Week in and week out, for 24 years, the person known as Philologos has graced our pages with an erudite, engaging and often surprising column about language. About Yiddish, English and Hebrew, French, Polish, Latin and Greek, Aramaic and Circassian and just about any other tongue humans have spoken.
Ostensibly, Philologos answered readers questions about the use and abuse of a word or phrase. But the columns were about so much more than semantics.
They taught us about how words, written and spoken, reflect cultural values and behaviors; indeed, one can trace human development through the way certain words changed, combined or distinguished themselves from one another over time.
There were political points to be made, as well, and Philologos never shied away from expressing a personal opinion, whether about ISIS or Israeli policy, slyly wrapped in linguistic analysis.
The Forward’s new Yiddish site has certainly taken off with a bang.
In the days since the launch of the yiddish.forward.com site was announced, several major media outlets have run stories on it, and what it means for the future of the Yiddish language.
We hoped the new site might get a lot of attention in the U.S. But we had no idea there would be interest from the four corners of the globe.
As proof, we offer a link to the French news site l’Express, which ran an article in French on the Yiddish site from the Agence France Presse wire service.
Read it and enjoy, nos amis!
What mazel! Last week, Yiddishists round the world woke up to find an article by Joseph Berger about the Forverts — in the New York Times, no less — entitled: “For Yiddish A Fresh Presence Online”.
The next day, a Hebrew translation of the article appeared in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, with a slightly different headline: “Will Yiddish be Revived through the Internet?” Basically the same story, but with a more skeptical twist.
So what’s the big deal? After all, the Forverts has had a website since 1999. In fact, the Yiddish language has felt very much at home on the web for years, coining new terms for the electronic revolution (e.g. blitspost for email). Even Hasidic users have set up a haymish Yiddish-language community on the internet.
In other words, the virtual world has been hearing Yiddish for quite some time.
On the other hand, let’s enjoy this moment in the limelight — especially since discussions about Yiddish tend too often to veer towards eulogies. For the past 60 years, Yiddish writers have had to contend with the cliched question: “So how long do you think that Yiddish will survive?”
Often, these are the same people whose knowledge of Yiddish literature extends to just two or three writers, and their fluency in the language to roughly five or six words, like latkes, gefilte fish and … schmuck.
Everyone on the East Coast has a story about experiencing Hurricane Sandy. You’ve already seen some of these stories on our website, forward.com, describing the storm’s impact on hard-hit Jewish communities and individuals. All this has been reported, edited and published despite devastation across the region and unprecedented flooding that has made our Lower Manhattan offices inaccessible.
The Forward staff has continued its work even though many of us have been stranded in darkened homes or distant cities. With intermittent access to electricity and the Internet, our website, Facebook page and Twitter feed have been updated regularly throughout the weather emergency.
Our printed newspapers, too, are being produced and mailed this week, as usual, though there may be postal delays in bringing your copy to you. This is beyond our control, and we regret any inconvenience. Thank you in advance for your understanding.
What would Ab do? When faced with a great challenge, there’s the human tendency to launch a conversation with someone from the past whose leadership and vision would be so helpful today. At The Forward, that someone is Ab Cahan, our legendary founding editor, who oversaw half a century of innovative, impactful journalism.
What would Ab do in today’s confusing media landscape, where threat and opportunity can seem nearly indistinguishable? I’d like to believe that the man who introduced so many new concepts to American journalism — from national distribution to the Bintel Brief — would want us to continue to evolve.
So we are.
Little more than a year ago, we launched The Forward Today, our daily morning newsletter, a major step in our evolution from a print-only weekly newspaper to a news organization with a vibrant, constantly updated presence. We are now taking the next evolutionary step by reorganizing our newsroom to enable us to more creatively and aggressively embrace our digital future while remaining committed to the print product many of you still want to hold in your hands.
Our goal is to create four “desks” — teams, in journalistic parlance — organized around content and responsibility to reflect the different ways people read in print, online and on mobile devices.
Being managing editor is a singular job in journalism, requiring the organizational skills of an MBA, the fortitude of a prize fighter and the patience of a pastor. For three and a half years, Lil Swanson has occupied that position at the Forward, and now, sadly, she is saying farewell.
Her appointment in the fall of 2008 was something of a leap of faith for all concerned, since she is not Jewish and had never worked in New York. But she was exactly the right kind of person to help me guide The Forward.
She had been a managing editor elsewhere, oversaw huge departments when we worked together at The Philadelphia Inquirer, ran a national training program for newspaper editors, and cut her journalistic teeth at the Associated Press. Yeah, she could handle a brilliant, slightly manic bunch of New York Jews.
Not only did she help steer the ship magnificently, she left her imprint everywhere. A managing editor’s work is invaluable to the staff and largely unnoticed by the public, but occasionally the reader was treated to the full power of Lil’s journalism. She created and edited a series of award-winning special sections: celebrating the 150th birthday of our founder, Ab Cahan; commemorating the 100th anniversary of the the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; and then, just recently, our terrific section on the Titanic. All along, she protected our journalism with fierce devotion.
And she kept the old-fashioned treasure chest in her office constantly filled with irresistible candy.
It’s not every day that the president chooses a new campaign slogan…and it happens to be the name of your news organization. But that is indeed what happened today, as the video below will attest.
We are tickled, of course, by the choice. As are, apparently, the folks in Twitter-land. There are those who think he is borrowing the slogan from MSNBC, and even a few, like Bill Kristol, who think it’s to Mao that the president is turning. We have no special insight on this. It’s just amusing to see our name writ so large.
On Twitter, though, some thought the choice was no coincidence:
Ben Smith tweeted: Turns out MSNBC stole its slogan from various tech companies, a venerable Jewish newspaper, and Mao
Traditional American went for the conspiratorial: Obama’s been losing the #Jewish vote; now his new slogan is #Forward? As in the Jewish Liberal magazine? http://forward.com/ #tcot #teaparty
And then there was Daniel Gross: Not sure about the Obama campaign’s new “Forward” slogan. He’s already got the yiddish-speaking left-wing Jewish vote wrapped up
And my personal favorite, from Ron Kampeas, of our friendly competitors over at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: @MittRomney counters @BarackObama’s #Forward with new slogan, #Telegraphic