The first issue

‘Jerusalem Post’ historian Alexander Zvielli recalls the auspicious debut of the paper’s first edition on December 1, 1932.

Archival photo of the Jerusalem Post printing press (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST ARCHIVE)
Archival photo of the Jerusalem Post printing press
The first edition of The Palestine Post was still being printed on Thursday night, December 1, 1932, when someone asked Gershon Agronsky, the newspaper’s founder and the first editor, standing next to the printing machine with the just-printed first copies of the new newspaper in his hand, whether it wouldn’t be more appropriate to start the Post a month later, on January 1, 1933, a date easier to mark and remember.
Agronsky gave the man his wellknown hard look when he didn’t agree: “I have waited for this moment too long,” he answered. “I wouldn’t wait even for a single hour more.
Every date, every single long-awaited date is meaningful not only to me, but for all of us, in the Palestinian Yishuv’s long development history.”
He gave a similar answer, when he was asked why he changed the name, out of the blue, of the The Palestine Post to The Jerusalem Post on April 13, 1950.
The first issue was carefully planned for months, if not years, while precious funding was sought from various sources. Agron’s plan was to produce, from the first day of issue, a normal, high-standard English-language newspaper, an integral part of the Palestinian Yishuv’s information and development program, which would replace (by incorporating) the limited-in-scope-and-size Palestine Bulletin, produced since 1925 by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, edited by Agronsky and Jacob Landau.
In the summer of 1932, Gershon Agronsky (who later changed his name to Agron) went to London to seek support in various circles of Anglo-Jewry. The money for the trip, 250 pounds, was lent to him by his assistant – and the future second editor of the Post – Ted Lurie, who got the funds from his father. Prof. Selig Brodetsky of the Hebrew University and Labor Histadrut leader Yosef Sprinzak had promised to introduce Agronsky to important Jewish-British personalities. In London, Agron asked the English Zionist Federation to acquire £1,000 worth of shares for his planned newspaper. He got also some money from the “Encouragement to Learn the English Language in Palestine” institution.
Walter Cohen, of the Economic Board for Palestine, joined the first subscribers and was followed by James de Rothschild, Lord Melchett, Sir Lionel Cohen, D.L. Nathan and Dr. David Eder, who contributed £3,835.
Ted Lurie’s father, a fiery Zionist, later loaned a large sum in Palestine.
In October 1932, Agronsky roughed out the idea of what his newspaper should be, and accordingly informed his carefully selected future board of directors of the Post: Herbert Danby, D.D., the resident canon of St. George’s Cathedral, a translator of Mishna and of Joseph Klausner’s Jesus of Nazareth into English (Danby became the Post’s first editorial writer); A. Goldwasser; S. Horowitz; Dr. A.I. Kasteliansky; D.
A. Katznelson; Col. F.H. Kisch; Miss A. Landau; A.E. Mulford; S. Tolkowsky and Henrietta Szold. The seven subscribers to the “Articles of Association of the Company: The Palestine Post Ltd.,” included three non-Jews: Canon Danby (as correspondent of The Times), A.E. Mulford of Reuters, and A.N. Young, representing the well-known auditors Russel and Co.
IN THE autumn of 1932, work started on the first issue. In addition to Agronsky and Ted Lurie, who took charge of the actual layout of the paper, there was Anne Goldsmith, who headed advertising and women’s affairs, and Julius Meltzer, the Post’s first reporter. The technical staff included a bookkeeper and a delivery boy, who ran with wet copies of the pages ready to print to the government censor for official approval.
Moshe Pinto was the messenger, and was in charge of subscriptions and the sales department.
The original Hassolel Press (later renamed the Jerusalem Press, and after 1948 the Jerusalem Post Press), was situated at what was in those days the top of Hassolel Street (today Hahavatzelet Street), just off Zion Square. This area had been the hub of Jerusalem journalism since 1920 – key bureaus of all Tel Aviv newspapers were located in this neighborhood.
The press was started with British capital by a group of pioneers led by Itamar Ben-Avi, the son of Hebrew lexicographer Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who was joined by Alexander Aaronson, the hero who defied the Turks in World War I.
The press printed Doar Hayom, the earliest Hebrew daily in Jerusalem, and the Palestine Bulletin. The Palestine Post’s type was to be set on two Linotypes – ready pages laid on four huge tables. A hand-operated developing machine provided proofs for proofreading. Later the pages had to be placed on an old flatbed printing machine, which could print up to 4,000 issues per hour. There was always the fear that the heavy pages, carried by hand, might fall down, dispersing hundreds of lead lines all over the floor, requiring hours to sort them out. This happened once, and the memory haunted the operators.
There were few solitary lights hanging from the ceiling to illuminate the proceedings. Two Linotype operators, one “stone hand” (whose job it was to replace lines with mistakes with the corrected lines, even though his knowledge of English was more wishful than real), and one printer were ready for the operation, which started in the morning and lasted all day until close to midnight. Printing was often stopped (stop the presses!) to include the latest news for the second and third edition.
At midnight, after all of the proofs had been made, delivered, stamped, and approved by the censor, everyone looked at Haim Ettinger, the printer.
“How many to print?” asked Ettinger.
“How many Palestine Bulletins did you print yesterday?” asked Agron.
“Eight hundred.”
“Make it 1,200,” ordered Agron.
The printing took more than an hour and a half, while Haim Nuriel, the dispatcher, prepared deliveries and Ya’acov Rabiya, the driver, waited patiently for the Tel Aviv and Haifa- addressed packages. Agron and his guests picked up their still-wet newspapers and toasted “Mazal tov!” THUS THE first issue of The Palestine Post came to be.
It incorporated Palestine Bulletin, No. 2292, Volume 8, and in its visiting-card corner it boasted that it was “the only English daily in Palestine, Transjordan and Syria, established in 1925.” On the first page was an editorial announcement, introducing the newspaper as “an attempted step forward in English journalism in Palestine.” There were two editorials: the first on British war debts, and the second on how to spare water resources. This was followed by a report on an important British cabinet meeting; a description of various accidents that had happened in Palestine recently; a list of important visitors from abroad; Dr.
Nahum Sokolow’s journalistic reminiscences; a comment on the situation in Egypt; and a report on the latest cricket match in Australia, which was written by an Irish former policeman – the new newspaper’s first sports commentator.
This was Agron’s dream: to sum up, within the mere eight pages, everything of interest, even to the most demanding Jewish, Arab and British readers. Another editorial announcement promised the readers that the Post’s future issues would contain special columns devoted to tennis, bridge, crossword puzzles and general sports discussions, and invited the public to submit suggestions about how to make the newspaper even more attractive.
Agron went home long after midnight, to be back in his office at noon to be greeted by numerous telegrams and congratulations, and to receive his good friend Moshe Sharett of the Zionist Executive, who, together with David Ben-Gurion, was a warm supporter and contributor to the Post. Receiving daily and nightly visitors in his office, including top journalists from all over the world, became Agron’s sacred tradition. His office was transformed into one of the most sought-after information bureaus in Israel. A bottle of whiskey was usually opened and discussions continued late into the night, at least until the early issue was printed.
It was a pity that the bombing attempt by the Post’s enemies on February 1, 1948, and the subsequent fire, had destroyed important archives, including correspondence of the newspaper and Agron: irreplaceable historical documentation of Jerusalem and the State of Israel during some of its most difficult and exciting days.
A year later, in December 1934, the number of copies was increased to 2,200 and Agron could take a short rest. The newspaper was a critical success and financially stable. The first highly illustrated special issue appeared on the occasion of the coronation of King George VI in 1937.
The Post became indispensable for all who wished to share and learn about Zionism, Judaism, the Yishuv and the ways of the British administration. The newspaper served – and continues to serve – newcomers, old timers and visitors of all races, creeds and denominations.
The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, a prestigious forum where some 400 ambassadors, ambassadorial spokespeople and military attachés from around the world will convene, takes place at the Waldorf, Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem on Wednesday, November 18. The conference, featuring an array of speeches from Israeli newsmakers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will be broadcast live on