Dana Bash is CNN’s chief congressional correspondent.
At 43, she has more than a decade of high-visibility work for the network behind her, and she will provide its coverage of the almost ludicrously crowded Republican field, as more than two dozen candidates compete for camera time and voter approval.
Ms. Bash is also a graduate of Pascack Hills High School, a self-proclaimed Jersey girl, and a deeply committed Jew.
Ms. Bash will speak on Sunday, May 3, at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, to benefit the Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland. Laurie Nahum and Rick Krieger will be honored that evening for their service to the school as well.
Ms. Bash’s father, Stuart Schwartz, was a producer for ABC News until he retired a few years ago. He had a high-level job, and that meant that the family had to move frequently, toggling between the New York and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas. Ms. Bash was born in Manhattan, moved to Teaneck when she was 2, and then moved to Washington just a few years later. “I found out that I was moving back to New Jersey on the day of my bat mitzvah,” she said. Breaking the news that way was both accidental and bad, she said.
Still, despite the way she learned about her new life, and despite the fact that in general it is not good to move when you are 13, Ms. Bash – then Dana Schwartz – adjusted quickly. “I spent my formative years there,” she said. “I love New Jersey.” As for being a Jersey girl – what exactly does that mean? “Good question,” she said; as always, good question means, “I’m not quite sure.” Then she came up with linguistic quirks – going to a diner, going down the shore. Does it mean being scrappy? She laughed. “I think a lot of people would call me that,” she said.
Just as Ms. Bash’s father influenced her interest in media and in politics, her mother, Francie Schwartz, shaped her appreciation of Jewish life. As soon as they moved to Montvale, the family joined Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, where Dana was confirmed and her younger brother became bar mitzvah. Soon after her daughter began college, Ms. Schwartz went back to school.
“When she probably was about 50, my mother went to HUC” – Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Manhattan – “for a masters in Jewish studies. She was going to school with people my age,” Ms. Bash said. “She was like their mascot.”
The idea that drove Ms. Schwartz to HUC, her daughter said, was the need to get the adults who left their synagogues soon after they became bar or bat mitzvah to return, not as parents – before they became parents – but as independent agents.
Ms. Schwartz wrote a book, “Jewish Moral Virtues,” with her teacher and mentor, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz, the Jewish thinker who is the pride of HUC.
Ms. Bash also went to Jewish summer camp – to the Reform movement’s Camp Harlam, in Kunkletown, Penn. “I was a complete camp person,” she said.
Following the pull she felt from Washington, Ms. Bash went to George Washington University there. She began working for CNN as an undergraduate. “I did a ton of internships during college – at NBC, at CBS – and in my senior year, 1993, I said, ‘Okay, I gotta get paid,’ so I figured there must be a need at CNN.” She wanted a paid internship there.
“So I called somebody there, and they said they needed somebody to do vacation relief in the feeds room. I would be responsible for pressing play and record and sending things down to Atlanta, our home base at the time.”
Although that was little more than 20 years ago, the technology was entirely 20th century, all tapes and VCRs, whirring reels and great big buttons. None of that exists anymore. “And then I got a job in the tape library – again, something that doesn’t exist any more,” Ms. Bash said. It was an entry-level job, but a real one, at CNN’s DC bureau. From there, she moved up steadily.
Ms. Bash’s first husband, Jeremy Bash – “I’m still very good friends with him,” she said – is the son of a Conservative rabbi, and is related to many modern Orthodox Jews. “My Jewish identity and my Jewish knowledge grew immensely through being married to him, and learning from him and his family.”
Now, in DC, Ms. Bash is a member of Temple Micah, and her 3-year-old son “goes to a Jewish preschool, and he loves it,” she said. “I love doing Shabbat with him.”
Switching gears, Ms. Bash talked about the vast Republican pool of would-be candidates, and about how religion and Israel play into that. “There is a very strong evangelical vote in Iowa, that a lot of the Republicans try to tap into,” she said. The last two Republicans who won in Iowa, Mike Huckabee in the 2008 election cycle and Rick Santorum in 2012, “had the evangelical vote as their core,” she said.
“I do think that this year, although it is very early, there is a broader discussion,” she said. “Foreign policy is back on the table, and so is the economy. But social issues play more in Iowa and South Carolina,” the third of the first three primary states.
“When Jews look at politics, they think about Israel,” she said. “Especially these days, with the whole controversy about Netanyahu. When the Republicans talk about being pro-Israel, that is a very big applause line in the evangelical community.
“But Jews are not one-issue voters. They are also going to vote on the economy, and on foreign policy, and on other things that matter to them.
“If, say, you believe that women are going to vote based only on abortion, you are wrong. Just as if you think that Jews are going to vote based only on Israel, you’re wrong.”
And, of course, the Jewish community is not monolithic, she added. “Even if it were going to vote based solely on Israel, there is a real divide on the issue. A huge divide.”
Ms. Bash talked about some of her most memorable experiences. “When I was covering George W. Bush, when I was a White House correspondent, I went with him the first time he really engaged on Middle East policy.” She was the pool reporter – the journalist who would cover the day’s events, and whose story would be shared by all the news organizations that contributed to that pool and would take turns supplying reporters or using their work. “It was at the King of Jordan’s palace in Aqaba,” she said. It was a summit meeting; the participants were Mr. Bush, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Palestinians’ prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. “It was pretty awesome being there,” Ms. Bash said.
“It was June, and it was 100 degrees,” she continued. “They built a big bridge that went over the pool, wide enough for all of them to walk over together. There were four podiums, and they all walked up to one of them.
“And you noticed that none of them was sweating.” All the reporters were dissolved into swamps of sweat and grease, but the four leaders looked fresh.
“They each had an air conditioner in his podium,” Ms. Bash said.
On the way home, Mr. Bush “had us come to the front cabin, the plane’s conference room, and he talked to us about his experiences at the summit,” Ms. Bash said. “It was pretty awesome.”
There was a backstory. “Bush had been really criticized for not engaging in the peace process early, but he didn’t do it because he thought that Arafat” – Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians’ longtime leader – “was not a legitimate negotiating partner.
“He said that early in his presidency, he got a lot of guff from his European allies, particularly the French, for that. They were mad at him. But he said he wouldn’t do it.
“He said that when he would go to summits then, they would look at him as if he were the skunk at a garden party, because he wouldn’t engage with Arafat. He just couldn’t do it.
“And then Arafat died, and he started to engage with Abbas.”
Mr. Bush did not talk about any of this until much later, she said.
She also recalled her experiences on September 11, 2001. She arrived at work at the Capitol building just as the second plane hit the World Trade Center, although she did not know it then. “At that time, security was different,” she said. “You could park on the plaza then. I remember driving in – the cops knew me, and they tried to get me in fast.” They knew something was happening, but they did not know what.
“Little did I know, when I was hurrying to the east side of the building, that people sitting on the west side could see smoke coming from the Pentagon,” she said.
She walked into the building “and I pressed the elevator button to go up, and then the cops were ‘Get out! Get out! Get out!'” The missing plane was thought to be on its way to crash land on top of them. “And it would have, if those heroes hadn’t stopped it in that field in Pennsylvania,” she said.
“We all ran out,” she said. “To hear a cop say ‘Run for your life! Run for your life!’ It’s…” Her voice trailed off.
“Everyone ran across the lawn. There were shoes, all sorts of shoes, strewn across the lawn, because people were running out of their shoes.”
That terrifying day was one of the two scariest she has lived through, she said. The other was soon after, “the day anthrax came to the capital. I was thinking, ‘I have to find it, I have to find it,’ and I was running to the Hart Building, thinking the whole time about the back ways that I know.
“And then I had to think, ‘What am I doing?'”
“I had to take Cipro for weeks,” she said; the harsh antibiotic, which fights anthrax, was prescribed to many people because at the time nobody knew how far into the city the deadly substance had gone.
There is a good deal of emotion in these memories – fear and confusion around 9/11 and the weeks and months that followed, pride in the memories of summits and private meetings. Still, Ms. Bash said, “I am trained to be objective.
“We are all human. There is no question of that. There is no question that I have my own opinions, but even – and especially – on issues like the Middle East, I am so trained to be objective that I have pushed my personal ideas so far down that I don’t even always know what they are.
“But to have a front row seat to history – objectively, that is very cool.”
|Who: Dana Bash, CNN’s chief congressional correspondent
What: Will speak at Torah Talks Gala to benefit the Academies at Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland
Where: Temple Beth Rishon, Wyckoff
When: Sunday, May 3, at 6:45 p.m.
Who will be honored: Laurie Nahum and Rick Krieger
How much: Tickets for Ms. Bash’s talk are $50 per person; the talk and the gala dinner are $125 each.
For information and reservations: Call Amy Silna Shafron at (201) 337-1111, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.ssnj.org