A letter a day

Dedicated letter writer Toby Willig reflects on 31 years of reading ‘The Jerusalem Post’.

Toby Willig: ‘I must be the oldest reader of “The Jerusalem Post.”’ (The black and white photograph behind her is of her parents.)  (photo credit: ARIEL DOMINIQUE HENDELMAN)
Toby Willig: ‘I must be the oldest reader of “The Jerusalem Post.”’ (The black and white photograph behind her is of her parents.)
Toby Willig, 92, may be the most dedicated letter writer The Jerusalem Post has ever had.
Willig began her devoted reading of the paper in 1986, the year she and her husband made aliya from New York. Since that time, Willig has followed the Post’s trajectory through many different editors and chapters in history.
“I must be the oldest reader of The Jerusalem Post,” Willig says. “I began to read it as soon as I made aliya. I knew [former editor-in-chief] David Bar-Ilan very well. I met him in New York. I was so impressed that he was willing to give up being a first-rate pianist to come here. I don’t know how many people appreciated his sacrifice in coming. I also knew David Horovitz. I even know Yaakov Katz. All brilliant men, all different.”
Willig has a particular affinity for Bar-Ilan’s exposure of the media. She believes firmly in holding the media accountable and in the right to express her astute and often outspoken opinions.
She is sharp and savvy to this day. It is in this vein that Willig dutifully writes a letter to the editor every morning. Her day begins by calling a friend, to whom she dictates the letters. She spends a lot of time thinking about what topic she wants to delve into, to which article she most wants to respond. It is a sacred and important task not taken lightly.
Willig reads the paper the day before and then the relevant letter is sent the following morning. She has an ongoing relationship with Lawrence Rifkin, the Post’s letters editor and writer of The Jerusalem Post Magazine’s Grumpy Old Man column.
“Larry Rifkin is always taking my letters and giving feedback,” Willig says.
“I write every day, and he’s published a lot of them,” she continues. “I’m very glad. The Jerusalem Post is very fair and professional, I must say. Larry is also unique and professional. Even though he and I disagree about [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, he still publishes my letters. I don’t know why he doesn’t like Bibi – the man is an absolute genius. Who ever said you can’t love God, even if you’re a high liver?” At the time of our interview, the most recent letter Willig had written was critical of her beloved Rifkin.
She addressed his disappointment that Netanyahu had not taken a stronger stance against US President Donald Trump regarding Trump’s response to the violence in Virginia.
In Willig’s opinion, Trump issued a strong enough statement, although maybe he did not go quite far enough in condemning antisemitism. She made the point that the average member of parliament or the mayor of London, for that matter, also did not publicly condemn antisemitism, and no one was calling them to task for it. Willig went on to write that there was much hatred for Trump in the United States and that Israel did not need to air its voice about it for no good reason.
Willig remembers fondly a letter she wrote years ago about black holes in response to a Magazine article on the subject.
“It was such a wonderful article,” she exclaims. “I wish the Magazine would write many more articles on that subject. It showed how much we don’t know about the world that God created. For myself, the more I learn about my reality, I believe in God even more.
Our little minds can’t comprehend so much – even now, with all these hurricanes. Man can’t do anything about the force that we call nature. All we can do is try to protect ourselves. We can’t control it. Brilliant man, who thinks he can control everything, can’t control nature.”
Willig plans to write her next letter about Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, in the wake of his scandal-sparking post on Facebook titled “The Food Chain.” The meme, which has since been taken down, depicted a space lizard and a Freemason or some other conspiracy-theorist figure, as well as Jewish-Hungarian millionaire George Soros cradling a fishing rod with Earth as bait and former prime minister Ehud Barak chasing after another fishing rod with money dangling from the hook.
Willig believes that Netanyahu junior has been criticized too harshly for the post, saying he was a good student and that all this attention is going to be too much for him. She hopes the media will leave him alone in the future.
It is safe to say that Willig has an opinion on just about everything, and she doesn’t mind sharing it.
Even her story of making aliya has a hard-hitting surprise.
“Truthfully, my husband made me come to Israel,” she explains.
“I had a good life in America. I was very involved in the World Jewish Congress. I was president of Emunah Women of America. But my husband was Zionist and he was going, so I couldn’t refuse,” she explains.
“It turns out that the best years of my life were here,” she continues. “I love Israel. It’s such a wonderful country. You see the walls of the Old City and realize that this is where you are – the place that, historically, your ancestors walked before you. Hashem [God] said: This is your land. I’m not Hashem and I’m not a prophet; He never spoke to me. I don’t know why He picked Israel, but He did.”
Willig lived in Rehavia for many years after making aliya. She loved its centrality and excitement. She affectionately recalls watching Beit Avi Chai being built from her window. Last year, she relocated to Givat Shaul.
At 92, she is nothing if not a firecracker who is living life to the fullest every single day. She is still a chairwoman of Emunah Women and excitedly talks about the next meeting, on October 22, which will discuss the light rail’s new Blue Line and how it will affect the German Colony.
“It’s not a good idea,” she says emphatically. “People have to know. Who decided? The program will discuss all of that.”
Willig has three children, 12 grandchildren and over 20 great-grandchildren.
“It’s so wonderful to see the flowering of the tree, and it all started with my parents in the Lower East Side,” she says. “It’s like Johnny Appleseed, who went around America dropping seeds.”
Her parents came from Galicia, in Poland, of which she is extremely proud, emphasizing that there was something special about the group of people who came from that area.
Willig hopes to live until 120, and adds that it would be a privilege to see Israel prosper over the coming years. Of course, she will continue writing her daily letters to the newspaper she loves so dearly.
“I love The Jerusalem Post because it’s a fair paper,” she states. “[Diplomatic reporter] Herb Keinon is my favorite writer. Some of the writers really get my blood boiling, but I still need to know what they’re saying.”
Here’s to many more years for Toby Willig, and many, many more letters.