Immigrant Newspapers

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



The Forward


     A Bundle of Letters is called a “Bintel Brief” in the Yiddish language. That was the phrase used by the founder and editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish newspaper which began publication in 1907 and is still in existence today, although it is now in English as well as Yiddish.

   These letters were mostly composed by women who sought advice from the editor, Abraham Cahan.  Many of these letters were poorly phrased and needed spelling corrections, but they were numerous and diverse. The letters dealt with romantic involvements, with parent-child disagreements, with illness and poverty.

     Women wrote about men who “tricked” them into cohabitation and then did not marry them or men who had abandoned wives and children. Men wrote about women who were “unfaithful.” There were those who confessed to aggression and others who complained about their bosses. Others wanted advice about religious observances, or whom to marry.

     Some Jews asked whether they should believe in God, women complained about tyrannical husbands, and some immigrants asked whether it would be better for them to return to Europe, that is Russia, than stay in the New York slums at hard labor.

     Because many immigrants were illiterate, some visited the offices of the Forward and dictated their letters. Others paid scribes to write their letters for them.

     Abraham Cahan answered these letters and made every effort to make life a little easier for the writers. These letters and answers were seen by educated Americans as proof of the vulgarity of the Forward, although the letters and the Forward generally gave the poor immigrants a voice in a world strange and threatening to them.

     Today, a century after these letters were written and Yiddish is hardly known, these letters give us insight into the pain of immigration and enculturation all immigrants must endure. Similar newspapers with similar missions were published among other ethnic groups and among those German Jews who came to the United States by reason of the Nazi horrors. These German Jews relied on a newspaper called Der Aufbau, or “Reconstruction”.

     Originally, Der Aufbau was a newsletter published monthly by the German-Jewish Club, later known as the New World Club, founded in 1934.  At its height the Aufbau had 40,000 readers in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. The Aufbau included all kinds of stories of interest to German Jewish readers. It became particularly important when it published the names of Holocaust survivors, beginning in 1944 and ending in 1946. This allowed many Jews to reunite with families whose whereabouts they no longer knew until they saw the names on those lists. These lists also let survivors know that those not listed there were never to be with them again.

     Because there are few German speaking Jews left in the United States, the Aufbau has moved to Switzerland, where German is spoken.

     The Daily Forward is now published in English and in Yiddish. The “Bintel Brief” still exists and continues to tell us something about the lives of New York Jews and their concerns.

     The Forward also publishes some fascinating stories. For example, recently the Forward published the salaries of executives of Jewish charitable organizations. These are truly shocking in view of the constant appeal to all of us to contribute. For example, the president of Yeshiva University is paid $957,000 and the CEO of the Jewish Community Center Association collects $456,000, as do numerous other “charitable” bosses. Considering that all of these potentates have numerous sycophants who are also paid astronomical salaries, it is evident that nothing is left for the poor, for immigrants, for the sick and the needy. The Forward took these numbers from a web site called “Charity Navigator.”

     The December 31, 2010 edition of the Forward also has a story about the growth of  “anti-semitism” in Germany. That is of course a misnomer. How can hatred of Jews get even greater than it always has been in Germany? Germany is the very heart of the cauldron, so that we can only wonder why 100,000 Russian Jews settled there in the decade of the 1970’s. There can be little doubt that the Jews now living in Germany have no future there other than another mass slaughter.

     Take a look at the Forward on the internet. It is a pleasure to read it and is undoubtedly even better in Yiddish, which I cannot read and which has been reduced  to a few practitioners. It is a great language and it is not corrupt German as some people believe. Yiddish is related to Bavarian German and is one of the Germanic languages in its own right. In fact, there are no corrupt languages. There are only ignoramuses.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Criminal Justice System (2010).

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