Past Honorees

At Central Synagogue

Thomas Friedman
2009 Author & Journalist

Thomas L. Friedman is a world-renowned author and journalist and the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes. He joined The New York Times in 1981 and has reported extensively on the Middle East conflict, the end of the Cold War, U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy, international economics, and the worldwide impact of the terrorist threat. His foreign affairs column, which appears twice a week in the Times, is syndicated to one hundred other newspapers worldwide.

Friedman is the author of From Beirut to Jerusalem (1989), The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999), Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11 (2002) and The World Is Flat (2005) among other books. He graduated summa cum laude from Brandeis University with a degree in Mediterranean studies and received a master’s degree in modern Middle East studies from Oxford.

Growing up in Minnesota, Friedman was sent to Hebrew school five days a week, but after becoming bar mitzvah he had little interest in the synagogue and considered himself “a three-day-a-year Jew.” That changed in the winter of 1968 when, as a 15-year-old boy, he traveled to Israel for the first time with his parents.

As he writes in the prologue of his first book, From Beirut to Jerusalem:

The trip that would change my life. [S]omething about Israel and the Middle East grabbed me in both heart and mind. I was totally taken with the place, its peoples and its conflicts. Since that moment, I have never really been interested in anything else. Indeed, from the first day I walked through the walled Old City of Jerusalem, inhaled its spices, and lost myself in the multicolored river of humanity that owed through its maze of alleyways, I felt at home.

I began to read everything I could get my hands on about Israel. In the period of a year, I went from being a nebbish whose dream was to one day become a professional golfer to being an Israel expert-in-training.

[As an undergrad at Brandeis] I gave a slide lecture about Egypt. An Israeli graduate student in the audience heckled me the entire time asking, “What is a Jew doing going to Egypt?” Worse, he got me extremely flustered and turned my talk into a catastrophe I would never forget.

But I learned two important lessons from the encounter. First, when it comes to discussing the Middle East, people go temporarily insane, so if you are planning to talk to an audience of more than two, you’d better have mastered the subject.

Second, a Jew who wants to make a career working in or studying about the Middle East will always be a lonely man: he will never be fully accepted or trusted by the Arabs, and he will never be fully accepted or trusted by the Jews.