I was in the best place I could be that day 50 years ago — Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
It was shortly after 11 in the morning, Pacific Standard Time, and I was hunkered down behind a typewriter in a small office on the 9th floor of the Embassy Hotel in Los Angeles, editing the next edition of the Student Statesman.
It was an eight-page, advertisement-free, political advocacy tabloid aimed at college students. It had a circulation of 40,000. I essentially produced the Student Statesman by myself.
Suddenly, Dale Collins, who managed Wings of Healing, the organization that published the newspaper, poked his head through the door.
“President Kennedy has been assassinated,” he said softly. And then he was gone.
I sat stunned for a few minutes. Finally, I walked down a hall toward a room at the other end of the building.
I knew I would find solace where several employees were silently praying.
I was the only Jewish employee at Wings of Healing, an international, interdenominational Christian organization involved in a variety of religious initiatives aimed at spreading the Gospel.
There was a time decades ago when I could not conceive how I could be at that place at that time, how I could be hired and spend 16 months at Wings of Healing. But eventually I made sense of it.
Two of the four daily newspapers in Los Angeles had merged a few months earlier, as I was getting my degree in journalism. Hundreds of seasoned journalists were unemployed. Finding a newspaper job in southern California was nearly impossible.
One morning shortly after I graduated, I noticed a small ad in the Los Angeles Times. An unnamed organization wanted someone to edit a monthly newspaper.
I sent a resume and cover letter. Three days later, Collins called and I learned the organization was Wings of Healing, founded by Dr. Thomas Wyatt. Collins and I agreed to meet the following Saturday morning.
Collins began the interview by describing the work of Wings of Healing — a nationwide radio ministry, missionary work in Africa, Christian-oriented literature, revivals, conferences.
The Student Statesman, he continued, had recently been established to counter what Dr. Wyatt, Collins and others felt was a lack of American heritage, patriotism and Judeo-Christian ideals in the curriculum of most high schools and colleges.
I had no knowledge of that. But my father had imbued a strong sense of patriotism in me, so I was intrigued. But on the drive home, I figured there was no chance the job would be offered.
Collins had told me that I was the 12th and last person he interviewed — and the only Jew.
He had asked whom I admired in government. President Kennedy, I replied. Collins said Wings of Healing supported Barry Goldwater, the Republican favored to face JFK in 1964.
Collins had also asked me where I stood politically. I said I was an independent, which didn’t jibe with Wings of Healing’s staunchly conservative philosophy.
On the following Monday, Collins called. When could I start? he began.
I was momentarily stunned.
Tomorrow, I said.
Collins met me as I arrived at 8 o’clock. “We haven’t started on the December issue,” he said. “Do you think you can get it out in two weeks?”
“Sure,” I said.
Never mind that I hardly knew what I needed to do.
I put the December issue together in 10 days with a little help from the previous part-time editor. But clearly, a greater power was at work — fittingly, considering my new employer.
And then, almost a year later, JFK was dead.
It didn’t matter that people at Wings of Healing disagreed, for the most part, with JFK’s positions. He was their president.
Because of budget constraints, Wings of Healing folded The Student Statesman after I edited 14 monthly issues.
Collins asked me to remain in a public relations position. He was being kind by providing employment while I decided my next move. I stayed for two months before taking a job in Frankfort.
But that day 50 years ago, when people of a different faith shared their sorrow and provided solace, will always be with me.
Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper editor and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com.