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Joseph Polakoff, Former Chief of JTA Washington Bureau, Dies

April 15, 1996
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When Joseph Polakoff died last week at the age of 87, the Jewish community lost a veteran journalist known to many as a strong advocate for Israel and American Jewry.

Polakoff, who served as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington bureau chief from 1970 to 1982, never retired from the profession he began seven decades ago.

Polakoff continued to file stories for Jewish newspapers almost until his death, which resulted from a long bout with cancer.

Many revered Polakoff as the “dean of the American Jewish press,” said Robert Cohen, editor in chief and publisher of the St. Louis Jewish Light.

Known as a man who never shied away from confrontations with Washington’s power brokers, Polakoff “took on the powerful people on behalf of American Jews,” said Cohen, who now serves as the chairman of the American Jewish Press Association’s Joseph Polakoff Award for Integrity in Jewish Journalism.

At Monday’s State Department briefing, Jim Andersen of the German Press Agency paid tribute to Polakoff, who attended the sessions regularly for more than 20 years.

“We’ll remember Joe as a person who held very strong, passionate views about his main love in life, which is the future and security of Israel,” Andersen said. “He never concealed the way he felt. He was outspoken and passionate, and I think he will be missed.”

For his activism, Polakoff was a controversial figure, a role he relished.

After winning an award from B’nai B’rith, Polakoff told the Washington Jewish Week, “I was told, ‘You don’t report news. You make news.'”

Polakoff began his journalism career at the Scranton Republican in 1925. He left the paper 13 years later after serving as its city editor.

After a number of jobs working in New York, Polakoff joined the newly formed Office of War Information. After World War II, he moved to the United States Information Agency, where he served in the Foreign Service until 1970.

For the next 12 years, Polakoff worked for JTA in Washington. After leaving JTA, Polakoff continued to free-lance for some 16 Jewish newspapers until his death.

(Washington Jewish Week contributed to this report.)

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