GRAPEVINE: For auld lang syne

She invited several former employees of the Post, who came due to the high esteem in which she is held. But it was a lot more than a reunion. It was also a history lesson.

Sybil Ehrlich (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
Sybil Ehrlich
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
Over the years there have been many farewell parties at The Jerusalem Post – some for people who have retired, some for people leaving for greener fields and some for people who were dismissed due to budgetary cutbacks. But there was never anything quite like the farewell this week for Sybil Ehrlich, the most conscientious proof reader that the paper ever had. Ehrlich worked primarily on the weekend magazine and other supplements to the daily paper, but she would not allow her name to be put on the masthead of any of the publications that she proofread, in case heaven forbid, she had overlooked a typographical error. In the 32 years that she spent at the Post, Ehrlich was in fact much more than a proof reader. Not only was she quick to spot typographical and grammatical errors, but also factual mistakes.
Her farewell was also by way of a reunion. She invited several former employees of the Post, who came due to the high esteem in which she is held. But it was a lot more than a reunion. It was also a history lesson, as Ehrlich told her tale of The Jerusalem Post from her perspective to the present day.
She hadn’t really nurtured any ambitions to work in a newspaper, but in 1986, a friend told her that the Post was looking for typesetters. She had no newspaper experience, but then again a lot of people who worked at the paper were first timers and quickly learned to be flexible and take on the manifold tasks that are part and parcel of the newspaper business.
Ehrlich started in the second of three buildings that have housed the Post. The first was in Havatzelet street in the center of town.
The second was in Romema in a converted chicken processing plant. Right before the building was demolished, the Post relocated to its present offices in Jaffa Road, conveniently located next to the light rail and bus stops. As Ehrlich said: “In 1986 there were no word processors or home computers; well, perhaps they did exist but hardly anyone had a computer at home. Reporters typed their copy on a manual typewriter, scribbled their changes all over it – delete this word, move this paragraph – stapled the thing together in an untidy bundle, and there it was for the typesetters to turn it into proper text. There was a pool of about 20 typesetters, some of them (when I started) older men approaching retirement who had worked with hot lead, while most of the others were part-timers, students, housewives, people who had another job elsewhere and worked at the Post for maybe two nights a week, as I did when I started there.
“The technology of the time was of course hopelessly primitive by today’s standards. But the staff was enormous. 20 typesetters and almost as many proofreaders; each typed article was printed out roughly and proofread; any necessary corrections were made before it was set as galleys and proofread again. The corrected galleys were assembled to form a page, and then everything was proofread a third time.”
The first thing she ever typeset was the weather forecast, and she was thrilled to see it published in the next day’s paper.
In those days, reporters worked in the office, not at home or wherever they can sit with their laptops as they do today. Some even send in breaking stories via their cell phones.
“In the ‘pre-computer era’ reporters sat in a smoke-filled room, banging away at their manual typewriters. The paper was printed in-house, down in the basement,” she said.
After a few years Ehrlich was sometimes called to read proofs in addition to typesetting. Occasionally someone would have to take dictation by phone from a reporter in Tel Aviv or overseas just like in the movies. The news editor would ask if anyone was free to take a story, and quite often it was Ehrlich.
For well over half a century, the Post used British spelling. But some time in 1990 the decision was taken to switch to American spelling. Since one of the things that the British-born Ehrlich had learned was how to typeset obituary notices, she made a mock “obituary” to hang on the wall – “The typesetters and proofreaders of The Jerusalem Post mourn the passing of British spelling. Shiva in the proofs room.”
In 1991, the Post acquired new technology and there was suddenly no need for all the typesetters. By that time, most reporters were working from home on their own computers and sending their stories by email. Management also decided there was no need for proofreaders and closed both departments, typesetters and proofreaders. Ehrlich was among those who were dismissed.
When the editors realized they couldn’t live without her and once the legal six months were up, they rehired her to work in the editorial department. She has worked there since on almost every section of the paper, except sports. For a while she was also assistant Magazine editor. She also worked as a translator.
Many sections on which she worked have long since ceased to exist.
Before the archives of the paper were digitized, they consisted of clippings filed alphabetically and by topic. Ehrlich spent many hours researching her hobby, the history of railways. She‘s a maven on all forms of public transport and was the natural choice to report on any story of that nature. She attended the openings of many new railway stations, and also rode on the first train on the high-speed line from Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz.
Among the many farewell gifts that Ehrlich received was an old-fashioned model train.
The next chapter in her life is going to be a somewhat fishy story. She will be a guide at the Jerusalem Aquarium.
■ A WOMEN’S Rosh Hodesh prayer for the recovery of IDF soldier Netanel Felber, who was shot in the head last month during a terrorist attack at Givat Assaf will be held on Monday, January 7 at the Abell Synagogue in the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center at 10.30 a.m. The public is requested to pray for Netanel ben Shayna Tziporah.
■ WHILE PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their older son Yair were in Brazil, the PM’s family increased in size. His daughter Noa Roth, the product of his first marriage to Miki Haran, gave birth to a daughter, who is the PM’s fourth grandchild. Unlike her father who has been photographed eating in non-kosher restaurants, Noa Roth who is married to Chabad businessman Daniel Roth leads a religiously observant life style.
■ THE KNESSET will celebrate its 70th anniversary in the midst of the election campaign. The Knesset held its first elections on January 25, 1949, and its first session on February 14, 1949, which coincided with Tu Bishvat. Renovations on the Frumin building in the heart of the capital’s King George Street, which for 16 years had housed the Knesset before it moved to its present location in Givat Ram, began in 2016 after the passing of the Knesset Museum Law in 2010. Presumably Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein looked forward to opening the Knesset Museum on the Knesset’s 70th anniversary this year. But that won’t happen due to budgetary restrictions.
The plumbing system was in such a terrible state that it had to be completely replaced, and funds allocated for the restoration project did not stretch that far. Meanwhile the public has to content itself with blown up photographs of Knesset activities from years gone by featured on the security fence surrounding the building. Unfortunately, some of the photographs have been vandalized by ugly graffiti sprayed by someone with no respect for history. Meanwhile, according to the Knesset website, renovations are continuing and are expected to continue till mid 2020 – but in fact there is no indication that work is being done.
■ THE ROTATING chairmanship of the Council of Women’s Organizations was transferred last month to Emunah which placed Oshrat Sitbon, a member of the National Executive of Emunah, to take over from Galia Wolloch, the national chair of Na’amat. Sitbon is married and the mother of three. She has a long history of being a parliamentary advisor to government ministers and members of Knesset.
■ NATIONAL STORY teller Yossi Alfi, has teamed up with the Ministry for Social Equality to collect the stories of North African Jews living in Israel. He wants to know about their background, what life was like when they fled or were expelled from their countries of birth, and what their initial experiences were when they came to Israel. In the interim, Alfi, who was born in Iraq has written his 27th book called Ma’abara (Transit Camp). His dream is to establish a museum dedicated to North African Jews and to Iraqi Jews in particular.
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