With his rabbinic- looking long beard that turned from black to salt-and-pepper
to white over the years, Nahum David Gross never dreamed of becoming editor-in-
chief of The Jerusalem Post.
He was called in from retirement in 1989 to
run the paper when a new ownership parted company with Ari Rath and Erwin
Frenkel. For reasons of their own, numerous staff members resigned in protest
and the paper was in chaos.
As always, David (he used that name in the
England of his birth because he thought his countrymen were not able to
pronounce the guttural name Nahum correctly) was calm.
From our first
meeting in the newsroom in 1973 until his final retirement in 1992, despite the
pressure of deadlines, I never saw him get angry or berate one of us reporters
or a news editor or desk sub-editor, and he quietly put the daily paper “to
In fact, I never saw him without his beard, more suited to a
saintly Torah scholar, except for once when the 1991 First Gulf War broke out,
requiring the fitting of gas masks. I used mine while giving birth to my younger
son during a siren blast in Jerusalem, but as there were not enough masks with
internal fans for the bearded, David decided not to ask for favors and shaved
his beard so he could use the conventional mask. Nobody could recognize him
until the beard grew back.
Born in 1923 in London, he lived in the East
End with his father – a genuine Orthodox, Zionist rabbi who died when David was
only a year old – his mother and an older brother and sister. It was a kosher
home, and he dutifully went to synagogue.
David studied math at Cambridge
but didn’t complete a degree. Active in the Habonim youth movement, he came on
aliya alone not long after the founding of the state. Working for a while at the
Jewish Standard in London, and always keen on being a journalist – not
necessarily a reporter – he finally succeeded, after five months of trying, in
being hired for the desk at the Post. Raised by his mother and an assortment of
aunts, he often said he “didn’t know how to be a father, because he grew up
without one,” his three sons – Guy, Hillel and Yoel – and “princess daughter”
Tehila recalled during the week of shiva.
After working on the news desk
and writing news, David went into the Israel Air Force in 1951 and served as an
English teacher. Back at the Post, most of the time he worked at night and slept
in the afternoon. The children recalled having to be quiet so as not to awaken
him. He owned the first car, a Citroen, in Moshav Beit Zayit, and was “a bit
embarrassed by it because it seemed so grand,” his children
He met Ruth, a London-born Israeli occupational therapist, at
a Tnuva restaurant in Jerusalem, and they were married by Chief Rabbi Yitzhak
Halevy Herzog in 1957. Six years later they settled in Moshav Beit Zayit and
raised the family and pets, as well as daisies in the garden that David sold for
Ruth contracted breast cancer and died in 1996. David, at
90 still in the old moshav house, suddenly suffered a stroke at home and died a
few days later at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem not far
“He was a good man with values and liked his work very much.
Journalism and the news were the center of his life. He never told us what to
do. He gave us a free hand, ” his children said.
A Land of Israel
advocate when it was unusual among journalists, he invited staff members to his
son Hillel’s bar mitzva in 1976 on a barren hill in an empty place, set with
tables laden with food, that nobody had heard of Mishor Adumim, east of
“He never spoke about politics at home. He didn’t want to live
in a settlement [over the Green Line], the children said. “He never said what
party he voted for. He wasn’t an activist, and he didn’t believe in the
sincerity of Arab leaders.”
Some of his most exciting professional
memories were of attending the Eichmann trial, going up to the Temple Mount
shortly after the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, and going to
Egypt and seeing Menachem Begin meet with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. He
also went to China, and met Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
editor-in-chief when the Post published a magazine to mark the paper’s 60th
anniversary, David wrote: “A daily newspaper is a peculiar thing. It is at one
and the same time a page of history and wrapping for tomorrow’s fish. It
reflects society and thus is used for years after by social and political
historians as a picture of its times.
That gives us an obligation to be
accurate and truthful, and warns us to be cautious in our predictions... We are
part of the city whose name we proudly bear, and of the nation whose capital it
is. We feel a duty to our country and to the Jewish people, those of its members
in Israel and those still abroad. While not whitewashing their faults and
errors, we do not intend to assist their enemies.”
He regularly read
newspapers, including the Post, of course, and insisted on completing The New
York Times crossword daily.
When a cryptic puzzle arrived in the newsroom
without the solution that had to be published the next day, he and a proofreader
(also a crossword fan) worked it all out and printed it so as not to disappoint
readers. “He loved words. They kept him alert and clearheaded to the end,” the
In recent years he pondered about “what one should feel
when becoming old.” Without Ruth, he bought groceries and cooked by himself and
was quite independent until the end. He had no cellphone and rarely used a
computer. But he did call a small number of friends to wish them a happy Rosh
Despite the rabbinical beard, his continued observance of
kashrut and Shabbat and going to the synagogue, he asked his children three
years ago for permission to donate his body to the Hebrew University Medical
Faculty, because he didn’t believe in an afterlife and thought he might be of
use to medical students. He believed in Judaism as a tradition of the Jewish
people, not in eternal life after death. After he is finally laid to rest
alongside Ruth in the Beit Zayit cemetery, maybe, observing the news from on
high, he’ll be surprised.