80-Plus And Going Strong p.15

By: SI LIBERMAN HEART ATTACK, PNEUMONIA, overseas vacations. They've been unable to prevent Bill Katzberg, a vigorous, opinionated, 80-year-old grandfather, from making the deadline since he started writing his "Closer Look" weekly column for the Jewish Journal in Florida nearly 20 years ago.
And nothing except maybe Mary, his wife of 56 years, has prevented the Brooklyn-born and Brooklyn College-educated history major from weighing in with sarcasm and controversial, humorous or off- the-wall views.
"She's my main editor," the retired insurance broker-turned-writer says. "She has a real blue line of authority that she heavily uses, especially when she thinks I'm going to hurt or embarrass people."
Based in Deerfield Beach, Fla., the Journal has a circulation of 153,000.
Katzberg's column usually deals with the habits and foibles of senior citizens and their condominium lives in south Florida.
To make a point, he'll toss in a Yiddish word or expression. And when it comes to Israeli politics and problems, his words are fired with a reasoned passion.
After completing an unbroken string of 1,000 consecutive weekly columns, he was honored in March with a special service and luncheon at Temple Beth Torah in Tamarac, Fla.
More than 700 readers and guests attended the affair, which was sponsored by the Middle East Network, a volunteer Jewish-American media-monitoring group.
It's not been easy for Katzberg. Hospitalized by a heart attack about 10 years ago, he recalls how he scratched out his column on a legal-size paper pad and had his wife deliver it to the newspaper in time to make a Sunday deadline. He did likewise, when he was bedridden with pneumonia.
"On vacation ? I've made 17 trips to Israel and paid my way ? I'll usually bribe someone in the hotel office with a box of chocolates to fax it to Florida," he says. "No big deal. That's how I do it. Three handwritten pages are the first draft. Then I type it into my old Burroughs electric typewriter, take the pages to the newspaper office and punch the words into the computer. I don't let anyone else put it in the computer. I don't want to risk having the words and punctuation changed."
Along the way, he's riled some readers by urging them to spend and enjoy their savings rather than leave it for their children.
He's called lavish Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties "obscene" ("What more can parents do when the kid becomes a Nobel laureate?").
He's suggested imposing strict departure deadlines for grown children, relatives and friends who visit in the winter, rapped parents who shy away from expressing divergent opinions with their grown children, and has been uncompromising in his support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's East Jerusalem building policies.
Criticism ? even death threats ? as well as praise go with the territory, he says. "You know, I'm not an ass-kissing old fogey."
And he embraces a compliment with a polite tongue in cheek "thank you for being so discerning."
After his first telephoned threat ("Fuckin' Jew, you're dead!"), he says he called the police. "Nothing came of it. They suggested I have my telephone number changed, but I didn't do it. We're still listed."
"It's the most popular column in our paper," says Journal publisher Bruce S. Warshal, a reform rabbi who is co-owner of the 32- newspaper South Florida Newspaper Network chain. "He holds his senior citizen readers to a physiological and psychological mirror. . . . Lets people know where he's at, and writes with a shrug. Right now, he's leading a one-man charge for a means-tested, long-term care program for the elderly. . . .
"We get lots of letters to the editor about the column. Most are favorable. His readers understand and love him. With all the compliments, you wonder when he's going to walk on water.
"Sometimes, though, I think he's full of horse manure, and I've written an opposing view on the op-ed page. On U.S. policies, he writes like a Democrat, but is a conservative Republican on Israeli matters."
Informed of the 60-year-old publisher's comments, Katzberg reacted.
"I like and respect Bruce. But he's immature in thinking you can make peace with the Palestinians by always giving in and getting nothing in return from them. There has to be give and take by both sides.
"I sure hope an agreement finally brings peace in the Middle East, but I'm sorry to say I doubt we'll see it."
In demand as a speaker, Katzberg has put together four one-hour slide presentations that grew out of his Israeli visits.
"I insist on being paid $150 to $200 for a talk, get six or so speaking engagements a year, then donate all the money to the UJA [the United Jewish Appeal charity]," he said.
Pushing 81 and still going strong, his own retirement is the last thing on his mind, Katzberg laughs."Are you kidding? This is too much fun."

?("You know, I'm not an ass-kissing old fogey."? 80-year-old Bill Katzberg, columnist for the Jewish Journal in Deerfield Beach, Fla.) [Photo & Caption]
?(Liberman is a retired editor of the Sunday Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.) [Caption]

?( E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com)
?(copyaright: Editor & Publisher June 7, 1997)


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