“How the mighty have fallen,” to quote David mourning the death of King Saul and his beloved Jonathan. So we say also about Robert Rosenberg, technology entrepreneur, pioneering Israeli journalist, social justice activist, and poetry lover. Robert, whose daily column about Israeli-Arab affairs, Today’s Situation, I’ve read religiously for several years, died of cancer today.
I noticed that he’d stopped writing his column on September 21st. I’d written to him during that time expressing my hope and wish that he was not silent because of a health issue (he’d taken another health-related hiatus earlier in the year as well). I never heard an answer. I should’ve known why.
Robert was a very forthright and amiable chap. But he was diffident too in a European sort of way. When he first took off time from the site, I wrote to him wishing him a speedy recovery. He wrote me back graciously but never mentioned a word about his condition. You have to respect a man for having such a sense of privacy and also for not wanting to burden someone who didn’t know him well.
I just wrote to my Mideast peace buddy, Sol Salbe, yesterday asking if he knew anything. He didn’t reply immediately. But just now he sent me the link to Robert’s obituary in Haaretz. This is what I replied to him when I first opened his e mail:
Oh my God! I had no idea, but when I wrote to you asking about him I feared this was possible. I’m so sad. Who will take his place? We are all bereft to have lost such a true comrade in the struggle for a just Israel.
I should explain that Robert began Haaretz’s website and served as a senior editor at the paper for some time. I probably could not write this blog without Haaretz’s site. That’s how important Robert was within certain circles. What’s more, Ariga was one of my most helpful sources linked often here. He will be missed in many ways.
I should make clear I didn’t know Robert personally. Our relationship was entirely online. But that makes it no less intense than if we’d known each other personally.
Robert’s column was a cogent and sharp progressive analysis of Israeli politics. He always managed to quote sources on important issues whose views I hadn’t previously heard. In other words, Robert went over familiar territory (the Mideast situation does seem to repeat itself ad nauseum at times), but always added a new insight or a new source to the mix which kept things refreshed and informed.
I didn’t always agree with Robert. And when I didn’t I told him so. And he would always reply graciously and sometimes agree with me and sometimes not.
I was astonished to read that Robert began his trailblazing website, Ariga, in 1995. I said 1995! Do you understand what that means? How many websites do you think there were in 1995? I started this site in 2003 and thought I was getting in on the ground floor of the blogging phenomenon. But Robert was blogging before there was blogging. His was not a blog in the current sense of the term since he didn’t have a comments feature or the bells and whistles common to the rest of us. But he wrote every day about the conflict and engaged closely with his readers. That’s why I call his effort a blog even though he might not have. I don’t know how much Israeli bloggers appreciate this pioneering performance. If they don’t they should.
Here is what Haaretz wrote about him:
Robert Rosenberg, author, poet, Internet pioneer and journalist, died of cancer Wednesday in Tel Aviv. He was 54.
Born in Boston and raised in Newton, Massachusetts, Rosenberg was educated at Tufts University and Tel Aviv University, and held a master’s degree in education from Harvard. He had many intense interests but journalism always played a major part in his life, mainly due to his passionate concern for Israeli society…
Rosenberg’s prescient interest in computers and the Internet, combined with his dedication to the cause of peace and social justice, led him to found the Ariga Web site in 1995. Ariga was always way ahead of its time – Rosenberg was blogging about the peace process in 1996, before the word “blog” had even been coined. He is widely considered to be the grandfather of all peace-related sites in the Middle East.
David Landau, editor of Haaretz’s English language edition, wrote this appreciation of Rosenberg. It gives you a more personal perspective on Robert:
Many, many were the nights when without Robert this paper would not have come out. Or at any rate, that is how it most certainly seemed to us, his colleagues at Haaretz English Edition, as we squeaked past another after-midnight deadline with reams and reams of raw Haaretz copy all somehow translated, edited, page-set and sent to press.
His output was truly phenomenal. His capacity vast; his knowledge encyclopedic. Uncomplaining, with breathtaking speed, with unfailing good grace, he would wade through troughs of dense prose, written to fill whole pages of Hebrew newsprint, and emerge with a succinct, coherent story often capped with a cute or sardonic headline for good measure.
The man was a joy to have around. He was a relief to have around – because you knew that with him the inevitable nightly crises would somehow be resolved. He was often a headache to have around, because, while doing his speed-reading, speed-writing, speed headline-composing and speed-laying-out he would be treating all those within earshot to a cheery, incessant, unquenchable patter of opinion. Sometimes it was about the story in hand. But often it would be about something completely different – which made his expeditious progress on the text all the more amazing. He liked to have the television blaring in the background, too – usually about still another subject. Robert, who was a decade ahead of his time on the Internet, was the consummate multitasker before the rest of us had heard of the concept…
But above all, and at this moment of hesed shel emet when only the truth should be written, it is Robert Rosenberg’s good-heartedness that deserves words of praise and admiration. For more than 30 years I would hear him criticizing the whole world. But I never heard him say a bad word to anyone. He was full of kindness. That, as we are told (Avot 2,9), caps everything.
“He was full of kindness.” May we all have someone say that about us after we go. May we all be worthy of having someone say that about us. Robert was worthy. We have lost a great one. May his memory be for a blessing. I wish comfort to his wife, Silvia and daughter Amber.
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks for this tribute Richard. I had the great fun of working with Robert at Haaretz and he was truly one of a kind. I also relied on his “The Situation” for an insightful summary of the latest news. David Landau’s piece in Haaretz today captures some of the essence of Robert’s personality and notes that beyond his phenomenal talents he was a “mensch” – whose salient characteristic was goodheartedness….
Jake Haller says
“Robert’s column was a cogent and sharp progressive analysis of Israeli politics.”
I subscribed to his daily email since I heard about Ariga from your blog. I found the column to be lucid, articulate, insightful and …. very apolitical. That is to say, free of personal editorializing. Unless what you definded as his “column” were actually different pieces from his daily email, I’m not sure how you arrived at referring to it as “progressive”.
Richard Silverstein says
Jake Haller: Robert was first of all a consummate journalist. You won’t find obvious editorializing in his work. He was too classy for that. His work was nothing like what I do here where I do editorialize though I hope in not too strident way for most people’s taste.
As you said, I WAS referring to his daily column, Today’s Situation, in saying it presented a progressive perspective on the Israeli political scene. I guess if you don’t see a progressive outlook in his material that’s a good thing. It means he was doing his job as a journalist.
But if you look at what he said about respective politicians like Peretz, Peres, Olmert, Halutz, & parties like Labor, Kadima & Likud, etc. I think there’s plainly a sympathy for a more progressive view of Israeli society & politics than anything else. And as I said, I didn’t always agree with Robert. He sometimes took more centrist to soft-right positions. But mostly I think he got things just right.
Here’s another sentence from the obit which captures what I meant about his political outlook: