“As a late-in-life grandfather, I had my two young grandchildren in mind as the target audience. I imagined them as grownups, reading about the life and times of the man they called ‘Eeepa.’ Perhaps this was important to me because I knew so little about my own grandparents and their immigrant journey from Yiddish-speaking shtetls in Europe to an America that was indeed a promised land for them.”
Stephen B. Shepard’s memoir is called Second Thoughts – On Family, Friendship, Faith, and Writers. It is a compelling New York Jewish story and an important read for anyone interested in the liberal secular American Jewish experience in the last half of the 20th century and the opening decades of the 21st.
Shepard is the Founding Dean Emeritus of the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, a former senior editor at Newsweek, editor of Saturday Review, and for twenty years the editor-in-chief of Business Week Magazine.
A disclaimer – Steve and his wife Lynn Povich are good friends to my wife Barbara and me. That aside I couldn’t put down the book. I was inspired and touched by it, impressed with Steve’s raw honesty and courage in speaking so truthfully about his life, his capacity for self-reflection after years of psychoanalysis, and the beauty, easy, and crisp flow of his writing which is at once personal and journalistic as if recording contemporary history in which Steve is the protagonist.
Steve writes about his roots as a poor second generation American Jewish kid growing up in a tiny Bronx apartment and his return visit with Lynn and their adult children on his 80th birthday, his disabled older sister about whom he carried so much guilt, his conflicted relationships with his working class Jewish parents, a near-death experience he suffered as a young man, his evolving and complicated relationship to most things Jewish including Israel, his boyhood love of classic cars that he calls “car lust,” his shared passion with his father for the NY Yankees, his envy of friendships that come so easily to women but with such difficulty to men, his journey from his first career as an engineer to the heights of the journalistic profession that took him to the center of American political and financial power, his critical assessment of what has become of journalism in the digital media market, his love of American Jewish fiction and fascination with the lives of the best of 20th century Jewish writers, and his trips with Lynn to Israel, Hitler’s Berlin bunker, the Normandy Coast, Vietnam, and the racist American South.
Steve offers a comprehensive, thoughtful, clear-sighted, and morally infused reflection on contemporary Israel, its history, relationship to the Palestinians, and his dimming hopes for a two-state resolution of the age-old conflict. He understands well the political, historical, psychological, and cultural complexities involved, the inhumanity of the occupation, and the impact that the increasingly entrenched right-wing Israeli government and its policies are having upon the soul of Israel as a Jewish and liberal democratic state. He worries about Israel’s future as a Jewish moral beacon light to the world as envisioned by the State’s founding generation.
Steve writes more about his personal life and professional career in his first book, Deadlines and Disruption: My Turbulent Path from Print to Digital (publ. 2012). There he tells of meeting the love of his life, Lynn Povich, an award-winning journalist who helped to organize forty–six women in the early 1970s at Newsweek (they met there as colleagues and fell in love) charging “systemic discrimination” against the magazine in hiring and promotion. The case was resolved successfully for the plaintiffs by the US Supreme Court. Five years later, Lynn became the first woman Senior Editor in Newsweek’s history. She wrote the full story about that landmark lawsuit in The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, which was turned into a television series on Prime Video (2015-2016), and went on to a distinguished career in her own right.
Steve’s memoir deserves a wide readership. His grandchildren are now too young to read and understand what their “Eeepa” has written, but one day I have little doubt that they are going to love it, be inspired by it, be proud of him, and likely will regret that they didn’t have the opportunity to better know their grandfather one-on-one as adults themselves.
That said: Steve – to 120!
You are two-thirds there already.