Atlanta’s War Correspondent to the World
The Southern Israelite’s Adolph Rosenberg found himself under fire in 1967.
A small item on the front page of the May 19, 1967, edition of The Southern Israelite (known today as the Atlanta Jewish Times) reported that Editor and Publisher Adolph Rosenberg would lead a delegation of “fifty Jewish newspapermen and their wives” to Israel as guests of the Israeli government.
That item also mentioned that Associate Editor Vida Goldgar and her husband were in Europe and would connect with the American Jewish Press Association delegation in Israel. There, the Americans were to hear from government officials, including Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, and tour the country.
The AJPA was gathering in Israel after months of increasing threats, failed U.N.-brokered talks and occasional border skirmishes on the path to what would break out at the Six-Day War on June 5, 1967.
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“Newsmen Go To Israel Despite Mounting Tension” declared a front-page headline in the May 26 Southern Israelite, despite the urging of the State Department that Americans leave Israel.
As president of the AJPA, Rosenberg had scheduled the Israel meeting a year in advance. He could not have envisioned the adventure he would experience.
“While there is growing danger, it seems more significant than ever that Jewish newsmen make this trip to indicate their confidence and abiding interest in the Jewish State, that they see with their own eyes how the survivors of the most monumental persecution in man’s history have still to live in the shadow of the threat of death. What a travesty of international justice that Israelis have to eke out their existence literally within sign of undisciplined, savage and maniacal people, sworn to their extinction,” Rosenberg said in an article written before he left but published May 26, after he arrived in Israel.
There seemed an anticipation of the coming conflict during the AJPA delegation’s visit. In an article published on the front page of the June 2 edition of The Southern Israelite, Goldgar wrote: “Israel in crisis is an Israel every American Jew can be proud of. Wherever I have been during the last five days here, I have observed an esprit de corps, a unity and strength. Whether riding in a half track with the army in the Negev … in the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv … in the Alhambra Theater. Everywhere I went — the same impression.”
After a briefing, Goldgar wrote: “The Government’s position was explained with admirable clarity by a high official in the office of foreign affairs. We are not at liberty to reveal details of his briefing, which was made off the record.”
“I was amazed at the thoroughness of the mobilization in Israel,” she said, marveling that when the hourly news report was broadcast on the radio, people stopped whatever they were doing to listen.
She concluded the lengthy article by saying, “Although the situation is grave, with the help of all right-thinking people and fellow Jews throughout the world, there is no doubt in my mind, after my personal observations and the talks I have had, that the State of Israel will emerge stronger and more unified than ever.”
The AJPA meeting ended, and the delegation returned to the United States. Except for Rosenberg, who had a personal reason for delaying his return.
Then the war began.
And there was no contact from Rosenberg.
“Adolph stayed. The war broke out. He could not get back. … He was stuck. … He had a bullet hole in his room, came through his window. I don’t recall whether he was in the room or not. But he proceeded as a true newsman. He hooked up with a unit, whatever, went down into where the fighting was or had just been,” Goldgar recalled in an oral history video archived at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum. “I tried desperately to get a call through, unsuccessfully. We didn’t hear anything from him. He couldn’t get to us. Not knowing really what was going on over there, we didn’t know if he was dead or alive or what had happened. At some point we got this thick airmail letter, and he started sending stories back. … He couldn’t get through on wire or anything like that.”
The war ended June 10. Rosenberg was able to fly out of Israel and make his way home June 11.
On June 12, the Atlanta District of the Zionist Organization of America held an emergency meeting at the Jewish Community Center (then located on Peachtree Street). Rosenberg “was given a standing ovation by those present, who expressed admiration for his courage in remaining in the field of battle even though the State Department had requested all American citizens to return home immediately,” The Southern Israelite reported in its June 23 edition.
Rosenberg told his tale in the June 16 edition.
“Middle-age is a bit late to become an active war correspondent. But I did. I am a bit too old to skip through the streets of Jerusalem dodging bullets. But I had to. The mid-fifties is a time for comfort and not for spending a night in a shelter to escape falling bombs. But it was necessary,” he wrote.
Rosenberg explained how he came to be in this position. “I was marooned in Jerusalem the day the war broke out. The Jewish newspaper convention I had come to Israel to preside over was finished. All the delegates except myself had gone home. I wanted to leave behind a pint of blood as a gesture of solidarity although I prayed it would never be needed.”
By the time that article had been published in The Southern Israelite, portions had appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s predecessors and been distributed to newspapers nationally through The Associated Press, such was the interest in Rosenberg’s first-person accounts.
Rosenberg was then 55 years old. The Albany native, who grew up at Temple B’nai Israel, entered journalism through his high school newspaper and graduated from the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. He worked for the Albany Herald, the United States Daily (in Washington), the Carroll County Free Press, and both the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal (which later merged) before joining the staff of The Southern Israelite in 1940.
Rosenberg became the publisher of The Southern Israelite in 1946 and five years later headed up a corporation that purchased the newspaper.
When the war began, Rosenberg did not hole up at his Tel Aviv hotel or Israel’s Government Press Office. He traveled to the front lines. What he saw left an indelible impression on him.
“I am not too hardened a newsman to avoid bitterness over such grim realities of war, even if the dead are enemy dead,” he wrote after seeing where Arab troops had fallen. “I am not too old to glory in the courage of this Jewish nation, to be heartened in the turn of battle in favor of this democratic country to understand that ‘somebody up there’ likes them.”
Whatever hardships Rosenberg endured, he kept them in perspective. “But no American ever is too old to feel his heart breaking over the sight of a thousand children in the school shelters, courageously keeping up their spirit while outside explode the fearful bombs and mortars from Jordanian fighters and reciprocal Israel positions,” he wrote.
“No Jew or non-Jew in America is ever too old to fail the sense bitterly the feeling of needless war terror of a civilian population he sees scurrying through the dangerous street fire reach home and the security of family and make-shift shelters.”
Rosenberg wrote prodigiously, articles that carried his byline and others that did not but likely were his work. There were articles he wrote before the war that were not published until after it ended.
One example appeared June 16 in The Southern Israelite. On June 4, the day before Israel’s pre-emptive attack on the forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Rosenberg wrote, “The Israelis wait. The Israelis wait for what shall be. They await with fatalism. They await heroically with an awesome sense of impending destiny.”
Rosenberg shared an extra Southern Israelite credential with a friend, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman of Congregation Beth Jacob, who was teaching that year at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. Rabbi Feldman went to Rosenberg’s hotel, and the publisher gave him the press card, which the rabbi then had stamped by the Government Press Office.
“And I became, lo and behold, a war correspondent,” Rabbi Feldman said with a laugh 50 years later as he spoke at Beth Jacob in April.
Rabbi Feldman, who now lives in Israel, told the 200-plus people in attendance how, by wielding a credential from Atlanta’s Jewish newspaper, he was able to drive through military checkpoints and be among the earliest nonmilitary personnel to enter the Old City and reach the Western Wall the day after it was liberated by Israeli paratroopers.