Post’s beloved op-ed editor dies at 53

By David Horovitz September 6, 2009

Abigail Radoszkowicz was a wonderful workmate and friend

The Jerusalem Post is mourning the sudden, shattering loss of our beloved colleague, Abigail Radoszkowicz, 53, who was at work editing our op-ed pages just a few short weeks ago but died of cancer late Thursday night.

Abigail was a wonderful workmate and friend, an original thinker who approached everything she did with passion and curiosity.

She was so refreshingly unconventional that when she walked into the room, one never knew which direction the conversation would take. Talking to her was always interesting, challenging and worthwhile; she always led us to reevaluate and reconsider.

Her speech patterns conveyed her essence: Words veritably bubbled out of her – fast, for there was much that had to be said; often rising in pitch – for who had time to take a breath?; and delivered with a uniquely infectious enthusiasm.

She was a truly fine woman, a person of utter integrity and decency who surely never had a mean thought, far less expressed one.

She also had the knack of making those around her feel good about themselves: A few months ago, she phoned our sports editor to tell him she’d seen him on television interviewing a basketball player after a game. There’d been nothing exceptional about the interview, he recalls, but the very fact that Abigail was so impressed made him feel he’d achieved something special.

She was generous with her expertise and with her time; she worked with a colleague who has an autistic son on a book about autism.

As several members of our staff can testify – staffers who are among the most affected by her death – she hosted new immigrants who had little or no family here for Shabbat and festive meals.

One of her colleagues and his now wife spent a recent Seder night with her family, and remember how she did everything to make them feel welcome, including – that night and whenever they were invited – seeing them off not at the front door of her home in Har Homa, but after walking with them 20 minutes to the entrance of the neighborhood.

Twice on Shabbatot in recent years she also walked the lengthy distance from Har Homa to Baka for the bar- and bat-mitzva celebrations of a colleague – coming to a synagogue from a stream of Judaism with which she did not identify, exuding quiet contentment at being part of the simcha, and insisting that the schlep was nothing.

Abigail was perpetually busy caring about others: her own growing family, of course, but also anybody else who exhibited some human need – even if it was only for an engaged and empathetic listener to their problems.

There were many, many times that you would walk past her office and see other members of staff sitting with Abigail, talking, confiding. There’d invariably be laughter, too; Abigail was good fun.

At work, she delighted in the discovery of a new writing talent, was truly unhappy when a contributor delivered material that lacked originality or polish, and was always seeking ways to avoid inflicting substandard writing on our readers.

At the same time, she never really learned how to reject material – because she didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings – and was anguished if she ever thought she’d done so. She even felt bad, she told a colleague, that she had disappointed us by initially passing on what unfortunately proved to be unfoundedly encouraging reports about her terminal medical condition.

Abigail was born in Tel Aviv in 1956, the oldest child of Yisrael (later known as Joe) and Chava, who were both refugees from Europe.

Yisrael’s family had immigrated to Palestine from Vienna in the late 1930s. Chava’s family was from Berlin. Fleeing the Holocaust with a group of children, Chava finally made it to Switzerland, from where, after many stops, she was sent to Palestine.

The family emigrated to the United States soon after Abigail’s birth, ending up in Los Angeles, where ‘Joe’ opened the Sunset Grill, which eventually became world- renowned thanks to a 1984 Don Henley song of the same name.

Following Abigail in birth order were her younger siblings, Michael, Barbara and Olivia. The family lived in the predominantly Jewish Fairfax area of Los Angeles, and Abigail attended Fairfax High School, graduating in the top 2 percent of her class.

She started off college at UCLA, and went off after a year to the Hebrew University, where she majored in English literature. She made aliya at the same time, for Zionist/idealistic reasons, but came back to Los Angeles in 1979.

Around that time, she began attending Jewish lectures and classes, which led her to explore her Jewish background. After a while she became observant, inspired by Chabad, even living in Crown Heights for several years.

In 1983, she came back to Israel to live.

She met her husband, Yitzchak, an oleh from Uruguay, in early 1986, and they were married shortly before Pessah of that year.

Yitzchak is currently a ba’al megihah (a proofreader for a sofer/religious scribe). They first settled in Baka, moved to Har Nof in 1990, and lived there until they moved to Har Homa four years ago.

The couple had four children: Malka (21), Uri (20), Dov (almost 17) and Yehoshua (almost 14). Malka is studying law at the Hebrew University, Uri is in the Tank Corps of the IDF. Dov is a 12th-grader at Horev High School in Jerusalem, and Yehoshua is entering 9th grade at Noam, also in the capital.

Although she came from a secular background and became Orthodox in early adulthood, Abigail showed none of the zealotry of some of the newly religious. While strictly observant herself, her tolerance of others emphatically extended to those who were not.

She once upbraided a colleague for criticizing secular Israeli reporters ‘representing’ Israel on trips abroad, who seemed to show too little Jewish self-respect by, for example, devouring non-kosher food and appearing to disparage their Judaism.

‘Consider the weight of the Jewish legacy,’ she cried, and the overpowering need of some Jews to get out from underneath it.

Abigail began her career at the Post compiling events listings, but her quick intellect swiftly became clear and she was drafted onto the reporting staff. She was an astute religious affairs reporter, not afraid of controversy, of stepping into sensitive territory.

Asked to switch from that role to the editorship of the Post’s Billboard listings guide, she took on the new task – a fiddly, complex role that requires tremendous attention to detail – with characteristic conscientiousness.

The irony of the appointment was not lost on her – after all, she did not own a TV. But that did not get in the way. In fact, she transformed Billboard, turning it into a vibrant magazine, by adding feature articles to the familiar TV and entertainment listings. She may not have seen the movies, or the TV offerings or the concerts, but a reader would never have guessed.

Then, last year, she was appointed to the ultra- sensitive job of op-ed editor – compiling one of the Post’s most-read sections, perhaps the section by which the paper is most judged.

She embraced the challenge of producing diverse pages in the spirit of the newspaper – to give readers a sense of the range of options facing the Jewish nation and the Jewish people; not just to lecture, but also to inform and to challenge.

The job was immensely difficult – commissioning and sifting through material, finding the appropriate mix, editing the articles, preparing them for the page – and relentless. Ten hours a day, as often as not. But, again, the reader, so well-served, would never have guessed.

And it was typical of her generosity of nature, when she recently had to hand over the section, temporarily we hoped, that she confided to a colleague that her replacement was so ‘sharp’ – a bittersweet transition relieved a little by her pleasure that she was entrusting the job to capable hands.

A thoroughly modest woman, it is certain that Abigail did not internalize the extent of her workmates’ love and affection for her. She seemed happily surprised when we called in the last few weeks to see how she was getting on.

But, of course, we really did miss her enormously, and really did want to believe, in the face of all probability, that she would yet make a return.

As recently as a week ago, she was happy to chat with a colleague about goings-on at the Post. She was engaged, focused and comforted, it seemed, that some of her friends here had organized Shabbat food for her and her family.

Even now, amid the sorrow of her death, it is hard to think of Abigail without smiling – such was the effect of her company. She loved life, and managed to convey that joy to the rest of us.

We are all the poorer for her passing. And we wish her family every strength in grappling with her loss.

(With Jeremy Last, David Shamah, Linda Amar, Judy Montagu)

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