Nobody at The Palestine Post ever used his name. His notes, requests, accolades and reproofs which could be read by all in The Daily Record, an open file of all office correspondence always available for perusal, were signed simply GA. We never called him Mr. Agronsky. We simply addressed him as GA.
GA wants to see you at 4 p.m. sharp, said Claire Schonlank, a fiftyish yekke who was GA's secretary. It was early August 1949 and I had been at the Post for three months without ever meeting the fabled founder of the paper. He was then director of information in the Prime Minister's Office and rarely came to the Post, which was run by his managing editor, Ted Lurie.
Ted had hired me as a mapmaker, but I was also working as assistant to the features editor, another yekke named C.Z. Kloetzel (the Post was then awash in yekkes, Israelis of German origin or education. Kloetzel, a clever and kindly man, claimed that he was the only yekke in Israel who did not have a doctorate). Like all Post employees, I was a member of the Histadrut, the cover organization of all the trade unions. After three months on trial, the Histadrut forced your employer to give you tenure (or fire you). I presumed that GA was either going to fire me or take me on. The latter alternative did not appear likely.
Claire adored GA, and ushered me into what she thought was holier than a papal audience.
GA was seated in an old-fashioned Jerusalem armchair at a long table covered with galley proofs (I later inherited both these pieces of furniture and still have the chair). The large office was otherwise empty and uncarpeted, its floor tiles burned orange and black by the explosion and fire that had devastated the premises early in 1948.
I stood to attention in front of my new commanding officer. He did not look up but teased me with a demonstration of how to tear a straight line between two unrelated columns of type. There, he barked, if you can do that, then mutatis mutandis, you can do anything! Finally, he looked up and smiled, a smile full of impish fun. I fell for him at once.
GA, fluent in Yiddish, Hebrew and English and with a working knowledge of Russian and German, loved using Latin expressions. Mutatis mutandis was his favorite. Nolens volens was a popular second.
GA asked me about my newspaper experience, which, although I was only 22, was geographically extensive, from Sydney to Osaka: reportage illustration, picture editing, page makeup and process engraving. The Post was replete with experienced journalists, but none of them had any technical experience. GA then told me what Ted had said to me: The paper's future lay in a projected overseas edition and that I could help produce it. He gave me his hand saying, 'Welcome to the family.'
The Post was indeed a family, a large one kept fed by its job-printing press. The press hands outnumbered the journalists and many were survivors of the bombing, their faces scarred by the shards of the large plate-glass windows of the semi-basement press room on what was then Rehov Hasollel. GA knew all the various press staffers by name and the names of their wives as well. Some of the linotype operators and stone hands were sabras, others hailed from Iraq, Poland, Shanghai, Minsk and Egypt. I worked in the press room daily, making up the feature pages with Shimshon Lifschitz, a gentle soul who had lost an eye in the explosion. GA would from time to time invite the entire staff to a festive holiday-eve lunch. I always sat with the press workers.
Born in Russia in 1894, GA grew up pushing a garment barrow in Philadelphia while writing obits for a Yiddish newspaper. Despite being something of a dandy by the time I met him (gray three-piece suit, gray fedora, highly polished shoes, pearl tiepin and ivory-topped cane), GA always claimed he was working class and remained a firm Labor Zionist. Free of the barrow, he graduated to writing editorials for Yiddische Welt, while polishing both his Hebrew and English before entering Temple University where he won notice as a fiery Zionist speaker.
GA then went to New York to work for the Jewish Correspondence Bureau, the forerunner of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and became the editor of Das Yiddische Folk, an organ of the World Zionist Organization. Long ago, I found a letter in the Post's archives that GA had written to Judah Magnes in 1914, asking for a job in Palestine.
Less than four years later, GA arrived here as a soldier in the North American battalion of Britain's Royal Fusiliers, a brigade of volunteer Jews with battalions from Palestine and Britain. A sergeant, he was demoted for twice going AWOL to speak at Zionist meetings.
Happily, he was allowed to take his discharge in Jerusalem.
Essentially a brilliant and well-read autodidact, GA flourished in Mandatory Palestine, representing foreign papers and press agencies.
His income was big enough for him to advise the Jewish Agency on press matters free of charge. He founded the Foreign Press Association and the Jerusalem Journalists Association, but his ambition was to publish a newspaper that would endorse Zionist aspirations.
GA GOT HIS CHANCE in 1932, when Ted Lurie's father put up the money for GA to take over The Palestine Bulletin. Part of the deal was a job for Ted, then a young graduate of Cornell. GA never liked either of the Luries, but Ted revitalized the night desk before becoming the toughest and most efficient managing editor the Post ever had.
GA was essentially a writer and he began attacking Britain when it adopted the anti-immigration White Paper in 1939. Ted, who knew more about getting the paper out than anyone else, rarely wrote a line.
However both GA and TRL, as Ted was known, were soon sending dispatches from the Western Desert. GA also covered Persia and blitzed London.
He was in London when the Post was bombed but remained at the Post throughout the subsequent siege of 1948. Everyone in the city, then little more than a large village, loved the way he took his daily constitutional between his home on Rehavia's Rehov Rashba and Zion Square, complete with fedora and cane, despite the intermittent shelling. Shopkeepers on Rehov Ben-Yehuda emerged from the ruins of the street to raise their hats.
At one of the Post 'family' lunches, GA affirmed that the paper's first responsibility was to its staff; there was to be no chasing of money at staff expense. Employees who put in an honest day's work would never be dismissed.
In 1953 I produced the Post's first supplement, devoted to the Weizmann Institute. The morning it appeared I found a thank-you note from GA on my desk - and a check for 50 pounds, more than a month's salary.
GA, No. 6 on the Mapai list, offered to personally sponsor me into the party, an offer I wriggled out of, with, I think, great tact.
In 1955, GA, now Gershon Agron without the 'sky,' was elected mayor of Jerusalem and set about introducing light industries into the city. In October 1959 he was admitted to the Hadassah Hospital's Sieff branch on Rehov Hanevi'im suffering from jaundice. He sent me a message that he wanted to see the proofs of the first Weekly Overseas Edition that I had devised. He was sitting up in bed looking as hale as ever when he said to me, why isn't your name on the masthead? I told him I didn't have the authority to put it there (I knew that TRL would cross it out). GA penciled in 'Weekly Editor: Meir Ronnen' and initialed the addition. There, he said, that's your authority.
Sadly, I never saw him again. On November 1, 1959, he was dead of pneumonia, a hospital infection. He was given a state funeral, at which he was eulogized by foreign minister Moshe Sharett.
Jerusalemites jammed the route of the funeral.
GA held the all-powerful Founders Share of The Palestine Post Limited.
The paper belonged to him, body and soul. Had he lived, it would never have been sold time and again and gone through so many political transformations.
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