February 2008

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Jonathan Tobin, editor of the Jewish Exponent  (above) and J. J. Goldman, editor of the Forward, faced off as representatives of Pres. George W. Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry at a mock-presidential debate entitled "Choices Facing Jews" at Gratz College, October 28, 2004. (Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)

Where Life Imitates Art
A tale of four newspapers.

-- Ben Burrows

Carlin Romano, the Philadelphia Inquirer literary critic, opens his comparison of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent with the New York Forward, by comparing the pictures of historical figures hanging on their editors’ walls. On the wall of the Exponent’s Jonathan Tobin is Vladimir Jabotinsky, the Zionist militant so radical that the Palmach actually attacked his Irgun, to keep arms from reaching his forces. (Jabotinsky is sometimes considered the intellectual godfather of Likud.) Romano was able to draw Jonathan Tobin out, to comment, "Editorially, we are a pro-Israel newspaper." Somehow the editorial of May, 1999 seems to have slipped his mind. In that issue, the publisher reserved the right to criticize the government of Ehud Barak, even as the paper had demanded that American critics of his Likud predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, remain silent. Apparently, some governments of Israel are more equal than others. Zabotinsky has a street named after him in Jerusalem, near the Laromme Hotel.

J. J. Goldberg has a different portrait, that of the Forward’s founding editor, Abraham Cahan, an American socialist labor leader, novelist, and journalist. Cahan immersed himself in the American melting pot, teaching English to other immigrants in evening schools. Yet he never lost sight of Yiddish or Yiddishkeit. His novel, Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto, was later made into the movie Hester Street. Cahan’s memory survives through his newspaper, his work, and his art.

The Exponent reaches its 120th anniversary in the financial black, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia which owns the Jewish Publishing Group which publishes the Exponent. The Federation automatically subscribes donors to the Exponent regardless of their interest in the paper. We congratulate the Exponent on its consistency and long life. Our sympathies also go to the more liberal and inclusive Forward. Romano’s comparison with the circulation and finances of the Forward apparently fails to contrast the private funding of the New York newspaper. The relatively large circulation of the Exponent (50,000) is not so serious a victor over the smaller (33,380) Forward considering that no one subscribes to the Forward without the intention of reading it, whereas many people "subscribe" to the Exponent merely by virtue of their support for the local Jewish community.

The very survival of ethnic Jewish newspapers is a small miracle. We at the Philadelphia Jewish Voice are also a testament to the resilience and intellectual breadth which still resides in our community. We operate mainly with volunteer writers and editors, but rely on occasional part-time help to perform some of our technical and editorial functions. We do have expenses, and appeal to our free subscribers to support us, just as you support favorite political candidates and charitable institutions. Contributions to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice are tax exempt under are a registered not-for-profit organization under IRS Code Section 501(c)3.

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