OTTAWA — The editor of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin has been forced to step down as he battles Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
After being diagnosed in 2006 with the disorder, whose official name is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, Barry Fishman, left, continued to work, adapting his hours and working from home as his condition progressed.
But his illness – a progressive, usually fatal, neurodegenerative disease caused by the deterioration of nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement – has reached the point where he is unable to fulfil all of his duties and he has gone on disability. He will become editor emeritus and remain involved with the paper on a volunteer basis, writing articles and columns when he is able to do so.
Mitchell Bellman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, which publishes the Bulletin, called Fishman “an incredible editor… He really brought a very human and personal face to the paper… everyone respects him as just one of the nicest people they have ever met and someone who cares deeply about serving the Jewish community and the newspaper.”
Fishman, 57, a graduate of Ryerson University’s radio and television arts program, had a background in radio, television, public relations and sales prior to joining the Bulletin seven years ago.
The Sault Ste. Marie native said his goal when he became editor was to make the paper a true community institution, open to all its members.
“What I am most proud of is opening the paper to diverse voices in the Jewish community,” Fishman said. “I wanted to do stories about Jewish people doing interesting things, both within the Jewish community and outside the Jewish community, and to give a voice to those who may not have been well represented in the paper before.”
There have been challenges, he said.
“One of the biggest has been circulation,” Fishman said. “It’s a constant battle to keep the circulation up. The other big challenge is space. There is a lot going on and we have a limited amount of space for editorial, for financial reasons, so we are not always able to include everything we would like to.”
Fishman said a highlight for him has been meeting and writing about many interesting people, including Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel when he spoke at the opening of the annual UJA campaign in 2005.
“I interviewed him, and afterwards he sent me a nice note,” Fishman said.
“I also enjoyed participating in two missions to Israel; interviewing many of the wonderful local people who have interesting stories to share; and was always interested in covering our local politicians when they were running for election.”
Louise Rachlis, a member of the Bulletin’s advisory committee, has known Fishman for a number of years.
“I have long been an admirer of Barry’s wonderful attitude,” she said. “I’ve watched him modestly and quietly do what he believes in, whether following a longtime vegetarian diet [which he has been forced to abandon, on doctor’s orders] or biking the MS Cycle Tour from Ottawa to Kemptville [Ont.] and back, or working with him as a member of the Bulletin advisory committee where, as editor, he was always open to suggestions, and handled political minefields with diplomacy.
“While we are all concerned about his illness, he continues to make us comfortable with his usual grace and good spirits.”
Fishman remains optimistic as he continues to battle the disease.
“I am not giving up hope and am doing my best by trying to have a positive attitude as I face the challenge of living with ALS. I plan to stay involved as much as I can as a volunteer and will, as editor emeritus, write the occasional column,” he said.
“I have been humbled by the outpouring of concern and willingness of the readers of the Bulletin to help in any way they can. People who know me only through my work have phoned to offer their assistance. I feel privileged to be part of such a wonderful caring community.”