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Obituary

Journalist Netty Gross, voice of those ‘who otherwise wouldn’t be heard,’ dies at 66

Tenacious reporter and sparkling storyteller took on Jewish leaders on behalf of Holocaust survivors and women denied divorce; family, colleagues mourn ‘a glorious human being’

Janine Zacharia reported for The Jerusalem Report, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post, Bloomberg News, and the Washington Post. She is now the Carlos Kelly McClatchy Lecturer at the Department of Communication at Stanford University.

Netty Gross-Horowitz (Courtesy)
Netty Gross-Horowitz (Courtesy)

Netty (Cappell) Gross-Horowitz, an acclaimed reporter and writer who penned scores of in-depth features about the Jewish world, including groundbreaking investigations for The Jerusalem Report into restitution for Holocaust victims, died Monday in New York City. She was 66.

With her stylish flair, Gross-Horowitz brought a sophisticated, Upper West Side chic to Jerusalem, where she lived for nearly three decades before moving back to her native New York in the course of a lengthy battle with multiple system atrophy, a degenerative neurological disorder. She is survived by her siblings Michele Bankhalter and Kenneth (Kenny) Cappell, her children Ayala Horwitz, Tamar Freidenberg, Avi Gross and Daniel (Dani) Gross, and eight grandchildren. Her husband, Elliott Horowitz, died in 2017.

Gross-Horowitz worked most extensively for The Jerusalem Report, and wrote for other publications including the Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel during a career that spanned decades.

Gross-Horowitz was born December 18, 1954, in Queens, New York. She attended Queens College and studied art history. After moving to Jerusalem, her home on Beit Eshel Street in Old Katamon became a welcoming den of beautiful artwork and an eclectic collection of empty coffee tins, where Fleetwood Mac was blasted and late-night Shabbat dinners were held.

Gross-Horowitz used her tremendous reporting and writing skills to document how her father, Israel Cappell, avoided being deported to Auschwitz in August 1944, a tale involving the Jewish Agency, the Red Cross, and the Gestapo. Both her parents were interned in the Mechelen deportation camp in Belgium and managed to survive the Nazi genocide.

At her funeral service at Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan on Monday, Gross-Horowitz’s eldest daughter, Ayala Horwitz, recalled her mother’s storytelling skills. “She always told the best — and very vivid — stories. Our family lore is full of stories from her childhood.”

Her lengthy and numerous features about organizational Jewry, Jewish history and culture, and life in Israel, began with cinematographic anecdotes and pressed on with urgent, compelling prose, as in a 2008 Jerusalem Report feature she wrote about Eastern European Jews who survived the Holocaust but felt they never “won what they consider adequate recognition or financial reparations for their suffering and loss of property.”

Netty Gross-Horowitz in Kazakhstan in 2011 (Courtesy)

“Rochla Trachtman survived the Holocaust, but she isn’t a Holocaust survivor,” Gross-Horowitz wrote. “The 88-year-old Yiddish-speaking woman, blind and wheelchair-bound, lives in a tenement in Jaffa with a 24-hour caretaker. Sitting in her neat, modest living room, she tells a visitor that she, her husband Haim and their infant daughter, Eta, fled from Kishinev, Moldova, on the eve of the German invasion of Soviet territory, in June 1941. They boarded a cattle wagon, which took them to Stalingrad (today Volgograd, Russia) on the west bank of the Volga River. Caught up in one of the bloodiest battles ever, they endured bombardment and starvation. The baby died in her arms. But they were among the very few people who survived the Battle of Stalingrad.”

Gross-Horowitz often used her journalistic talents and platform to give voice to people who “otherwise wouldn’t be heard,” Horwitz said, remembering the time her mother advocated for an Israeli woman named Dorit who was “ignored by the harsh Israeli bureaucracy.” In 2012, Gross-Horowitz co-authored a book that documented the difficulties women faced in securing divorces in Israel.

One story prompted a reader to mail in a donation. “I don’t think The Report ever got a response like that,” her long-time close friend and colleague Sharon Ashley recalled.

“She was not afraid to voice her sometimes unpopular opinion. And she always stood up for what she believed in,” Horwitz said. Her mother, she recalled, once went to the head of her daughter’s school and insisted that she, as great-great-granddaughter of the founder of the Modzitz Hasidic dynasty, Rebbe Yisrael Taub, would not be expelled.

Gross-Horowitz’s relentless investigations in the late 1990s into restitution for Holocaust victims were groundbreaking.

“Netty was sparkling funny and deadly serious at the same time,” recalled Hirsh Goodman, founder and former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report. “She was also courageous. What comes to mind is her seminal work in exposing serious cracks in what we all thought to be the holiest of holies in the Jewish world, the untouchables, restitution to Holocaust survivors. It was challenging as an editor to take the step in publishing, but then who could refuse the twinkle and the wink. ‘My sources are impeccable,’ she said, and, as always, so they were.”

Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, a former colleague at The Jerusalem Report, paid tribute to “a warm, kind and considerate friend, who was also always so poised and elegant, and of course an original thinker and so sharp.”

“Netty was a stylish writer and a formidable reporter — empathetic, tenacious in seeking out truth, and relentless in challenging individuals and organizations who needed bringing to account. We loved working with her,” Horovitz said.

Netty Gross-Horowitz (second right) and Janine Zacharia (center) (Courtesy)

This writer did too. In 1995, I got my start in journalism as a 21-year-old intern at The Jerusalem Report. After I was promoted to full-time reporter, in one of the great fortunes of my life I got the desk next to Netty Gross-Horowitz, who remained one of my most cherished confidantes and closest friends for more than a quarter-century.

At her funeral service, Gross-Horowitz’s family recalled her vast talents, extreme generosity, boundless warmth, unparalleled wit, and signature style. Everyone noted just how fun it was to simply hang out with her.

“She always thought about others,” said Gross-Horowitz’s brother, Kenny Cappell. What she wanted most was that others would “feel good about themselves.”

Netty Gross with President Bill Clinton (Courtesy)

Avi Gross spoke of his mother’s “powerful, maternal, unconditional love” and described her as a “glorious, beautiful human being.”

Her son Dani recalled that when he had his face buried in his computer growing up, his mother would coax him to go outside, meet people and have a good life.  “If there would be a way to remember her by one adjective, I do think it would be energy. She was a very, very energetic person.”

After the service, her brother told me how Gross-Horowitz had described her interview with US president Bill Clinton. “I remember, she said, ‘He makes you feel like there’s nobody else in the room he’s focused on except you.’ In some ways, I think Netty had that quality too.”

Gross-Horowitz will be laid to rest at Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem on Tuesday at 8 p.m.

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