When the Forward Association launched the weekly paper in 1995, it joined a crowded media market of two dozen Russian-language newspapers in the New York metro area alone and grew to be the third-largest in circulation. It was an outspoken Jewish voice in the Russian-speaking community, when only one other publication, the Lubavitch-affiliated paper, identified itself as Jews speaking to other Jews.
The paper sharply criticized the Russian government’s suppression of independent and democratic voices in Moscow and beyond, when most other Russian-language publications still glorified Putin. It reported on local politics in Brooklyn, where many of its readers lived, as vigorously as it covered national, Israeli and historical issues. It served a highly literate and urbane readership, but one that was new to America and to the open discussion of Jewish culture, politics, religious life and recent history.
Yedidowich was a son of Jewish Vilna who fled to the Soviet Union at the outbreak of World War II and became a communications officer in the Soviet Navy, stationed in the Far East. Then, for 25 years, he headed a research institute on radio technology in St. Petersburg. When he arrived in New York in 1992, he sought a way to connect his fellow immigrants to the Jewishness he remembered from his years in interwar Vilna: a Jewishness that was fully conversant with the majority culture, yet fully comfortable in its distinctiveness. His yidishkayt was not of the synagogues and prayer but of the city and the public sphere. He created that connection — following the example of the Yiddish Forverts (which he remembered seeing in his parents’ home, and which he read up on at YIVO) — in the voice he gave to the Russian Forward. That voice continued to animate the paper under his successor, Leonid Shkolnik, who edited the Russian Forward from 2000 until The Forward Association sold it in November, 2004.
The last few years of Yedidowich’s life were a time of anguish and loss, with the demise not only of the Russian Forward, but also with the death in 2008 of his wife and lifelong partner, Olga, and, two months ago, of his 32-year-old grandson. But they were also years of deep satisfaction, surrounded as he was by his daughters and their families, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He lived to see the publication of “Nash Forverts” (Our Forwerts: Reminiscences and Memoirs of Journalists and Friends, published by Liberty Publishing House, New York), a collection of essays by many of the writers and some of the readers of the paper. The 159-page volume appeared only a few weeks ago. It was his last project.
Zol die erd im gring zayn.
Samuel Norich is the president and chief executive officer of the Forward. He has served as executive director of the Forward Association and publisher of the Yiddish Forverts since 1997, and as publisher of the English Forward since 2000.