Jpost at 90: The Jerusalem Post is like a letter from home

Whether receiving the paper rolled up outside the front door or perusing Jpost.com on the screen over morning coffee, it’s still like getting a letter from home.

 ‘OCCASIONALLY, ON the bus ride into the office, I’d spy fellow passengers perusing the “Post.” I’d pay attention to what they were reading, their body language or the reaction on their faces.’ (photo credit: DAVID BRINN)
‘OCCASIONALLY, ON the bus ride into the office, I’d spy fellow passengers perusing the “Post.” I’d pay attention to what they were reading, their body language or the reaction on their faces.’
(photo credit: DAVID BRINN)

For the first few years that I lived in Israel, The Jerusalem Post was like a lifeline. Then it became my life.

With virtually nonexistent Hebrew skills but a thirst to know what was going on in my adopted country in the mid-1980s, the Post became my go-to address for information. Every Friday, I’d buy it at a newsstand in south Jerusalem and spend Shabbat poring over the various sections.

Some of the erudite prose by clearly Anglophone writers like Philip Gillon or Alex Berlyne went over my head, but other stories and columns by staffers like Sam Orbaum and Matt Nesvisky introduced me to a familiar and endearing mindset, which made me feel like there were other people in Israel to whom I could I could relate. It felt like getting a letter from home.

They were writing about Israel and the Jewish world but with a sensibility that spoke to me, an outsider who desperately wanted to belong. With their story-telling skill, humor and wisdom, they made me feel connected – like I wasn’t a foreign implant in the middle of this Mediterranean maelstrom I had chosen to make my home.

When I landed a position at the Post five years later as a page designer, I got to meet those people behind the bylines. They turned out to be as colorful as their prose, and just as welcoming.

 David Brinn, 62 From Portland, Maine to Ma’aleh Adumim, 1985 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) David Brinn, 62 From Portland, Maine to Ma’aleh Adumim, 1985 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Meeting the people behind the bylines at The Jerusalem Post

They and a host of others – dedicated professionals committed to producing a quality product that met the varied needs of its readership – would play significant roles in nurturing a journalistic novice who knew a little about writing, not a lot about journalism, and even less about Israel. 

And they were characters, with the proverbial news ink under the fingernails. People like Louis Rapoport, a ’60s activist turned Ethiopian Jewry champion, who wrote the definitive coverage of their clandestine aliyah in his book The Lost Jews: Last of the Ethiopian Falashas.

He was the night editor when I was assigned to him to design the news pages for him on the evening shift. Sometimes on our way home at the end of the night, he’d impart wisdom about news, journalism, life and the best place to get a falafel.

He explained once that as an editor, he would often make his editorial decisions by envisioning a composite reader – an everyman – and ask himself what that person would want to read.

His tragic death at an early age from a heart attack in 1991 inadvertently thrust me into that position of decision-making much sooner than I or anyone at the Post had intended. And I kept Louis’s advice close to me.

Those composite, everyman readers sometimes revealed themselves in flesh and blood. Occasionally, on the bus ride into the office, I’d spy fellow passengers perusing the Post. I’d pay attention to what they were reading, their body language or the reaction on their faces.

Thankfully, they would almost never crumple up the paper and throw it on the ground in a huff but would usually take their time and examine all the pages thoughtfully. I silently hoped they were being informed, enlightened or just entertained by enjoying a good story.

With the transition to the digital age, seeing newspaper readers on the bus has become a rarity. But the goal of telling stories and hopefully enlightening and informing readers has remained a constant at the Post.

Not everybody always agrees with everything they read, but that’s okay. In a family, there’s room for divergent opinions and views. And I hope that’s the way regular readers have come to think of the Post.

Whether receiving the paper rolled up outside the front door or perusing Jpost.com on the screen over morning coffee, it’s still like getting a letter from home.

And because it’s family, that means readers feel unfettered – perhaps more so than they would with another publication – to share their true feelings when something irks them. Like those rare times when the answers to the crosswords are mixed up (we are human). Or if that day’s editorial is diametrically opposed to what they believe.

And that’s okay. Because all of us here, on both sides of the paper – the staff and the readers – are passionate about the subject that all of us love: Israel. There are countless shades of opinions and beliefs, and there’s room for all of them – within reason – under the umbrella, as long as all sides are treated with respect. That’s part of being a family, too.

That sense of partnership with the reader is what I think sets the Post apart from other publications. Total strangers who I’m introduced to will have no qualms about telling me some variation of “Yeah, I read the Post – why don’t you do …?” before telling me what they don’t like about the paper and suggesting what can be done to improve it.

It’s because they care – as much as all of us at the paper – about what we write about and how it’s presented. Israel evokes passion in people – some cannot stand to see it criticized, and others can’t stand to see it not being perfect.

The Post has tried to be a home for both ends of the spectrum and to everyone in between. In that sense, we’ve created a real community, which is two-way, dynamic and constantly evolving.

SO MUCH HAS changed since Gershon Agron published the first edition of the Post 90 years ago. But the essence remains the same: being a reliable and well-written source of information about Israel, the region and the Jewish world.

Just as the readership has changed with the times, I’m no longer the young upstart who looked in awe at the grizzled veterans who were masters at reporting, writing, editing and designing.

There were so many people from whom I learned so much – like layout mavens Ben Shuman and Joe Blumberg, who impeccably designed pages always with a cigar and a cup of “tea” close by; copy editors like Ilan Chaim, who gave new meaning to the term “word crunching,” by getting to the essence of any paragraph or sentence; and editors from Jeff Barak and David Horowitz to Steve Linde and Yaakov Katz, who all, in their own way, demonstrated what leadership and commitment to the highest journalistic standards means.

During my time at the Post, I lost my innocence about Israel (putting out a paper one black night in November 1995 that reported on the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin), and I’ve lost most of my hair.

But I’ve gained so much in return: friendships and experiences that span a lifetime; the satisfaction of putting a paper to bed, knowing that the reader was going to get his money’s worth in the morning; the opportunity to write a piece or publish someone else’s that could have a lasting effect on the way someone sees an issue or the life of the subject.

This could only happen if someone read our stories. And that’s why, for all of us at the paper, the reader is paramount. Into my fourth decade at the Post, whether assigning, editing, writing or choosing the stories that we tell, I still take Louis Rapoport’s advice to heart every day. After all, there’s nothing like getting a letter from home. ■