This Day in Jewish History / Extra, Extra! Yiddish Newspaper Prints!

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On March 1, 1870, the first issue of the first Yiddish-language newspaper published in North America appeared in New York. Called the Yiddishe Zeitung (Jewish Times), its publisher J.K. Buchner, a Polish Jew, intended his paper to be a weekly and to offer its new-immigrant readers information on "all aspects of politics, religion, history, science and art." Although Eastern European Jews had started arriving in the United States in the 1850s, they were not yet coming in the vast numbers that they would several decades later; at the time, New York had only some 10,000 Jews from Eastern Europe.

Buchner’s paper, which was printed by lithograph, and went for six cents a copy, ended up appearing irregularly at best, and it took many of its articles from Jewish journals from Europe. Its language was more German than Yiddish, but it did use Hebrew script. And to make it easier to read, the text appeared with vowels. Buchner had come to America by way of Germany and London, in both of which he had also published papers, and he made his living in New York by selling sewing machines on the installment plan. An enlightened and educated Jew, he also lectured – on such topics as Moses Mendelssohn, Hasidism and Reform Judaism – at the Cooper Union, at the time a tuition-free institution for adult education.

In Buchner’s coverage of local affairs, he tended to take a populist viewpoint, and his paper supported efforts by workers to organize in unions. He also had a sense of humor: Historian Jacob R. Marcus describes an imagined letter that Buchner published from the Prophet Elijah, “who was then visiting America. Elijah informs the editors and the readers that, as an Orthodox Jew, he refuses to attend a Reform synagogue. The prophet of old also assures Editor Buchner that he would read his Jewish newspaper; he does not read Gentile languages.”

In the seven years that the Yiddishe Zeitung existed, it came out no more than 15 times, generally just before an election, when political parties subsidized its publication. It was followed by a number of other short-lived Yiddish papers, until in 1881, the Tageblatt began publishing as a Yiddish daily. Its publisher Kasriel Sarasohn elected to have the paper traditional in its religious approach and sensationalistic in its news coverage. By 1900, it claimed to have a readership of 100,000. In 1897, The Forward, which would become the largest foreign-language paper in the U.S., began printing, and by 1912, it had reached a circulation of 120,000 – with a peak of some 275,000 nationally by the late 1920s. Today that newspaper publishes both in English (once a week) and in Yiddish (biweekly).

Newsboys ready to deliver The Forward, another Yiddish newspaper.Credit: Wikimedia

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