My decades long friendship with Allan Lengel had an inauspicious beginning. It was in the mid-80s, and I had just completed my first week at The Detroit News. My boss took me to a hole-in-the-wall bar called the Golden Galleon in downtown Detroit where some two dozen newsroom employees were gathered around a long table in the back room.
“Hey, Starkman, are you Jewish?” Lengel shouted from across the table with a grin I perceived as sinister.
“Yeah, I am,” I retorted. “Is that a problem?”
“Woooooo,” Lengel replied, pushing his hands forward signaling for me to back off.
I quickly learned that Lengel was the son of Holocaust survivors, and he innocently wanted to know if I was a member of the Tribe. We’ve been good friends ever since, although in the past 30 years we’ve gotten together maybe six times. We talk on the phone almost every day.
Although our politics are very different, we are kindred spirits and hold the same fundamental values. Both of us have a long history of defying authority, and we share the view that the role of journalists is to speak truth to power.
I’ve received accolades for my critical Deadline Detroit coverage of Beaumont Health, whose flagship hospital in suburban Detroit was nationally renowned until a carpetbagger from Atlanta named John Fox arrived with the intent of selling it. Under Fox’s leadership, Beaumont’s prestige has declined and so has the quality of care. My criticisms of Fox and his management minions have been relentless.
Lengel is the unsung hero here. He co-founded Deadline Detroit nine years ago and kept it going living hand-to-mouth after his business partner moved on. Lengel’s goal was to provide an alternative to the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News which have significantly declined since they were allowed to merge their business operations in 1989. Although surveys show that healthcare is the number one concern of Americans, the Freep and News have ignored Beaumont’s downfall and some of the serious patient mishaps that occurred there.
Few publications would have the courage to publish my Beaumont coverage, but Lengel never wavered or doubted the accuracy of my work, despite the serious repercussions if I screwed up. It’s a toughness I imagine Lengel inherited from his parents who survived Nazi Germany, particularly his father who was a member of the Jewish paramilitary organization known as the Haganah, a precursor to the Israel Defense Forces.
What’s always fascinated me about Lengel is that his toughness in journalism battle notwithstanding, he’s the warmest, kindest, and most loyal person. He’s friends with people from all walks of life, and he just sees good in almost everyone he meets. A Hispanic friend of Lengel’s said it best, “When I think of a mensch, I see Lengel.”
Lengel also is very spiritual. He was reading Buddhist books and writings long before they became mainstream. Lengel introduced me to the teachings of Tara Brach some 20 years ago, and he was doing yoga when it was still a fringe movement.
Then there’s Lengel’s inimitable humor. He’s a font of jokes and humorous insights. When I recently mentioned how much I loved my dog and treat him like family, but he sometimes disappoints and eats poop, Lengel replied, “That’s the thing about dogs. Sometimes they remind you they’re just dogs.”
Lengel every Friday night posts on his Facebook page some musings to mark the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. He’s developed quite a following, as they serve as a reminder that there is still a lot of good in the world and the importance of laughter. I’m not on Facebook, but Lengel graciously texts me his weekly message. I read it and then avoid reading publications that might diminish my positive mood.
If you might be in the market for a quick read to uplift your spirits heading into the weekend, you can find Lengel’s Sabbath message on his Facebook page. He’s definitely someone worth friending.