anti-Semites who used to hang out at the downtown California Club are either dead or too old to care that a Jew is on the verge of owning the L.A. Times.

Not just any Jew. Sam Zell looks as though he's one tough Jew, probably even tougher than the old California Clubbers who stole the water from the Owens Valley and got rich in sneaky San Fernando Valley land deals.


Another Jew, David Geffen, is waiting in the wings, hoping to be either Zell's joint-venture partner or to buy the Times from him.

However it turns out, we'll probably have a Jew in charge of the Times, which was once one of old Los Angeles' most famous WASP institutions. What a great day for old L.A. Jews with long memories of country clubs and downtown clubs that banned them; restrictive covenants that kept them out of certain fancy neighborhoods; anti-Semitic fraternities and sororities at USC and UCLA and law firms that never seemed able to find a place for a smart Jewish attorney. They also may have memories of the old Times, which, while not anti-Semitic, was a perfect reflection of the conservative Republican WASP culture of Los Angeles' upper classes.

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