The Forward is a legendary name in American journalism and a revered institution in American Jewish life. Launched as a Yiddish-language daily newspaper on April 22, 1897, the Forward entered the din of New York’s immigrant press as a defender of trade unionism and moderate, democratic socialism. The Jewish Daily Forward quickly rose above the crowd, however; under the leadership of its founding editor, the crustily independent Abraham Cahan, the Forward came to be known as the voice of the Jewish immigrant and the conscience of the ghetto. It fought for social justice, helped generations of immigrants to enter American life, broke some of the most significant news stories of the century, and was among the nation’s most eloquent defenders of democracy and Jewish rights.
By the early 1930s the Forward had become one of America’s premier metropolitan dailies, with a nationwide circulation topping 275,000 and influence that reached around the world and into the Oval Office. Thousands more listened regularly to the Forward’s Yiddish-language radio station, WEVD, “the station that speaks your language.” The newspaper’s editorial staff included, at one time or another, nearly every major luminary in the then-thriving world of Yiddish literature, from the beloved “poet of the sweatshops,” Morris Rosenfeld, to the future Nobel laureates Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elie Wiesel. At the helm, guiding the paper for a full half-century until his death in 1950, was Cahan. Both as an editor and in his own writings - including his timeless advice column, the Bintel Brief - he set the populist, down-to-earth tone that was the Forward’s hallmark. In thousands of Jewish households across the country, the Forward was for decades more than just a daily newspaper - it was a trusted guide and a member of the family.
With the end of World War II the Forward entered a period of decline. The vast, Yiddish-speaking world of Eastern European Jewry was no more. Without replenishment, the Forward’s own readership was dwindling and graying. In 1983 the paper cut back to a weekly publishing schedule and launched an English-language supplement.
In more recent years the Yiddish paper has experienced a modest revival, benefiting from the renewed interest in Yiddish on college campuses and from the leadership of editor, the Russian-born essayist and novelist Boris Sandler, who took over in 1998. In 1990 the Forward Association, the newspaper’s non-profit holding company, made the bold decision to remake the English-language Forward as an independent, high-profile weekly newspaper committed to covering the Jewish world with the same crusading journalistic spirit as Cahan’s Jewish Daily Forward. Led for its first decade by Seth Lipsky, a longtime editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, the new Forward quickly established itself as a fearless and indispensable source of news and opinion on Jewish affairs. Its cultural pages have featured reviews and original belles letters by such writers as Cynthia Ozick, Phillip Lopate, Anne Roiphe and Ilan Stavans, while the sassy FastForward section has become a leading window into the lifestyles of younger Jews.
The veteran journalist and author J.J. Goldberg took the reins in July 2000. He continued and expanded the paper’s commitment to incisive, hard-hitting reportage while at the same time returning to the populist, progressive spirit that was the Forward’s hallmark in its early years. Under Goldberg’s leadership the paper reached its largest-ever English-language circulation, while firmly cementing its reputation as American Jewry’s essential newspaper of record.
After Goldberg decided to return to writing, the newspaper took another bold turn by appointing its first woman editor, Jane Eisner, in 2008. A respected reporter, foreign correspondent, editorial page editor and syndicated columnist for 25 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Eisner also taught for five years at the University of Pennsylvania and authored ?Taking Back the Vote: Getting American Youth Involved in Our Democracy? (2004). Helped by a strong editing team, she is growing the Forward in print and on line, with new and innovative features and an even sharper focus on telling the contemporary Jewish story.
Today’s Forward is once again becoming what its parent publication was nearly a century ago: a trusted guide - to the varieties of Jewish experience - and a welcome member of the family. The Forward family of newspapers continues to carry on the founding vision of Abraham Cahan, serving together as the voice of the American Jew and the conscience of the community.