Yosef Goell: Journalist par excellence

For Yossi, life in, and beyond, journalism was powered by an unrelenting intellectual curiosity which embraced people as well as events.

By ERWIN FRENKEL
July 26, 2006 22:02
3 minute read.

 
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Yosef "Yossi" Goell was one of the pillars of the "old" Jerusalem Post, from the late 1950s until his retirement. Born in New York in 1928, he made aliya in 1948, spending 10 months on Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan, near Haifa. He was one of the founders of Kibbutz Gesher Haziv, north of Nahariya. Yossi began working at this newspaper in 1958. To readers his name was familiar as a prolific political columnist. But inside the newspaper, his journalistic performance loomed even larger. Armed with a prodigious work ethic, he could command any editorial desk, quell any deadline frenzy, conquer any reporting role. His career at the Post was studded with key positions. At various times he served as news editor, features editor, political reporter, Knesset correspondent, editorial writer and managing editor. Beyond that, whenever or wherever there was a temporary gap that had to be filled - in a newspaper's inherent gift for emergencies - Yossi was always there. One of Yossi's great achievements at the Post was the way he conducted a survey of what sections of the paper (other than news) our readers liked and regularly read. At the time, decades ago, art and book reviews topped the list; sport and chess were lowest. MORE WAS at play here than a work ethic, or journalistic talent. For Yossi, life in, and beyond, journalism was powered by an unrelenting intellectual curiosity which embraced people as well as events. His home was always replete with visitors whose life stories, whether ordinary or unusual, would engage his mind and his feelings. And his agenda always made room for creative travels. In his younger years, with his wife, Edi, and children Ilana, Gideon and Yael tucked into a bleating Sussita van, that meant camping trips throughout the country. These expeditions, frugal, fun-filled and laced with Yossi's stock of Israeli lore and unfailing good humor, no doubt enriched the children - but perhaps even more the lucky friends who joined the party. This same desire for firsthand, rather than first-class, travel experience led to camping trips abroad and, in later years, to trips taken under hospitality exchange programs that enabled the couple to experience family life in other countries. HOWEVER, the guide and frame of Yossi's intellectual curiosity was his rootedness in Israel and Zionism. It was a rootedness inherited from family but nourished by a life-long sense of active participation in shaping Israeli society. This led him, as well, to develop a deep interest in ethnically divided societies. To lend that interest intellectual depth, he packed up his family to enlist in a three-year PhD program at Columbia University. Back home, with the doctorate to his credit, he studied Arabic and lived for three months with a family in Baka el-Gharbiya to obtain deeper insight into the Arab community. His writings always reflected a sympathetic understanding of the dilemmas confronting the Arab minority in Israel. But it was an understanding bracketed by his unflinching Zionist commitment, one that resisted the liberal penchant for taking blame for the wrongs of others. The Arab community had legitimate rights and legitimate grievances. However, those rights, he argued, were legitimate and the grievances to be addressed only in the frame of the Arab community's acceptance of Israel's sovereign rights. EVEN AFTER retirement he continued writing his columns for the paper's opinion pages. Yet his curiosity and community interest had also to be served. So he went about organizing a forum of speakers among his neighbors in Mevaseret Zion. Some of them were former leading government officials, who lectured on their lives and family histories. This forum perhaps added a new dimension to "eldering," but to his friends it reflected a familiar and abiding dimension of Yossi. The writer served as chief editor of The Jerusalem Post from 1976 to 1989.

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