Weekly Reader: Yiddish Newspapers Around the World

At the Yiddish Book Center we place a lot of emphasis on books. But if we’re being honest, we have to admit that for many decades books were not the most important part of Yiddish readers' literary diet. That position would have gone to a more humble medium—the daily newspaper. As Sholem Aleichem once wrote, the three things he enjoyed most in life were dairy foods, newspapers, and Jews, and many of his own readers would have agreed. On February 22 Ayelet Brinn, assistant professor of Judaic studies and history at the University of Hartford, will be giving a free virtual talk on “Gender and the Making of the American Yiddish Press,” (register here) which is also the subject of her recent book. For some background, let’s take a look at Yiddish newspapers not just in America but around the world. 

Ezra Glinter, Senior Staff Writer and Editor

The Biggest Fish

Printing press

Dedicated readers of the Weekly Reader might recall that this isn’t the first time we’ve explored the Yiddish press. The last time, though, was dedicated specifically to the largest and most successful Yiddish newspaper of all, the Jewish Daily Forward, or Forverts. While we’re not going to make that our focus today (there are plenty of other Yiddish newspapers to talk about!), you can refresh your memory by visiting our Weekly Reader archive, which you can conveniently find on our website rather than searching through your mail. 

Read a Weekly Reader about the Forverts 

The Ladies' Section

Portrait of a woman with spectacles

As Ayelet’s talk will elucidate, women were an indispensable part of the Yiddish press. Not only did they consist of a large part of the readership, but they also worked behind the scenes as writers and editors. Yet, as you might imagine, they were not often given the respect they deserved. No writer better exemplifies both the opportunities and challenges of a career in Yiddish journalism than Miriam Karpilove. Both an editor and a writer for Yiddish publications, Karpilove was also the author of A Provincial Newspaper, a satirical novel published in 1926. 


Read an excerpt from A Provincial Newspaper, translated by Jessica Kirzane 


Purchase A Provincial Newspaper and Other Stories 


Watch a virtual public program about Miriam Karpilove

Confronting Racism

A man in a black sweater and glasses sits in an interview

If gender played a crucial, if often unremarked, role in the Yiddish press, so too did race. How did Yiddish journalists and intellectuals respond to the persistent discrimination and violence against African Americans in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? How did they understand the problem? In this virtual public program, historian Tony Michels addresses these questions in order to gain a historical perspective on the Jewish encounter with race and racism in the United States. 

Watch a virtual public program about race and the Yiddish press 

Foreign Bureaus

A man in a checkered shirt sits in an interview

While Ayelet’s talk will focus on the United States, the Yiddish press was an international phenomenon, flourishing not just in the United States and Europe but in virtually every Yiddish-speaking community, large or small. In Canada there were once several Yiddish newspapers, but the most prominent and longest-lasting was the Keneder Adler (Canadian Eagle) in Montreal. While that newspaper shuttered in 1977, there are still people around who remember it from its heyday. In this oral history interview, Jack Wolofsky, co-founder of KlezKanada, recalls his childhood memories of the newspaper, which was founded by his grandfather, Hirsch Wolofsky. 

Watch an oral history interview with Jack Wolofsky 

Listen to a 50th anniversary celebration for the Keneder Adler 

A History of Their Own

Jewish Press in Brazil illustration

Ayelet’s book is part of a growing body of literature in English about the Yiddish press, but it follows in the footsteps of many Yiddish books that tackled the history and legacy of Yiddish newspapers. You can find many of these in our Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, including a 1978 history of the Polish Yiddish newspaper Haynt (Today) and a 1968 Israeli publication about the Jewish press in Brazil. 


Read a history of Haynt 


Read about the Jewish press in Brazil

The Lighter Side

Book cover for Bad Rabbi by Eddy Portnoy

The Yiddish press was often filled with weighty and serious subjects—international affairs, political debates, even high literature. But it also featured plenty of gossip, scandal, and other entertaining bits and bobs that attracted readers and sold newspapers. In his book Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press (2017), Eddy Portnoy gives an illuminating and entertaining tour of that seamy underbelly, as he does in this interview with The Shmooze podcast. 


Listen to a podcast interview with Eddy Portnoy 


Purchase Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press