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With Poet’s Pen

Yonoson Rosenblum

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bret Stephens talks with Mishpacha about the seminal influences on his life, his wunderkind appointment as editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post at 28, the art and craft of punditry, Donald Trump and the conservative crack-up, the future of Israel’s relationships with America, and his book, America in Retreat.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

“By the way, are you Jewish?” That was almost the first question Jerusalem Post publisherTomRose posed toBretStephens when first speaking to him about becoming editor in chief just after 9/11. It is a question often posed to the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, though probably more often behind his back. The nameBret (after American short story writerBretHarte)Stephens (a cultural appropriation byBret’s grandfather — neeEhrlich — from Irish poetJamesStephens) contains no hints. Nor are there any physiognomic eccentricities suggesting Jewish heritage. His speech is more upper-crust precise than rapid-fire. But,Bret assures me, as we sit talking in theChaba Café on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road on a drizzly February day, his background is Jewish all the way back. In fact, his maternal great-grandfather was the great-nephew of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, the leader of pre-World War II Torah Jewry. That great-grandfather was a Menshevik, and after the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Revolution, he was taken away by the dreaded Cheka secret police and never seen again. Bret’s maternal great-grandmother Chesse then embarked on a journey that would take her and her three daughters, including his grandmother Nina, first to Berlin and then to Italy, where Bret’s mother Xenia was born.Bret grew up in Mexico City. “My parents were completely secular, but fiercely Zionist,” he relates. His mother first captured his father’s attention when he heard her tell someone at a dinner party that if she had $500 million she would buy Phantoms for Israel. 

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