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As The Forverts Print Edition Comes To An End, A Passover Thought

This article originally appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.

As many of you know, the April 2019 edition of the Forverts was the very last to come out in print. From now on, all our resources will be devoted to improving and growing our website.

Although we’re very optimistic about the future of the Forverts online — especially since we’re continually attracting new visitors to our videos and articles — it’s obviously hard to say good-by to a print newspaper that’s been around for 122 years, longer than any other Yiddish publication. Since 1897, the Forverts broadsheet served as a source of news and Yiddish culture for Yiddish speakers of all stripes: immigrants and American-born, secular and traditional, workers, professionals and retirees.

Since I joined the Forverts staff in 1998, many people, even those who didn’t know any Yiddish, would tell me about how their parents or grandparents would send them to the store to buy the Forverts, or how they learned to decipher Yiddish words using Forverts issues that were lying around at home.

As a nod to these precious memories, we asked our readers to send us their favorite anecdotes about the Forverts over the years, all of which were published in our last print issue. Some of them have already appeared online as well, in both Yiddish and English, including one in which a reader explains how a photo of his brother Motl appeared in the Forverts on the day the family reached America’s shores, and another one about a certain penny-pinching Forverts reader.

We also published memoirs by former Forverts editor Boris Sandler, veteran Forverts writers Miriam Hoffman Itzik Gottesman and Yoel Matveyev, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s longtime assistant Devorah Telushkin and devoted readers Marc Caplan and Mikhl Yashinsky.

I myself have very few childhood memories of the Forverts, since my parents subscribed to its rival paper, Der Tog-Morgn Zhurnal. But to be honest, I wasn’t much interested in either paper. Although I was raised in a Yiddish-speaking home by Yiddishist parents, I — like most young American girls — had little interest in the Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, which had been practically decimated by the Holocaust. It wasn’t until I began reading world literature in college — works by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens and Sartre — that I became deeply interested in the literature and history of my own people. It was then that I understood the importance of reading Yiddish books and periodicals as a way of maintaining our language and culture, despite the forces of assimilation and materialism hovering close by.

This week, at the seder, we’ll read the Biblical story of Exodus, about God’s freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The haggadah tells us that as the Israelites prepared to flee Egypt, they had no time for the dough to rise, so all they could take with them was unleavened bread. In the Bible we read something else: When the Israelites heard that Pharaoh had finally freed them from bondage, they immediately gathered all the gold and silver that the Egyptians had given them. Understandably, the Israelites were concerned with their future and wanted to ensure that they could bring along material possessions to sustain them.

Moses had something very different in mind. Recalling Joseph’s request that the Israelites bring his remains to Canaan once they ;eft Egypt, Moses devoted himself to this task even before packing his own possessions. In contrast to the people who thought only of material wealth and property, Moses emphasized the honoring of his forefathers.

This passage has a message for us as well. The Forverts is eagerly entering its new phase as a digital-only publication; we can all agree that this is the most pragmatic solution going forward. But at the same time, we must never forget the huge contributions of previous generations of editors, writers and typesetters that diligently served the diverse Yiddish-speaking readership in America for over 120 years and helped make the Forverts what it is today.


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