Jerrold (Yoram) Kessel, who died on Thursday after a long battle with cancer,
was one of Israel’s leading English-language journalists, with a career that
spanned over four decades in radio, print and television, including stints as
Jerusalem correspondent for the London Jewish Chronicle, news editor at The
Jerusalem Post, Israel reporter for CNN and sports columnist for
He was 65.
We first met at the Hebrew University in the
1960s, as part of a group of young ex-South African immigrants studying subjects
like literature, history, politics, economics and philosophy.
conformist, Jerrold was always full of original ideas and grandiose schemes,
traits that never left him. Together we started a radical, but short-lived,
student magazine called Vent. When we went down to Eilat for a short holiday,
Jerrold concocted a patchwork tent made up of colorful sheets and quilts sewn
together by his wife, Lorraine, which a fresh Red Sea breeze easily got the
better of, forcing us to scamper for more mundane accommodation.
reader, Jerrold’s passions were for history, literature, Israeli politics and
Not only was he a mine of sporting information, he was also a fine
player of a wide variety of games, with exceptional hand-eye coordination.
Overweight and not obviously athletic, his agility on a squash court or behind
the stumps on a cricket field was of a totally unexpected order. Woe betide the
opponent who underestimated him.
As a boy, he was always against South
African teams because of apartheid. At his all-white school this would often
leave him in a taunted minority of one. But even then he was too strong-willed
to be deflected.
In the mid-1960s, Jerrold was instrumental in restarting
cricket in Israel. Games were played on matting wickets often in desert
conditions. Play in Beersheba was once stopped as a caravan of camels went
Jerrold became captain of the Israel cricket team for its first foray
into World Cup associate member play in 1979. In one of the games the USA
wicketkeeper was guilty of blatant cheating.
It would have been
“cricket,” the stiff upper lip code of gentlemanly conduct by which the game is
played, to overlook this. Jerrold, motivated by a higher and very personal moral
compass, refused to let the matter rest.
Indeed, for Jerrold, more than
results, sport was about how you conducted yourself and how you played the
This led to his weekly “On the Couch” column in Ha’aretz that
looked at the wider social significance of sport and often suggested highly
inventive ways to make games better.
Based on a TV documentary he made
about a soccer club in the Arab town of Sachnin, which played in the national
league and one year actually won the state cup, Jerrold, with his long-time
collaborator Pierre Klochendler, wrote the book Goals for Galilee, a brilliant
use of sport to analyze the national and cultural predicament of Israel’s
minority Arab population.
On the wider Israel-Palestinian issue, he was a
unilateralist, fervently believing that Israel must disengage from the West Bank
as soon as possible, with or without an agreement, or face erosion of its moral
authority and dissipation of the Zionist dream.
His working life as a
journalist began as a news reader and editor at Israel Radio. One of his more
heroic efforts was coming in at four o’clock in the morning of August 21, 1968,
to find that the Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia and the electricity in
the building was down. Somehow, working by candlelight, he managed to put out
the seven o'clock news.
From the radio he moved on to the Jewish
Chronicle, and then to The Jerusalem Post, where he edited the sports section
with the late Philip (Figgy) Gillon and served a senior news editor. In 1990,
when a large group of journalists left the paper on an issue of editorial
independence, he was offered the editorship, but declined.
the Post, he found his métier at CNN, where he made an international reputation
as on camera reporter covering Israel and the Middle East. At CNN he reported
the peace process with the Palestinians, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s
assassination and the unraveling of the process leading to the second intifada.
During the intifada, Jerrold took flak at times for CNN’s alleged anti-Israel
He was concerned more by what he saw as the superficiality of
television news, and approached CNN bosses with a plethora of ideas for more
In 2007, Jerrold covered the Rugby World Cup in France,
now rooting for the rainbownation South African Springboks, who won the
But his abiding memory was not of who won or lost but of the
purity of the French passion for the game.
After he learned of his
illness, he went on working and playing sport, with characteristic
determination, enthusiasm and optimism. Weeks before he died, he was still
working on a play featuring his family’s earthy black maid and Nelson
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His bravery in suffering was, I think, unique. He used to quip
that he was playing for a draw, when a cricket team knows it can’t win and plays
only to avoid defeat. But in recent weeks, he would say with a chuckle that the
fielders were closing in around the bat, signifying that he knew the game was
Jerrold is survived by Lorraine, their son, Ariel (Chalky),
and four grandchildren.