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JTA Mourns Loss of Foreign Editor, a Newsman of Passion and Perfection

March 26, 2003
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A few years ago, Mitchell Danow called me over to his desk to discuss a news brief I had written about a Holocaust restitution fund.

“This can’t be right,” said Mitchell, JTA’s longtime foreign editor.

“But it’s right here on the press release,” I protested.

“Call up the World Jewish Congress and ask,” he answered.

I did, and Mitchell, who died March 20 of a heart attack at 55 while on vacation in Japan, was right.

That wasn’t an isolated incident. Mitchell — which he preferred to Mitch — almost always was right, and he was never smug about it.

He epitomized the best in a profession that strives for accuracy.

Since he was responsible for much of JTA’s foreign copy and its news briefs, I always knew that stories that he edited would be virtually error-free. I even joked that the stories he wrote didn’t even need to be edited. And we all marveled at how he could churn out such clean copy under deadline pressure.

Mitchell was a meticulous organizer — maintaining a computer-based country-by-country history file of stories.

Virtually every day, I would ask him for the spelling of a leader in the Arab world, or the year a country launched proceedings against an alleged Holocaust collaborator.

“I’ll have to look that one up,” he would say, even if he was 95 percent sure. And he always would check.

Like many journalists, we had our debates over wording or story selection. But those clashes were always conducted with a high level of respect — and often enough, with a hint of smiles on our faces.

His diligence and his sharp mind served him well.

A native New Yorker, he attended yeshivas on the Lower East Side and the prestigious Stuyvesant High School.

He then went to Yale University, graduating in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He pursued an eclectic career path that included stints as a schoolteacher and a novelist of Westerns published under a pseudonym before he settled in as a journalist.

Mitchell later worked for a media industry newsletter and Newsweek before he decided to come to work in Jewish journalism. He did a brief stint at the Forward before coming to JTA in 1993.

“I wanted to write about something that I care about,” he said.

And care he did. Whether it was a major story on the latest terror attack in Israel or a two-sentence news brief, he cared intensely about JTA’s copy.

“Mitchell took JTA’s responsibility as the Jewish news organization of record very seriously,” said Mark Joffe, JTA’s executive editor and publisher.

“With certain news developments that might not make the mainstream press, he was concerned that if JTA didn’t report it, the world would not know it had happened,” Joffe said.

“He painstakingly documented every terrorist attack and every development in the battle for Holocaust restitution and justice — issues about which he cared passionately.”

The news that he reported affected him as well. Many times during the past two and a half years, he discussed with colleagues the strains of reporting the daily violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each death seemed to affect him personally.

Mitchell maintained the same level of serious care with his co-workers.

He took his responsibilities as JTA’s union representative very seriously and he was a real bridge-builder, always working hard to forge a workable compromise when JTA management and the Newspaper Guild did not see eye to eye, Joffe said.

And when someone on staff had a problem, whether work-related or personal, he was willing to listen — far beyond the call of duty.

Indeed, said JTA editor Lisa Hostein, “Mitchell was a consummate professional and a gentleman.

“He served as a major pillar at JTA’s New York headquarters, offering a wealth of information and guidance to veteran staffers and interns alike,” she said.

“His daily presence in the newsroom, his dedication and his compassion will be sorely missed.”

Mitchell was an intensely private person who preferred to keep his home and work worlds separate. But I know he went regularly to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and that he and his wife, Hidemi Kitajima, a pianist, regularly attended classical concerts. They were also avid hikers on their trips to Switzerland.

Hidemi survives him, along with his brother and sister in law, David and Mirjana Danow.

Early in my tenure at JTA, I was complaining after a long, hard week.

“Take it easy,” Mitchell advised. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

I only wish that I still had him running by my side.

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