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A Living Lens: Virginia Beach

By Alana Newhouse

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This might be my all-time favorite story from the book tour. During the Q&A session in Virginia Beach a woman in the back of the room motioned to me. “I just wanted to thank you for a lovely presentation, and to tell you that I brought my aunt with me today” — at this, the woman next to her coquettishly raised her hand — “she has a picture of herself reading the Forverts in 1948! At the age of 18! She’s been showing it off for six decades. When we heard you were coming to town, we got a subscription to the paper, and of course she brought the photograph with her today.” I was just as excited as they were, and I told them to make sure to show me the picture during the book signing after the event.

Sure enough, as I was signing books, I saw the aunt walking toward the table. She was holding the photograph like a treasure and, after introducing herself as Barbara Helfant, presented it to me with ebullient pride. I looked down at the picture and smiled.

“Mrs. Helfant, how’s your Yiddish?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t speak Yiddish. I just picked up the paper at Lieberman’s Royal House in Mount Freedom, N.J. Why?”

“Because the newspaper you’re reading in this photo is not the Forverts. It’s the Tog, one of our competitors.”

I inscribed her book, “To Barbara Helfant — After 60 years, FINALLY a Forward reader.”


Alana Newhouse, the Forward’s Arts & Culture editor, is touring the country, speaking about her new book, “A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life From the Pages of the Forward.”


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