N. David Gross: An appreciation

Gross joined the 'Post' in 1950, a year after arriving in Israel from his native England.

N. David Gross 370 (photo credit: The Jerusalem Post archive)
N. David Gross 370
(photo credit: The Jerusalem Post archive)
With his rabbinic- looking long beard that turned from black to salt-and-pepper to white over the years, Nahum David Gross never dreamed of becoming editor-in- chief of The Jerusalem Post.
He was called in from retirement in 1989 to run the paper when a new ownership parted company with Ari Rath and Erwin Frenkel. For reasons of their own, numerous staff members resigned in protest and the paper was in chaos.
As always, David (he used that name in the England of his birth because he thought his countrymen were not able to pronounce the guttural name Nahum correctly) was calm.
From our first meeting in the newsroom in 1973 until his final retirement in 1992, despite the pressure of deadlines, I never saw him get angry or berate one of us reporters or a news editor or desk sub-editor, and he quietly put the daily paper “to bed.”
In fact, I never saw him without his beard, more suited to a saintly Torah scholar, except for once when the 1991 First Gulf War broke out, requiring the fitting of gas masks. I used mine while giving birth to my younger son during a siren blast in Jerusalem, but as there were not enough masks with internal fans for the bearded, David decided not to ask for favors and shaved his beard so he could use the conventional mask. Nobody could recognize him until the beard grew back.
Born in 1923 in London, he lived in the East End with his father – a genuine Orthodox, Zionist rabbi who died when David was only a year old – his mother and an older brother and sister. It was a kosher home, and he dutifully went to synagogue.
David studied math at Cambridge but didn’t complete a degree. Active in the Habonim youth movement, he came on aliya alone not long after the founding of the state. Working for a while at the Jewish Standard in London, and always keen on being a journalist – not necessarily a reporter – he finally succeeded, after five months of trying, in being hired for the desk at the Post. Raised by his mother and an assortment of aunts, he often said he “didn’t know how to be a father, because he grew up without one,” his three sons – Guy, Hillel and Yoel – and “princess daughter” Tehila recalled during the week of shiva.
After working on the news desk and writing news, David went into the Israel Air Force in 1951 and served as an English teacher. Back at the Post, most of the time he worked at night and slept in the afternoon. The children recalled having to be quiet so as not to awaken him. He owned the first car, a Citroen, in Moshav Beit Zayit, and was “a bit embarrassed by it because it seemed so grand,” his children remembered.
He met Ruth, a London-born Israeli occupational therapist, at a Tnuva restaurant in Jerusalem, and they were married by Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevy Herzog in 1957. Six years later they settled in Moshav Beit Zayit and raised the family and pets, as well as daisies in the garden that David sold for extra income.
Ruth contracted breast cancer and died in 1996. David, at 90 still in the old moshav house, suddenly suffered a stroke at home and died a few days later at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem not far away.
“He was a good man with values and liked his work very much. Journalism and the news were the center of his life. He never told us what to do. He gave us a free hand, ” his children said.
A Land of Israel advocate when it was unusual among journalists, he invited staff members to his son Hillel’s bar mitzva in 1976 on a barren hill in an empty place, set with tables laden with food, that nobody had heard of Mishor Adumim, east of Jerusalem.
“He never spoke about politics at home. He didn’t want to live in a settlement [over the Green Line], the children said. “He never said what party he voted for. He wasn’t an activist, and he didn’t believe in the sincerity of Arab leaders.”
Some of his most exciting professional memories were of attending the Eichmann trial, going up to the Temple Mount shortly after the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, and going to Egypt and seeing Menachem Begin meet with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. He also went to China, and met Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
As editor-in-chief when the Post published a magazine to mark the paper’s 60th anniversary, David wrote: “A daily newspaper is a peculiar thing. It is at one and the same time a page of history and wrapping for tomorrow’s fish. It reflects society and thus is used for years after by social and political historians as a picture of its times.
That gives us an obligation to be accurate and truthful, and warns us to be cautious in our predictions... We are part of the city whose name we proudly bear, and of the nation whose capital it is. We feel a duty to our country and to the Jewish people, those of its members in Israel and those still abroad. While not whitewashing their faults and errors, we do not intend to assist their enemies.”
He regularly read newspapers, including the Post, of course, and insisted on completing The New York Times crossword daily.
When a cryptic puzzle arrived in the newsroom without the solution that had to be published the next day, he and a proofreader (also a crossword fan) worked it all out and printed it so as not to disappoint readers. “He loved words. They kept him alert and clearheaded to the end,” the children said.
In recent years he pondered about “what one should feel when becoming old.” Without Ruth, he bought groceries and cooked by himself and was quite independent until the end. He had no cellphone and rarely used a computer. But he did call a small number of friends to wish them a happy Rosh Hashana.
Despite the rabbinical beard, his continued observance of kashrut and Shabbat and going to the synagogue, he asked his children three years ago for permission to donate his body to the Hebrew University Medical Faculty, because he didn’t believe in an afterlife and thought he might be of use to medical students. He believed in Judaism as a tradition of the Jewish people, not in eternal life after death. After he is finally laid to rest alongside Ruth in the Beit Zayit cemetery, maybe, observing the news from on high, he’ll be surprised.