The first issue of Forverts, appeared on April 22, 1897 in New York City. The paper was founded by a group of about 50 Yiddish-speaking socialists who organized themselves approximately three months earlier as the Forward Publishing Association. The paper's name, as well as its political orientation, was borrowed from the German Social Democratic Party and its organ Vorwrts.
Forverts was a successor to New York's first Yiddish-language socialist newspaper, Di Arbeter Tsaytung (The Workman's Paper), a weekly established in 1890 by the fledgling Jewish trade union movement centered in the United Hebrew Trades as a vehicle for bringing socialist and trade unionist ideas to non-English speaking immigrants. This paper had been merged into a new Yiddish daily called Dos Abend Blatt (The Evening Paper) as its weekend supplement when that publication was launched in 1894 under the auspices of the Socialist Labor Party (SLP). As this publication established itself, it came under increased political pressure from the de facto head of the SLP, Daniel DeLeon, who attempted to maintain a rigid ideological line with respect to its content. It was this centralizing political pressure which had been the motivating factor for a new publication.
Chief among the dissident socialists of the Forward Publishing Association were Louis Miller and Abraham Cahan. These two founding fathers of The Forward were quick to enlist in the ranks of a new rival socialist political party founded in 1897, the Social Democratic Party of America, founded by the nationally famous leader of the 1894 American Railroad Union strike, Eugene V. Debs, and Victor L. Berger, a German-speaking teacher and newspaper publisher from Milwaukee. Both joined the SDP in July 1897.
Despite this political similarity, Miller and Cahan differed as to the political orientation of the paper and Cahan left after just 4 months to join the staff of The Commercial Advertiser, a well-established Republican newspaper also based in New York City.
For the next four years Cahan remained outside of The Forward office, learning the newspaper trade in a financially successful setting. He only returned, he later recalled in his memoirs, upon the promise of "absolute full power" over the editorial desk.
The circulation of the paper grew quickly, paralleling the rapid growth of the Yiddish speaking population of the United States. By 1912 its circulation was 120,000, and by the late 1920s/early 1930s, The Forward was a leading U.S. metropolitan daily with considerable influence and a nationwide circulation of more than 275,000 though this had dropped to 170,000 by 1939 as a result of changes in U.S. immigration policy that restricted the immigration of Jews to a trickle.
Early on, The Forward defended trade unionism and moderate, democratic socialism. The paper was a significant participant in the activities of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union; Benjamin Schlesinger, a former president of the ILGWU, became the General Manager of the paper in 1923, then returned to the Presidency of the union in 1928. The paper was also an early supporter of David Dubinsky, Schlesinger's eventual successor.
The most well-known writer in the Yiddish Forward was Isaac Bashevis Singer, who received the Nobel Prize in literature although other well known Socialist literary and political figures, such as Leon Trotsky and Morris Winchevsky have also written for it.
By 1962 circulation was down to 56,126 daily and 59,636 Sunday, and by 1983 the newspaper was published only once a week, with an English supplement. In 1990 the English supplement became an independent weekly which by 2000 had a circulation of 26,183, while the Yiddish weekly had a circulation of 7,000 and falling.
As the influence of the Socialist Party in both American politics and in the Jewish community waned, the paper joined the American liberal mainstream though it maintained a social democratic orientation. The English version has some standing in the Jewish community as an outlet of liberal policy analysis.
The Yiddish edition has recently enjoyed a modest increase in circulation as courses in the language have become more popular among university students; circulation has leveled out at about 5,500. The current editor of the Yiddish Forward is Boris Sandler, who is also one of the most significant contemporary secular writers in Yiddish.
For a period in the 1990s, conservatives came to the fore of the English edition of the paper, but the break from tradition didn't last. A number of conservatives dismissed from The Forward later helped to found the modern New York Sun.
As of 2008, The Forward is published as a weekly news magazine in separate Yiddish and English editions. Each is effectively an independent publication with its own contents. Jane Eisner became Editor in June, 2008. The Senior Columnist is J.J. Goldberg, who has served in that role since 2008. The paper maintains a left of center editorial stance.
For a few years, there was also a Russian edition. The website of the Forward describes its formation: "In the fall of 1995 a Russian-language edition of the Forward was launched, under the editorship of Vladimir "Velvl" Yedidowich. The decision to launch a Russian Forward in the crowded market of Russian-language journalism in New York followed approaches to the Forward Association by a number of intellectual leaders in the fast-growing migr community who expressed an interest in adding a voice that was strongly Jewish, yet with a secular, social-democratic orientation and an appreciation for the cultural dimension of Jewish life."
The Russian edition was sold to RAJI (Russian American Jews for Israel) in 2004, although initially it kept the name. In contrast to its English counterpart, the Russian edition and its readership were more sympathetic to right-wing voices. In March 2007, it was renamed the Forum.
At the peak of its popularity, the Forward erected a ten-story office building at 175 East Broadway on the Lower East Side, designed by architect George Boehm and completed in 1912. It was a prime location, across the street from Seward Park. The building was embellished with marble columns and panels and stained glass windows. The facade features carved bas relief portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Ferdinand Lassalle. A fourth relief portrays a person whose identity has not been clearly established, and has been identified as Wilhelm Liebknecht, Karl Liebknecht, or August Bebel. In the real estate boom of the 1990s, the building was converted to condominiums.
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