Obituary: Ezra Golombok, ‘Idealist, maverick and loner’ who edited the Jewish Echo

·6-min read
Ezra Golombok frequently locked horns with members of the Jewish community
Ezra Golombok frequently locked horns with members of the Jewish community

Born: August 22, 1922;

Died: April 9, 2022.

EZRA Golombok, who published and edited the Glasgow-based Jewish Echo newspaper for over 40 years, has died at the age of 99 after a short illness.

Even after the newspaper had to close due to the reduction in the Jewish population in Scotland, he continued to work right up until his death producing a weekly on-line newsletter, keeping the Jewish community informed of developments in Israel and the Middle East.

When asked how he maintained such vigour and demeanour approaching 100 years old he replied: “Genetics - I chose my parents carefully.”

He was not expected to have a life in journalism, however, as he had already begun a promising scientific career after gaining a BSc in Chemistry at the Royal Technical College (later Strathclyde University), and then studied for a PhD at Glasgow University.

After the Second World War he developed his scientific path by working as a post-doctoral fellow at the Swiss Federal Technical Institute in Zurich.

It was then, however, that his father Zevi, who had begun the Jewish Echo originally for the developing Jewish community in Glasgow’s Gorbals, took ill, and Ezra, now 26, answered his father’s plea for him to return to Scotland in 1948 and take over the running of the newspaper which he did until its closure in 1992.

It was already clear that Ezra was going to have a successful scientific career but his family ties were strong and he felt his first duty was to his father and his father’s newspaper.

He was very strong-willed and frequently locked horns with members of the Jewish community about what should appear in the Echo, preferring to explain what was happening in the Jewish homeland of Israel rather than the parochial politics of the Glasgow community (which, over the years, moved from Gorbals further south of Glasgow to Giffnock and Newton Mearns).

He even on occasion refused to print personal announcements and advertisements because he did not approve of their wording, which annoyed those who wanted overly flowery prose in their birth or death notices.

Author Stephen Brook stated in his book The Club: The Jews of Modern Britain that “Dr Golombok’s newspaper pays his readers the great and rare compliment of not underestimating their intelligence.”

Ezra was born on August 22, 1922. His mother, Rosa Teitelman, came from the German Russian border region, which is now in North East Poland. His father came from Russia as it then was, although his home town is now in Lithuania.

Ezra’s earliest memories in Glasgow’s Govanhill where the family then lived was his mother talking excitedly about disturbances at the tram-works on the other side of Aikenhead Road during the General Strike of 1926.

As he grew older he did experience some casual anti-semitism while at school, such as a teacher who referred dismissively to his academic success as “you people always want to get ahead”; the antisemitic posters in a cinema on Aikenhead Road, and the rejection from certain civil defence activities because of his foreign name.

As a teenager after his Highers he travelled through France and Switzerland with his older brother where they reached the German border which was festooned with Nazi flags, and they were wise enough to return through France. This was two months before war broke out.

He enrolled at the Royal Technical College where his BSc in chemistry was accelerated due to Britain’s need for technical staff during the war. He graduated in 1942 and was assigned to an RAF manufacturing plant and ordnance factory. He started on his PhD during the evening.

He recalled one night working by himself at college where he prepared his own hydrogen cyanide. His supervisor later upbraided him for preparing enough cyanide to poison half of Glasgow.

After the war he had 15 months’ postdoctoral fellowship at the Swiss Federal Institute (ETH) in Zurich. However his father took ill, and as the youngest son he came back to take over Scotland’s only Jewish newspaper.

In 1958 he married Susan Heimler, a Hungarian-Israeli emigre who had survived the Auschwitz concentration camp, where many of her family had died. She brought a more liberal viewpoint on Jewish matters to the relationship.

He developed the newspaper and over the years was often called upon by the BBC and the then Glasgow Herald to write and comment on Jewish matters, and also Israel which he visited many times.

His other peripheral link to the Herald was that he gave the job of arts reviewer on the Jewish Echo to a young enthusiastic music teacher named Michael Tumelty. That start led to Michael later giving up teaching and becoming the Herald’s full-time music critic.

As to what Ezra was like as a newspaper editor, Rabbi Jeremy Rosen would later recall: “I arrived in Glasgow, my first permanent rabbinical position, in 1968. I was fresh from yeshivah in Jerusalem; young, idealistic and wet behind the ears. I needed guidance and, above all, someone who knew the ins and outs of Glasgow like the back of his own hand.

“When I asked around, I found that there was one man whom everyone I spoke to complained about. The editor/owner of the Echo. I knew then with absolute certainty that anyone so universally disagreed with just had to be the best possible mentor for me.

“I made the short journey from Giffnock to Paisley to find Ezra Golombok setting up the printing press with his own ink-stained hands in a shed of a printing factory.

“I introduced myself. He looked up at me with disdain, told me he had no time for rabbis and I should get the hell out. I replied that I shared his disdain and he gave me a second look, offered me a cup of tea, and our friendship was born.

“He took me under his wing. He instructed me in the political quagmire of Glasgow Jewry, whom to avoid, whom to court. He gave me a weekly column in the Echo. In no small measure, he helped me win over my congregation and the community. He didn’t agree with me much of the time, but I think he thought my sheer audacity was worth encouraging.

“He should have been devoting himself to academic research rather being confined to his printing shop in Paisley dealing with petty details of who was getting married to whom and when, or who was filling up the local burial plots.

“Ezra would upset his clientele by refusing personal announcements or advertisements from time to time when he did not approve of their wording or disagreed with their politics. He was an idealist, a maverick, and a loner.

“He was fortunate that he had an equally brilliant and nonconformist wife. She brought love, warmth, and sanity into his life.”

Ezra is survived by his children, Ruth and Michael.

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