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Former Merokean Michael Otterman, searching for peace while covering conflict

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Editor’s note: Akinwale Agesin, one of 10 participants in Hofstra University’s 2019 Summer High School Journalism Institute, is a junior at Elmont Memorial High School. The following article is a profile piece on Michael Otterman, a former Herald Community Newspapers intern and freelance writer in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Otterman later went on to become an author and is now program coordinator of the Bernard and Sandra Otterman Foundation, which funds the Institute.

In World War II, 6 million Jews — two-thirds of the Jewish population living in Europe — were killed, according to the American Jewish Yearbook. One of the 3 million to survive was Bernard Otterman, father of Michael Otterman. Shaped by his father’s past, Michael has steadily worked toward world peace as an investigative reporter and author.

Otterman, 38, formerly of Merrick, now of Manhattan, recently spoke at the recent Hofstra University High School Summer Journalism Institute. Otterman discussed his father, his own life and the importance of journalism. However, what captivated the students in the program was how Michael has uncovered truth in the search for peace. He spoke of how he was influenced not only by his own experiences, but also by the past sufferings that his father endured during the Holocaust.

During his time as a student at Boston University in the late 1990s, Otterman honed his skills in film and journalism. After graduating in 2003, he needed a job before he went for his master's degree in peace and conflict studies at the University of Sydney. Scott Brinton, who was then a senior editor at Herald Community Newspapers — and is now the executive editor — needed a reporter.

Immediately Otterman took the opportunity, becoming a freelancer with the paper. Brinton, Otterman and reporter Hector Flores spent a year covering a football team scandal at Mepham High School in North Bellmore, in which three  Mepham High School freshmen were sexually abused by their older varsity teammates for a week during a training camp. Their series of stories won national and state recognition. 

Otterman went on to earn his master's degree from the University of Sydney in 2005. Otterman’s professors loved his work on his final thesis, so they advised him to write a book and share it with the world. In 2007, he published “American Torture." For it, he used his journalism skills to investigate the different forms of torture that American soldiers carried out on Iraqi prisoners during the second Iraq war.

Otterman’s book was finished and published in 2007. But he wanted to go further. He needed firsthand experience. Understanding that he might be putting his life at

risk, Otterman traveled to Iraq, Jordan and Syria to see the ill-treatment of refugees who were displaced by the Iraq war. In doing this, he added a human factor to his research. In 2010, he published "Erasing Iraq: The Human Cost of Carnage." Otterman said he believed it was crucial to help people with different opinions understand why we must work toward peace.

On Nov. 14, 2017, Michael’s father, Bernard Otterman, died after a five-year battle with metastatic throat cancer. Bernard left the world knowing his life and work would not be in vain. As he said in an interview with the Herald in 2002, he was pleased knowing that his three children would carry on the idea that “the world should be a little better.''

Michael supports that idea, which is why in 2015 he joined his parents' foundation, the Bernard and Sandra Otterman Foundation, which provides education around the world to increase peace and stability.

In working to expand the foundation’s agenda toward a brighter future, he wants to remind us that “ all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights."