New York Times Corrects Gil Marks

It’s not every day one gets one’s name written up in the New York Times, but most of us would prefer that the write up would not be in reference to a sibling’s obituary. In fact I’d venture to say most of us would settle for a live sibling and no write up whatsoever, but since that’s not a choice, yeah. It’s an honor to see your brother written up in the New York Times and okay, a little bit exciting to see your name in the Grey Lady.

That’s how it was for my friend Sharon Marks Altshul, who had a famous brother, culinary historian and rabbi, Gil Marks, who passed away one week ago. A New York Times obituary is a big deal and shows that Gil left an indelible imprint on the world. The excitement began to pall a bit when the very next day the New York Times affixed a “correction” to the bottom of Gil’s online obit which states:

An earlier version of this obituary misstated the location of Alon Shvut, where Mr. Marks lived. It is in the West Bank, not in Israel.

A view of Gil Marks' beloved final community: Alon Shvut, in Judea. (photo credit: The Real Jerusalem Streets.

A view of Gil Marks’ beloved final community: Alon Shvut, in Judea. (photo credit: The Real Jerusalem Streets.

Now that, my friends, is like a sucker punch. Both to Gil Marks’ memory and to the feelings of the surviving members of the culinary genius’ family.  The NY Times starts out by honoring Gil Marks and ends up insulting him, his family, and his people by turning Marks’ obituary into a political statement. One that runs counter to Marks’ most cherished beliefs.

I live not far from Alon Shvut which means that according to the New York Times, I also do not live in Israel. Which is funny considering I have Israeli citizenship, vote in Israel’s elections, and have sons who serve in the IDF.

I attended Gil’s funeral and paid a shiva call. And at a certain point you think you’ve done your duty. But then came that correction that turned Gil and his family (and by extension, me and my family) into illegitimate occupiers instead of good, upstanding people, and I knew that I would have to write about this. Especially after Sharon pointed out that the Telegraph had been almost as offensive as the NY Times by referring to Alon Shvut as a “settlement south-west of Jerusalem.”

It seems the Grey Lady has set a precedent.

I spoke with Sharon.

VE: What did it feel like when you saw that correction in the New York Times?

Sharon Marks Altshul: When I read the original piece and saw “Alon Shvut, near Jerusalem,” I thought that is great for a description in the New York Times, which after all, doesn’t accept the right of Jews to live in Judea and Samaria! But then people started telling me about the “correction update” and I had to wonder what in the world?  Why it was necessary to change what was correct and make it political, by adding “in the West Bank” to the text and adding a correction at the end?

sunset, alon shvut

A photo of a sunset from Gil Marks’ porch in Alon Shvut, his final home. (photo credit: Gil Marks, courtesy of Gil’s, Z”L, family)

VE: Why is it so distasteful for the New York Times to refer to Alon Shvut as part of the West Bank?

Sharon Marks Altshul: It was the way someone at the New York Times changed a simple truth in an obituary to make a statement, not regarding a politician, but someone who was a writer and an authority on food and culinary history. It was completely uncalled for, gratuitous, and therefore offensive.

VE: What about the idea that Alon Shvut is not in Israel? How does that make you feel?

Sharon Marks Altshul: Alon Shvut is near Jerusalem, Israel. That is fact. Changing Bruce Weber’s well-written piece, to call a city in the Gush Etzion area, where Jews lived before 1947-1948, where they were massacred by Jordanian Legion soldiers and local Arabs, a “settlement,” is an unnecessary political edit.

VE: What would you say to the New York Times if you could?

Sharon Marks Altshul: I would simply ask, “Why did the article have to be corrected?”

The original article was wonderful. Gil Z”L, lived for many years in New York City on the West Side, and it gave my mother great comfort to see her son written up in the New York Times. But why in the world did they have to blow it with such an offensive edit and political agenda which left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth?

VE: Is there a better way that the New York Times might have phrased the correction that would have made it more palatable or at least less biased?

Sharon Marks Altshul: There simply was no reason for a correction, which is what I am upset about.

VE: What do you think your brother Gil, Z”L, would say, if he were only here to venture an opinion?

Sharon Marks Altshul: I think he would agree that there was no need for a correction.  There were dozens of write ups that we saw from around the world. Gil, Z”L, always thought that the New York Times did not give him enough ink. However, Weber’s piece was well-researched and written with the help of the family and we do compliment him on his good work. Culture should be free of politics, but it seems whenever Israel is involved that becomes an impossible standard for the New York Times.




Varda Epstein

A third-generation-born Pittsburgher on her mother’s mother’s side, Varda moved to Israel 36 years ago and is a crazy political animal who spams people with right wing political articles on Facebook in between raising her 12 children and writing about education as the communications writer at Kars for Kids a Guidestar gold medal charity.

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