The last ‘true gentleman’
Michael Zeff – a man who personified talent and class, and whose gravitas beyond his years promised an illustrious future – was taken from those who loved and enjoyed him, in the early hours of Thursday morning.
In his 32 years, “the gentlemen” – as Zeff was dubbed for his unique style and character – lived a cocktail of experiences, reflecting a cross section of the world’s flavors and complexities in his taste for clothes, music, film, literature and beverages – specifically smoky single malts.
Born in Israel, Zeff was educated in schools across Europe, gaining the broad instruction and knack for languages which would form the bedrock of a stellar mind. He also had an ear for accents – distinctly British when speaking English – and the manner of speech which he would use to charm and disarm, impressing those he met with devastating wit.
He received his BA at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, majoring in International Relations with a minor in Italian Studies in the city he loved and contributed to as a citizen in every manner: professionally, politically, academically and perhaps above all culturally – as a connoisseur of the capital’s finer entertainment venues.
Zeff continued at the Hebrew University, undertaking an MA in European Studies, choosing to pause his thesis while he recently joined The Jerusalem Post as the business and technology reporter.
Many of Zeff’s colleagues at the Post had not yet had the privilege of knowing him personally before his untimely passing, however Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz said he will be remembered as “a creative and original writer. We will sorely miss him.”
His interlocutors at the Model United Nations, however, saw his intellect in action consistently over many years, with his love of debate bringing him honors, and taking him from training the Hebrew University branch all the way to being appointed secretary-general of the upcoming HolylandMUN (Model UN conference) in Jerusalem – an endeavor he undertook to introduce leaders of the next generation from around the world to his city.
His father, Zohar, recalled that Michael’s ability and force of character made it possible for his son to reach out to counterparts from hostile countries such as Iran and Kuwait at Model UN events, with his turn of phrase making possible the bridging of wide ideological and political gaps.
He also remembered his son as “a true patriot,” recalling how under his own initiative Michael took a year out as a volunteer at Kibbutz Geshur on the Golan Heights, working with underprivileged youth as a “big brother” before enlisting in the IDF to serve in the Nahal Brigade, and seeing combat in the Second Lebanon War.
Zeff finished his three-and-a-half-year service with the rank of staff-sergeant, as a commander on a training base for soldiers in the Northern Command. Zohar was sure that his son would go on to serve the Israeli public. Not as a politician, but as “a man of influence.”
A good friend remembered him as “a philosopher at heart who mixed Victorian values with a love of Israel. Truly, a really decent human being.”
Zeff was also involved in the World Union of Jewish Students. According to one colleague, he “showed WUJS and the world what it means to be a passionate, educated Jewish student leader. He was vocal, honest, and active in his support those issues closest to his heart. Zeff always wore a smile, and brought with him a sense that even if he disagreed with you, he wanted your own arguments to be better, stronger and more honest. He empowered everyone he met. Be it with his wit, warmth, charm or an intellectual conversation, Zeff made all of us better through his presence.”
The future seemed ripe for Michael Zeff’s picking.
He died at home in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Yemin Moshe, a tragic end to a life lived well, but for far too short a time.
May his memory be for a blessing.