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by Seth Lipsky

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8052-4210-2
Publisher: Schocken

A seasoned newsman reports on the life of one of America’s great newspaper heroes, a writer and editor who practiced his craft in Yiddish.

Abraham Cahan (1860–1951) was the founder and editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, New York’s pre-eminent Yiddish newspaper. New York Sun and English-language Forward founder Lipsky presents a succinct biography of his distinguished predecessor as part of the burgeoning Schocken/Nextbook Jewish Encounters series. Born in czarist Russia, Cahan was born anew in 1882 when he landed in America, ignorant of the English language. He quickly conquered the native tongue of his new nation and wrote, in English, narrative fiction of immigrant life in a unique voice. His masterpiece, The Rise of David Levinsky (1917), was an epic novel of a poor immigrant who achieves considerable, but ultimately unfulfilling, wealth. In many ways, the novel paralleled the author’s own rise, though Cahan’s signal achievement wasn’t in the garment trade but in the newspaper that chronicled the culture of downtown Jews. The Forward ranked third of all the city’s morning papers in any language, and in its pages, newly arriving immigrants received instruction in American ways. The paper featured an agony column, which famously advised legions of troubled readers, and it published the works of Sholem Asch and the brothers Singer. Home to Jewish public intellectuals, it debated (not always on the right side) the Russian Revolution, Zionism, strike actions and a host of other urgent matters of the day. The paper was always anti-communist, and Cahan was always Jewish though never religious. In his autobiography, The Education of Abraham Cahan, he had little to say about his private life. Lipsky follows that example with scant information regarding Cahan at home.

A straightforward narrative of the public life of a complex, commanding newspaperman.