The 116-year-old, Yiddish-language edition of The Forward is scaling back its print operations from weekly to biweekly to redirect resources to a revamped, Yiddish-language website. From February 4, Forverts will live primarily at yiddish.forward.com, to be updated daily with a mix of the paper’s existing news features and new Yiddish audio reports from freelance journalists in seven cities around the world, from Buenos Aires to Melbourne to Moscow.
Publisher Sam Norich said the shift is to accommodate both a stronger digital media strategy and a greater emphasis on promoting Yiddish to a new audience whose language skills might not be good enough to understand the print edition.
“We see the opportunity to grow the audience in a number of directions, including Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, readers, students of Yiddish, and children of survivors who grew up in Yiddish-speaking homes but only have a passive knowledge of the language,” Norich said. The new website will include English-subtitled videos and pop-up translations in a bid to accommodate all abilities.
Though Norich said the Yiddish-speaking population is in “very sharp decline,” he believes there is an increase in the number of people studying Yiddish both in the US and abroad. (The Forward is based in New York City.) He said he spotted the trend for learning the language during his time as executive director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, by monitoring sales of the institute’s Yiddish studies textbook.
“The fact is that Yiddish is taught in dozens of colleges now, and there is a growing interest in people who didn’t grow up speaking it at home,” he said.
That’s a claim backed up by Jeremy Dauber, an associate professor of Yiddish language, literature, and culture at Columbia University. He said that there has been a resurgence of interest in Yiddish studies in the last 10 or 20 years, facilitated by the explosion in online teaching along with descendants of Yiddish speakers interested in learning more about their roots. “Learning Yiddish has a strong secular tradition that doesn’t demand engagement with a Jewish religious tradition,” Dauber said. “But it can act as a door to traditional culture.”
Interest in European-centric culture is part of the reason that the Yiddish-language edition of The Forward will remain separate both in print and online from the English version, Norich said, despite the Yiddish-language edition’s comparatively poor readership figures — 6,000 in weekly readership compared to 80,000 of the English-language edition, which provides more focus on US Jewish culture and issues.
“The two papers have different readerships,” Norich said. “The Yiddish edition has specific interests in Ashkenazi and European history and culture. We will be translating some content, but we don’t see the point in merging.”
According to Norich, the Forward Association is also making the transition from being funded by investments in real estate and other assets to a publicly funded media organization by asking people to make tax-deductible donations to yiddish.forward.com/join. It has been surviving off the sale of its last radio station, WEVD, since 2003, Norich said. “We’ve been in the red since 1945,” he said. “Now we need to marshal the support of the people who like what we do.”
The website relaunch is partly funded by a grant from the Max & Anna Levinson Foundation.Hazel Sheffield is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @hazelsheffield. Tags: digital first, jewish press, the forward