Retire at 102? Not a chance!

By Lisa Herndon

J. Zel Lurie

J. Zel Lurie

Lisa Herndon

Lisa Herndon

NEW YORK — At 102, J. Zel Lurie “39 is likely the Columbia Journalism School”s longest-working journalist. Lurie, who lives in Delray Beach, Florida, suffers from macular degeneration and can no longer read, but it has never occurred to him to end a writing career that started decades ago. Only now, he has an assistant type up the columns that he dictates for two publications twice a month.

Lurie describes himself as a “journalist specializing in promoting peace in the Middle East,” and his columns appear in the Jewish Journal (part of the Sun Sentinel in Florida) and the San Diego Jewish World in California. He draws on his more than 75 years of experience as a writer, photographer and editor reporting in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“He knows more instinctively about the Middle East and about Israel, in particular, than most experts know after years of academic study,” said Rabbi Bruce Warshal, publisher emeritus of the Jewish Journal who is also Lurie”s former editor and longtime friend.

His work has garnered some criticism. One reader accused Lurie of “aiding enemies of the Jewish people” after he criticized Elie Wiesel in one column. Warshal said while Lurie is critical of the Israeli government, “it is hard for right-wing critics to attack because of his fierce love of the country. Not only are his roots there but his children and grandchildren live there.”

Lurie, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Lithuania, was born in Gloversville, New York,  in 1913. He and his family moved to the Borough Park section of Brooklyn when he was two. When he was 14, he convinced his parents to let him move to Palestine and attend a boarding school in Haifa. Afterward, he attended Cornell University but dropped out in his junior year because he lacked the funds to continue.

Lurie returned to Palestine and landed a job as a reporter at the Palestine Post (now the Jerusalem Post). He returned to New York in 1937 and became the editor of the New York Jewish News and later managing editor of Opinion Magazine.

He applied to the J-School to improve his skills as a journalist. Tuition, at that time, was $400.

What he remembers most from his journalism education is the advice given by a professor in an editorial writing class: Work hard on the first paragraph and when you finish the editorial, throw the first paragraph away, Lurie recounted.

He freelanced for the Miami Herald after graduation. He became editor of the Hadassah Newsletter in 1947 which later became Hadassah Magazine. In 1980, he became the magazine”s publisher and retired four years later. But that same year, he joined the Jewish Journal as a columnist and has never stopped writing.

The San Diego Jewish World began publishing his column in 2007. According to its editor, Donald H. Harrison, Lurie’s column attracts a strong response from readers and the ones where he writes of his time in the Middle East are popular. “He is a treasure trove of stories,” he said.

Lurie, who conducted this interview via email, said that he will continue to write his column as long as he can.
“I can’t read; my memory is poor and getting poorer by the day,” he wrote in an email. “I can’t see a movie or most TV shows. Now what is left for me to do, but to try to write a column?”

His advice to young journalists, he continued, is to “pick a subject that interests them, and which they know something about.”

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Preceding was reprinted with permission from the Columbia Journalism School Alumni Newsletter. Lisa Herndon is a freelance writer and is currently a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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