Israel Nachrichten, down to 1,500 a day, continues to hang on
Every day, four women crowd into a small room in a rundown building in south Tel Aviv: Helga, Katja, Francesca and Natalia. The first three came from Germany, the fourth immigrated to Israel from Kazakhstan. Collectively, they put together the only German-language daily newspaper in Israel: Israel Nachrichten (Israel News).
Adjacent rooms on the very same floor hold the newsrooms of two other veteran dailies: the Romanian viata nostra and the Hungarian ujkelet - the last remaining vestiges of the blossoming enjoyed by Israeli papers in foreign languages during the 1950s. Along with four daily papers in Russian, the local industry today boasts newspapers in Polish and Yiddish - and even truly "exotic" magazines published by foreign workers.
Israel Nachrichten is one of the oldest foreign-language newspapers in Israel, serving the local community of yekkes, or German Jews, daily without exception since 1936.
At its height it had no fewer than six rivals. Now it soldiers on alone. Its founder, Siegfried Blumenthal, immigrated from Berlin, and wanted to publish a daily paper for the tens of thousands of German immigrants in Israel, who were not fluent in Hebrew. In the 1950s it was considered one of the most widely distributed papers in Israel, also thanks to its writing staff, which included Max Brod and Arnold Zweig.
Since then its distribution has dwindled, and today it has a daily distribution of only 1,500 copies. Last summer, the paper's long-time editor, Alice Schwartz-Gardos, died at age 91, holding the world record for oldest newspaper editor.
"We write about everything," says Katja, 26, from Hamburg, in near-perfect Hebrew, who began working at the paper just three months ago. "About what's happening in the country, about Judaism, about the world. And there are also sections on culture, society and sports - if Israel wins something big."
One of the paper's most popular sections is actually the Germany TV listings. "That is one of the things that are important to our readers," she adds with a smile.
Helga, 51, also originally from Germany, replaced Schwartz-Gardos as editor-in-chief. "This is a newspaper for old fogies," she replies when asked to characterize its readership. This is also, apparently, the reasons why it still comes out every day, despite the increasing competitions with the big German newspapers, which appear daily online.
"Old people don't know how to use the Internet," says the graphic artist Natalia, the most veteran member of the group. Schwartz-Gardos herself, incidentally, liked to surf the Web, and checked her Yahoo e-mail account every day.
Not much has changed in the paper's outward design during the past 70 years. It is still printed in black and white - "there is also blue, on weekends," Natalia adds - and has just eight pages. The weekend edition has 16. The materials for articles come from the German news agency (DPA) and several local reporters. In addition, the editors translate reports from the local press.
"It's fun, but hard," Katja says. The hard part has to do primarily with the low salaries. "What I make here in a month, I earned overseas in three days," she adds, "but I guess I need to get out of the European mindset."
"Every death notice is one less subscription to the paper," Schwartz-Gardos used to say cynically, when asked about the future of her workplace. Meanwhile, Francesca wants to set up an online site for the paper, maybe to save it from closing.