YIDDISH, THE LANGUAGE of most Eastern European Jews, has a rich and complex history that reflects the cultural and political transformations of the Jewish people. One of the most remarkable aspects of this history is the development of the Yiddish press, which reached its peak in the interwar period, when more newspapers were published in Yiddish than in any other language in the Jewish world.
The Yiddish press emerged in the second half of the 19th century, as a result of several factors: the rise of Jewish nationalism and socialism, the growth of secular education and literacy, the emancipation and modernization of Jewish society, and the mass migration of Jews from Eastern Europe to America and other countries.
The first Yiddish weekly in Czarist Russia was Kol mevaser (The Voice of Good News), which was published in Odessa from 1862 to 1873. It was mainly a literary and cultural journal, which introduced modern Yiddish literature to its readers. It was in this weekly that S.Y. Abramovitsh, better known as Mendele Moykher-Sforim (Mendele the Book Peddler), published his first work in Yiddish in 1864, marking the beginning of a new era in Jewish literature.
In 1881, when the Jewish migration to America began, a first attempt was made to publish a daily Yiddish newspaper in New York, Yidishes Tageblat (The Jewish Daily News). Although this first effort was unsuccessful, two years later it renewed publication, which lasted until 1928. It was one of the first newspapers to provide news and information to the growing Jewish immigrant community in America.
The Yiddish press flourished in New York at the turn of the 20th century, as more and more Jews arrived from Eastern Europe and settled in the Lower East Side and other neighborhoods. The newspapers served as a vital source of communication, education, entertainment, and advocacy for the immigrants, who faced many challenges and opportunities in their new homeland.
The most influential and popular Yiddish daily in New York was Forverts (The Forward), which was founded in 1897 by Abraham Cahan, a socialist leader and a prominent writer. The Forverts combined political activism with cultural enrichment, offering its readers news, editorials, opinions, stories, poems, humor, advice, and advertisements. It also featured a famous column called A bintel Brief (A Bundle of Letters), where readers could write about their personal problems and receive guidance from Cahan or other editors.
The Forverts reached its peak circulation of 275,000 copies in 1917, making it one of the largest newspapers in America. It also had a significant impact on American politics and culture, supporting labor unions, social reforms, women’s rights, Zionism, and Americanization. It also nurtured many talented writers and journalists, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Sholem Asch, I.J. Singer, (I.B. Singer’s older brother), Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Mani Leyb and Jacob Glatstein.
Another important Yiddish daily in New York was Der Tog (The Day), which was founded in 1914 by Louis Miller, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist. Der Tog was more moderate and liberal than Forverts, and appealed to a more assimilated and educated segment of the Jewish community. It also had a strong cultural section, which featured literary works by writers such as Sholem Aleichem, I.L. Peretz, Chaim Zhitlowsky, and Chaim Grade.
Other notable Yiddish dailies in New York included Morgen Zshurnal (The Jewish Morning Journal), which was founded in 1901 by Kasriel Sarasohn, a conservative Zionist; Di Varhayt (The Truth), which was founded in 1918 by Morris Hillquit, a socialist leader; Frayhayt (Freedom), which was founded in 1922 by Moyshe Olgin, a communist activist; and Der Yud (The Jew), which was founded in 1919 by Zalman Reisen, a lexicographer and historian.
The Yiddish press also produced many periodicals that focused on specific topics or genres, such as literature, religion, humor, sports, children, and women. Some examples are Di Yugend (The Youth), which was founded in 1907 by Mani Leyb, Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, and Zishe Landau; In Zikh (Inside the Self), which was founded in 1920 by A. Leyeles, N.B. Minkoff, and Jacob Glatstein; Literarische Bleter (Literary Pages), which was founded in 1924 by Shmuel Niger, a prominent critic and editor; and Tsukunft (Future), which was founded in 1892 by the Jewish Socialist Federation and became a leading forum for socialist and Zionist ideas.
The Yiddish press also published many literary journals that showcased the works of writers from different countries and backgrounds, such as Der Hamer (The Hammer), which was founded in 1910 by David Pinski, a playwright and novelist; Di Veg (The Way), which was founded in 1925 by H. Leivick, a poet and dramatist; and Der Shtrom (The Stream), which was founded in 1922 by Peretz Markish, a poet and leader of the Soviet Yiddish avant-garde.
The Yiddish press faced many challenges and difficulties throughout its history, such as censorship, persecution, competition, financial problems, and linguistic assimilation. It also witnessed many tragedies and triumphs, such as the Holocaust, the establishment of Israel, the revival of Hebrew, and the emergence of new generations of writers and readers.
The Yiddish press is a testament to the vitality and diversity of Yiddish culture and literature. It is also a valuable source of information and inspiration for anyone interested in the history and legacy of the Jewish people. As Abraham Cahan wrote in his memoirs: “The Yiddish press was not only a newspaper enterprise. It was a cultural movement.”