Come November, we may find out that the presidential sweepstakes will become known as the Year of the Woman. At the Forward, that’s already happened.
For the first time in the nearly 120 years of this legendary Jewish publication, there are women overseeing all publishing and editorial functions. It’s far more than a cosmetic change. The new appointments signal our commitment to become the leading digital news outlet telling the American Jewish story, and our willingness to break the mold to achieve that ambitious goal.
The most dramatic change is at the top, with the decision by Samuel Norich, who had been publisher of the English and Yiddish news organizations and president of the Forward Association, our not-for-profit governing body, to hire a new publisher. Sam will continue as president and CEO, concentrating on cultivating relationships with the Forward’s supporters and stakeholders. But he turned over the publishing duties to Rachel Fishman Feddersen, whose deep experience in digital journalism represents a generational shift in leadership and strategy.
While we retain our commitment to print — weekly in English, monthly in Yiddish — the Forward’s mission is to expand our audience and impact online, where we can reach and engage many more readers. Rachel is just the person to lead us in this new strategic direction. She has worked in new media since 1995, at The Week, Mentalfloss.com, Patch.com, and other news and lifestyle publications.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Rachel, 45, has an English degree from Amherst College and a master’s degree from New York University’s Tisch Interactive Telecommunications Program. She lived in Israel for a year and has studied Hebrew and Yiddish (along with French, German and Italian). Most important for us right now, she intuitively understands how we can grow our digital audience while continuing to embody the best in independent enterprise and cultural journalism, which has always been the Forward’s hallmark.
The other member of this new sisterhood is Rukhl Schaechter, who became editor of the Forverts upon the retirement of Boris Sandler in April, and she, too, represents a generational shift. Rukhl, 59, was born and raised in the Bronx — she’s the first American-born editor since the Yiddish publication began in 1897. A graduate of Barnard College, she grew up immersed in Yiddish language and culture, and came to journalism unexpectedly, when Sandler hired her in 1998 as a reporter.
Surrounded by men who were culturally Jewish but avowedly secular, Rukhl stood out as an Orthodox woman; now as editor she is bringing her own sensibility to the Forverts, with a focus on recruiting women writers and bloggers, and expanding the videos in Yiddish (with English subtitles!) that are bringing to life the language she loves.
Careful readers of our editorial masthead will have noticed other leadership changes in the past few months, as we welcomed Sharon Gitelle as director of community and audience development, and Helen Chernikoff as news editor.
For me personally, I can think of no better group of women — and men — to share the daunting and exciting challenge of sustaining a beloved 19th-century journalistic institution into the 21st century. I’d like to believe that our founding editor, Abraham Cahan, might have raised an eyebrow or two at the ascension of all these women — and then plunged right in to join us as we maintain his journalistic legacy.
Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, became editor-in-chief of the Forward in 2008, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward readership has grown significantly and has won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.