First Person: The ghosts in the machine

The cracked walls, the crumbling ceilings and the stained carpets of 'The Jerusalem Post' offices on the capital’s Yirmiyahu Street have hosted thousands of staff members who called the sad-looking former chicken factory “home.”

April 12, 2013 03:57
3 minute read.
LIAT COLLINS, editor of ‘The Jerusalem Post International Edition,’ packs up her office in Romema

Jerusalem Post Office move Liat Collins 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)


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It’s a workplace we’ve been coming to for years – rundown, drab, hidden from the street by surrounding highrises like an eyesore the neighborhood is ashamed to claim as its own.

It’s been a longtime butt of jokes, but they’ve been our jokes, told with disdain and rolling eyes, but also with affection and a tangible sense of belonging.

The cracked walls, the crumbling ceilings and the stained carpets of The Jerusalem Post offices on the capital’s Yirmiyahu Street have hosted thousands of staff members who called the sad-looking former chicken factory “home.”

Staffers have left some of their blood, sweat and tears in the woodwork, publishing the paper six days a week since moving there in 1972.

That’s a lot of newspapers – each one its own novel, not only because of the news on the front page, but also because of night-desk dramas, malfunctioning computers, failed and barely met deadlines, and all the excitement, tension and release that typifies any day in Israel.

An office is only as memorable as the people who work there, and under that criterion The Jerusalem Post building is a treasure trove of memories and history. Nightdesk staffers who used to keep bottles of whiskey next to their dictionaries as essential work tools; reporters getting into shoving matches with over-zealous copy editors; a particular layout person who developed a serious case of Jerusalem syndrome, and Hebrew-speaking prepress workers who regularly pasted in headlines backwards.

The ghosts of those Linotype typesetters, manual typewriters and the people that used them are like the thick cobwebs that now proliferate in the abandoned basement, where the metallic clang of the mammoth printing presses once permeated the midnight hour with the industrial smell of fresh newsprint. There was no feeling as exhilarating as seeing that Rube Goldberg electronic assembly line rolling off thousands of copies of the next day’s paper; the fresh ink sticking to your hands as you walked back upstairs staring at the front page, hoping no obvious error stared back.

Even though the printing press is long dismantled and presumably sold for scrap, there are still signs of the gloried past in the building; the outside of the late Sam Orbaum’s locker still adorned with a sticker of his beloved Montreal Expos. The birth dates and greetings from long-gone staffers written in permanent marker on the message boards are there but fading, like the memories of their faces. The framed historical front pages of the Post chronicling the life and times of modern Israel dot the walls.

Of course, the chair Gershom Agron used while serving as the first editor of the paper is there, a little worn but still being used by visitors to editor-in-chief Steve Linde’s office.

He’ll have a new office on Friday, and Sunday’s paper will be edited in the new digs just down the street. But the spirit and the tradition accumulated over the past 41 years on Yirmiyahu Street will still accompany us on the next part of our journey.

The new facilities are modern, efficient and boast quite a view of Jerusalem. But just as we never missed an opportunity over the years to bitch and moan about our physical surroundings, we’ll surely find something to complain about at the new place too: it’s too small, it lacks character, the watercooler is in the wrong place, it’s not the old place.

It’s human nature to fear change and hold on to the past. So, for some of us, there might even be a glint of regret and loss over leaving a workplace – as dumpy as it was – that has played such a huge role in our lives for so long.

Apparently, you can take the people out of a building, but you can never completely take the building out of the people – those dedicated employees who infused it with the life of journalism day after day, one newspaper following another.

The writer began working at The Jerusalem Post in 1990.

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