Veteran culture writer Helen Kaye dies 2 weeks short of her 86th birthday

Critic and journalist began working for the 'Post' in 1987

Helen Kaye, veteran arts and culture reporter whose by-line in Jerusalem Post publications first appeared  in July 1987 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Helen Kaye, veteran arts and culture reporter whose by-line in Jerusalem Post publications first appeared in July 1987
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If there was a single phrase to sum up Helen Kaye, the veteran arts and culture reporter whose byline in The Jerusalem Post publications first appeared in July 1987, it would be mistress of the metaphor.
Kaye had a unique gift for allegory. She also wrote succinctly, and invariably succeeded in packing a lot of information and drama into a small amount of text.
For instance, a theater review would include not only her impressions of the performance, but also the reactions of the audience, a brief history of the play, and the future plans of the theater group, the director, or the main actors.
Kaye, who died on Sunday, after a short-lived battle with an aggressive form of lung cancer, would have turned 86 in early August.
She did not originally set out to be a theater critic when at age 18 she first made aliyah from her native London. All in all, she made aliyah three times: the first time from England, the second time from the United States and the third time from China.
When she first came in the early 1950s, her ambition was to be a nurse, and she trained under the late Dr. Chaim Sheba, the founder of the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv.
She worked for several years in her profession until 1963 when her husband, Jacob Eleasari, decided to go to America to study filmmaking at UCLA, because at that time there was no film school in Israel.
There’s an old Hebrew saying that a change of location means a change of luck, but for Kaye, it meant a change in calling.
She enrolled at a theater course at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in theater arts.
When she returned to Israel in 1983, she opted for yet another career – journalism, working initially as a freelancer.
When she began writing for The Jerusalem Post in July 1987, it was for the now-defunct Metro weekend supplement that was distributed throughout the Coastal Plain.
It did not take long for her to begin writing for the Arts and Entertainment section of the daily paper and to eventually become the editor of that section.
When Barry Davis, who is today the key writer for the Arts and Entertainment section, first encountered Kaye some 20 years ago, their work relationship did not exactly get off to a flying start.
Perhaps, because of her nursing background, she was a stickler for detail and accuracy.
“On more than one occasion I was subjected to a bit of a ticking off over some professional matter or other which, Helen felt, dipped below her requisite high standards of editorial and literary excellence,” recalls Davis. “Once – feeling miffed one time too many – I fired back that she was being dogmatic. She suggested that, in fact, I meant didactic and I replied that I meant what I said. She went very quiet for a while and I became aware that, behind the stern, professional and, seemingly, unforgiving exterior lay a sensitive and warm soul.
“Once Helen recovered her poise, our relationship changed – for the better. I learned to appreciate her attention to detail and, after reading some of her reviews of theatrical and dance performances, I realized she had earned the right to be critical of anything she considered not quite up to scratch.
“I also learned to appreciate her warmth and generosity, and it became clear to me, over the years, that she had taken her fair share of knocks in life and managed to stay true to her principles and to veer to the sunny side of the street. She will be missed, professionally and personally.”
FOLLOWING HER retirement, Kaye was far from ready to just sit and ruminate. Instead, with boldness and courage which were typical of her, she shot off to China to teach English, and stayed there for several years.
She thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and long before cars gave way to bicycles in the West, Kaye was traveling by bike wherever she had to go in China.
On her return to Israel, she once again began writing critiques of theater, ballet and opera performances, and of various special events connected with the performing arts. One of her last news items, written as recently as late April of this year, was about the Israel Festival, which she had long written about annually.
This time, her opening paragraphs were completely different to anything she had written in the past.
“No other event – not the 1967 Six Day War or the 1973 Yom Kippur War or the 1991 Gulf War – has in 59 years done what COVID-19 did this year: scupper the Israel Festival.
“Festival general manager Eyal Sher announced Sunday that due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 59th Israel Festival in Jerusalem, slated to take place from June 4-20, would be indefinitely postponed.”
Given the rapid deterioration of her health, it is doubtful that Kaye would have been able to attend the festival even if it had taken place as originally scheduled.
She is survived by her two daughters: Rava who lives in Israel and Eylat who lives in Los Angeles.
Despite travel restrictions, Eylat was miraculously able to catch a flight to Israel, undergo isolation, and still spend a few days with her mother during Kaye’s final days.
The family will hold a private funeral on Monday.