Our Friend's Final Journey

Ze'ev Segal would try - sometimes desperately - to moderate the positions of the paper, to shift it to the imaginary center. To criticize, but a little less.

Our friend, Professor Ze'ev Segal, was led yesterday on his last journey - one which was remarkably similar to all of his other travels.

"Had Ze'ev been here, he would have enjoyed seeing this audience," Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said, and the audience - comprised of nearly the entire elite of the Israeli justice system - murmured in agreement.

Illustration of Ze'ev Segal.
Amos Biderman

The second to last time I saw Ze'ev was in the hallways of Ichilov Hospital's hematological department. I was accompanying a friend, and there was Ze'ev: In his signature black, old-fashioned suit; disinclined, in his nobility, to talk about his illness; consumed in a conversation on his cell phone - naturally, not about that malevolent disease. The next time I saw him was also the last, at the Haaretz editorial board meeting a few days ago. His weakness was apparent, despite all his efforts to conceal it, and I remember how my heart hurt for him.

Segal didn't always enjoy these meetings. An establishmentarian and Zionist, an old-school commentator who believed with every fiber of his soul in the importance of the printed word (sometimes exaggeratedly so ), naive in the good sense of the word and innocent of the cynicism that has become so fashionable; he didn't always like the positions taken by this newspaper. Sometimes I thought I caught him shrink with pain at the words I said - imagine, to speak like that about the Israel Defense Forces, about the symbols of the kingdom.

Every now and then, he would offer a leading article for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day, the way it used to be done. In a voice progressively weakened by disease over the years, he would try - sometimes desperately - to moderate the positions of the paper, to shift it to the imaginary center. To criticize, but a little less.

In his eulogy, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken also recalled the last meeting Segal attended. Everyone wanted to direct the editorial at the rabbis inciting racism, but Segal stopped us. The newspaper's position has always been that no one should be tried for spoken words, he whispered with the last of his strength. He opened our eyes with his wisdom and we abandoned that editorial.

Yesterday, a silent procession weaved its way among the cypresses of the old cemetery in Kiryat Shaul: hundreds of judges and lawyers, police and army officers, members of Knesset, journalists and academics, the remains of the aristocracy of law in Israel. Jurists of the vanishing variety accompanied a vanishing kind of journalist on his very last journey.

On the morning of his last day, I called his wife to ask how he was faring. "He's back to being Ze'ev Segal," Lily told me from the entryway of the intensive care unit, "he's ordering everybody around." A day or two before that, he managed to dictate one last article.

I recalled our distant childhood: Segal and I had grown up in the same neighborhood. He lived in the Scheindman house, of the once-grand fashion chain - whose small, elderly proprietor would stand at the door of his main store, on the corner of Zamenhof and King George; Segal lived a few floors above. I lived not too far away. The two of us attended the same schools, if years apart, and cherished the same bittersweet memories of these schools and their teachers.

Yesterday I received a call from Rivka Rabinovitch, the secretary of the Carmel elementary school, who suggested we put together an obituary notice on behalf of the alumni. She remembered Segal's mother, who would often come in to ask about her only son.

Decades later, when Segal and I met up again at Haaretz, the ideological abyss between us grew: I always thought he didn't write enough about the legal and criminal aspects of the occupation, while he always begged me: "Why don't you write more about other matters?"

So here, Ze'ev, is my last gift to you. Here I am writing about other matters, in deep sorrow and disconsolate grief.