WASHINGTON — In his 1976 memoir, “To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account,” Saul Bellow wrote about journalist Jay Bushinsky, then with the Chicago Daily News.
They met on the Golan Heights in 1967, when Bellow, who would become one of Chicago’s most notable authors, was a Newsday correspondent.
As they sat chatting at the Tel Aviv Hilton, Bellow relates in his book, Bushinsky, “tells me that some time ago he was allowed by the Israeli authorities to cover a military operation. A minute island by the Red Sea was raided, the Egyptian garrison taken by surprise. Bushinsky saw a sentry who had been cut down by machine-gun fire.
“He was a young boy, said Bushinsky. ‘Shot in the leg. Flesh hanging in tatters. Bleeding to death. I said to the commanding officer, ‘Can’t we do something for him?’ and he said, ‘First things first,’ so we went on. And he was right. I never saw the kid again. It stays with me.’”
Bushinsky died on May 2 at his home in Savyon, not far from Tel Aviv. He was 85. His death was due to complications from an infection, according to a son, Shay Bushinsky.
Bushinsky spent decades reporting from the Middle East for newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, and radio and television outlets. He covered the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanon War, the Iranian Revolution and the Israeli angle of the two Gulf Wars.
On CNN’s very first day — June 1, 1980 — Bushinsky was part of the starting lineup.
As a 2015 CNN story noted, “Among the firsts that evening was Jay Bushinsky with the network’s ‘first live satellite transmission.’ He was reporting from Jerusalem on the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s political problems.”
I knew Jay and always valued his insights and friendship, especially when I did a stint reporting out of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank in 2002.
Bushinsky started with the Daily News in 1966 until the paper folded in 1978.
Bushinsky moved over to the Sun-Times (at the time both papers were owned by Field Enterprises) and became the Middle East Bureau Chief.
Bushinsky maintained a long relationship with his Chicago readers, returning each year to the city to speak to groups hungry for his analysis. He covered trips to Israel made by former Illinois governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar and other Chicago figures, as well as the mega issues facing the region and beyond.
Bushinsky was a 2002 inductee into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame, with the ceremony taking place at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel on March 28, 2003.
Chicago attorney Joel Sprayregen, a former national vice chair of the Anti-Defamation League and a former chair of the Chicago Jewish Community Relations Council, was there that night, having known Bushinsky from years of travel to Israel.
Bushinsky was a reporter who “always did his homework,” Sprayregen said.
“He had a particular interest in hunting Nazi war criminals. Some of them continued to exist, hidden in some of the Arab countries” and Bushinsky was “relentless in trying to ferret them out,” Sprayregen said.
After the Sun-Times closed its Middle East bureau in the mid-1990s, Bushinsky contributed columns to the paper through 2006.
Speaking to the Daily Herald in October 2006 in advance of a speech he was giving at Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, Bushinsky cited CBS news legend Walter Cronkite.
“He was my role model. His motto was to tell it the way it was.”
Jay Bushinsky was born Dec. 8, 1932, in Buffalo, New York. He received his undergraduate degree from Queens College, part of the City University of New York in 1954. He receive a master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1963.
He started at the Middletown, New York, Times Herald in 1964, then went to the Miami Herald before joining the Daily News foreign service ranks in Israel. He also reported for the now-defunct Westinghouse and Infinity Broadcasting companies and other news outlets.
Survivors include his wife, Dvora, who he married in 1952 in Jersualem; son Shay, an eight-time world computer chess champion with the Haifa University Computer Science Department; son Aviv, a former spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now an executive with Onex, a Canadian investment firm; and a daughter, Dahlia, an attorney and coach of Israel’s national women’s basketball team.