The push and pull between the hot embrace of a native community and the exhilarating freedoms of America has driven nearly every immigrant group in this country — not least of which the Jews. Many of the Yiddish-speaking arrivals who came by the boatload in the late 19th and early 20th centuries bemoaned the loss of the religion, language and common identity that came with assimilation. To others, however, these were nothing more than mothballed heirlooms smelling of Old World backwardness and the ominous creep of parochialism. Between these poles stood Abraham Cahan.
What would the legendary newspaper editor do in journalism today, when the business model that served him — and all of us — so well for so long has been completely upended? When readership is fragmented, attention spans have shrunk, and anyone with a blog address and an opinion can call himself a journalist?
Fannie Jacobson remembers Abraham Cahan as a brilliant man who wrote like a dream and had a commanding presence in what was then the Forward’s headquarters on East Broadway.
I wanted to know what sort of impression the new “Forverts” was making on the public; how they reacted to the various articles; what was good, what had to be changed, and what sort of other news it would be advisable to introduce.
Long before Eppie and Pauline Friedman — better known by their respective pseudonyms, Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren — penned their first columns, before Dr. Joyce Brothers, Randy “The Ethicist” Cohen and Emily “Dear Prudence” Yoffe became household names, before Dr. Laura Schlessinger and “Judge Judy” Sheindlin brought their bullheaded brand of advice to the mass market, there was A Bintel Brief.
I had always wished that the Forverts would receive stories from “daily life” — dramas, comedies or truly curious events that weren’t written at a desk but rather in the tenements and factories and cafés — everywhere that life was the author of the drama… How to do this? Not an easy task — much harder than writing an interesting drama or comedy…
Republished together by Dover in 1970, Cahan’s 1896 novella “Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto” and his 1898 collection, “The Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories of the New York Ghetto,” are not “Dubliners.”
The fire has begun. The Angel of Death is executing his entire program — the program that Hitler and his fellow dictators have laid out in the depth of the night. The fire began with the bombing of cities. This war is not like any prior one. Battlefields used to be far away. Now the battlefield is in the heart of the world. Soldiers are not being sent to a far off desert. Death is immediate in the cities. And we need not wait for armies of soldiers. Even before the armies arrive, the cities are already on fire. Planes fly overhead and throw dynamite, and a bloody fire descends upon the city that annihilates man, woman and child.
During my brief time at the Commercial Advertiser, an event occurred that was connected to the trial of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer in the French Army. The incident took place in the long editorial room on Saturday, September 9, 1899.
Police Headquarters was then on Mulberry Street, near Houston. The daily newspapers had special offices there — in a few old buildings located opposite the police. The head reporter for the “Evening Sun” was at that time an immigrant from Denmark named Jacob Riis, known as a brilliant writer in the world of journalism. Several months before, [Lincoln] Steffens had been the police reporter for the “Evening Sun,” and he made friends with Riis then. So he gave me a letter for him. Riis was not a tall man and not a fat one either. He was in his 40s with a blond mustache and glasses. He spoke with a slight Danish accent. Steffens introduced me to him as a writer, the author of “Yekl” and as a man “with ideas.”