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The talented Mr. Katz

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 3, 2007 | 10:01 am

The New York Times had an underachieving profile last Sunday of Louis Katz., who for 45 years has been a typesetter at The Yiddish Forward, the venerable Jewish weekly that spawned The Forward.  Katz is a throwback (I didn’t realize newspapers still had typesetters) who survived the Holocaust by being smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto and raised in the country as a Christian, a story not unlike Abe Foxman‘s, though I don’t think anyone has ever called the ADL chief a “kitten.”

On Wednesday, a little before 5 p.m., Mr. Katz was sitting in his office at The Forward, before his shiny white Apple computer. Next to it, on a more old-fashioned device, he had tacked a page of Yiddish text. Some of the paper’s writers still submit handwritten material in Yiddish, often by fax, which Mr. Katz then types on a word processor and occasionally translates for the English supplement.

In his years at The Forward, Mr. Katz, a short, round man with neatly combed white hair and bifocals (as opposed to what he called his “speaking glasses”), has worked with many of the publication’s distinguished writers. He has enjoyed the rare privilege of handling raw copy from major Jewish-American voices, like Isaac Bashevis Singer, before converting their words into type.

“For a period of time, I was the only one he wanted to set his articles,” Mr. Katz said of Mr. Singer. “He used to come upstairs and read his own proofs. I remember once he was missing a page ——”

Struggling to describe Mr. Singer’s reaction, Mr. Katz threw up his hands and emitted a drawn-out “whish” sound.

“All hell broke loose,” his wife, Hanna, translated.

Rukhl Schaechter, a Forward reporter, said that while Mr. Katz had helped expand her vocabulary of Yiddish swear words, his geniality made him a beloved figure in the paper’s office, to the point that some people, playing on his last name, nicknamed him “ketsele.” Because “ele” is a diminutive suffix, Mr. Katz became a “kitten.”

 

I was disappointed, though, that the story just ends, when it seems to me like Katz’s biography would be a beautiful read in much greater depth. Where’s Joseph Mitchell, peace be upon him, when you need him?

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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