ON Thursday, February 4, 2010 – 10 years ago this week – I went to a pub in Sydney to meet up with a young reporter who had previously worked for The AJN and, after a stint with the local press in NSW, was interested in returning to the paper.
That reporter was Josh Levi.
Ten years on, I find myself mourning the finest journalist I have ever had the privilege of working with.
I had only joined the paper as national editor two months before our first meeting and was keen to recruit someone who shared my vision. In Josh, I found that person: someone who saw The AJN as a vehicle for making readers proud of their Jewish heritage and of Israel; who saw it as a vehicle for improving the community, highlighting its flaws, campaigning for those failings to be rectified and holding those in positions of authority to account.
And over the years, he did that in spades, whether it was his groundbreaking coverage of child abuse, or his reports into the controversies surrounding the Kashrut Authority, Yeshiva in Sydney, Yeshivah in Melbourne or the now defunct Australian Jewish Communal Lobby, to name but a few.
In the decade that followed our first meeting, Josh served as senior Sydney journalist, Sydney news editor, Sydney sports editor, national sports editor, national news editor, deputy editor, Sydney office manager and more recently as CEO. The reality though, whatever title he held, he was always my go-to guy. No one had his nose for a story or his instinct for the angle that should be taken.
That’s not to say Josh was the most literary of writers, a fact he would readily admit. In his head he always knew what he wanted to say, it just didn’t always translate into English when he put finger to keyboard. But that was the essence of our relationship as editor and journalist over 10 years: him writing, me deciphering (amid occasional cries of despair).
The heart of these stories, though, was pure Josh.
And the countless phone calls, emails and texts I have received over recent days, bear testament to that.
Everyone who dealt with Josh trusted and liked him. They knew he wasn’t writing stories to be scandalous or out of malice. He wrote them because they needed to be written. Because the community needed to be made aware of certain information or because something wasn’t as it should be or someone wasn’t acting as they should be.
And he would take the time and trouble to explain that to those members of the community affected or involved. In fact, he would spend hours on the phone to them, or meeting them in person, explaining why a story was being written, why a particular angle was being taken and why it could not be ignored, as much as they might like it to be.
And whether they agreed or not, they appreciated that and respected him for it.
That sense of dedication, and of determination, underscored every story he’d write – from the coverage of the child abuse scandal within the community, to the simplest match report or article about a communal event.
Whatever the story, Josh put his all into ensuring the facts were correct, the relevant people had been spoken to and, if necessary, that all parties involved were given a right of reply.
And that rigorous, ethical journalist was the Josh I stood shoulder to shoulder with in court three years ago, when he and the paper were being sued for defamation over articles the pair of us had written during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – coverage that won both him personally, and the paper, a slew of awards.
During that week, I saw a different side to the jovial, jocular, “no complaints” persona that Josh wore around the office.
Considered, insightful, contemplative – qualities he would subsequently bring to his role as CEO – two years after writing the articles, he was still able to justify every word and line he had written as being in the public interest. Integrity spilled out of those reports just as it flowed from his personality.
Everything was written for the public interest, for the communal interest – and for that he was respected, admired and loved throughout the community.
Two months ago, at our end of year celebration I joked that Josh was well suited to imminent fatherhood as he had become a father to us all at The AJN, such was the level of maturity and responsibility he exhibited since becoming CEO.
We cannot begin to imagine the loss inflicted on Lia, Lara, Ian, Ann, Sylvia, Ben, Mel and the rest of Josh’s family.
But as a reporter, as an editor and as CEO, Joshua Levi was the heart and the integrity of The AJN. This week, the paper lost its soul, and Australian Jewry lost one of its most dedicated sons.
And for my part, I have lost one of my dearest friends, colleagues and sparring partners.
You have been by my side at The Australian Jewish News for a decade and now there is a gaping hole.
Farewell Josh. The AJN will never be the same … but knowing that you’re looking down at us, we’ll do our very best to make sure it’s still a paper you would be proud of.
Zeddy Lawrence is the national editor of The AJN.