The rapid revival of strict Orthodox Jewish communities that has shifted New York City’s religious demographics and transformed Israel’s political landscape has created a new market niche for a 115-year-old Yiddish newspaper.
Next Monday, Forverts (Forward) will launch a daily news website for Yiddish speakers who are bringing the language of Eastern Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews back from its near-death experience when millions of speakers died in the Holocaust.
The New York-based weekly, launched in 1897 as a crusading socialist daily for Jewish immigrants to the United States, has been in slow decline since 1945. It cut back to weekly from daily publishing in 1983 and launched an English-language weekly in 1990.
“The website is going for an international audience,” said associate editor Itzik Gottesman, noting the ranks of native speakers, mostly from Hasidic and yeshiva (religious school) backgrounds, was now booming in the United States, Israel and other countries.
“Research in New York City said there are 80,000 Hasidim who speak Yiddish at home. That population is exploding,” he said.
In Israel, Yiddish is the language of many Haredim (“those who tremble before God”), whose tradition of large families has propelled them from a tiny minority decades ago to a politically influential 10 percent bloc of the population.
About one-quarter of all Israeli first grade pupils are now from Haredi or “ultra-Orthodox” families. In the New York area, more than one-third of all Jewish children are Hasidic.
“We will have a growing Hasidic audience,” publisher Samuel Norich said by telephone from the paper’s office in lower Manhattan.
That prospect is not without irony. In its pre-war heyday, more pious Jews saw Forverts as anti-religion and “not kosher.” Although it covers religion, its editorial line is mostly secular and liberal.