Beginning in 1949 and throughout the 1950s, Israeli leaders frequently pressured the citizens of their new state to speak and read Hebrew. But as Rachel Rojanski documents, they also recognized the importance of catering to the country’s Yiddish-reading public. Because of this, the ruling socialist party, Mapai (the precursor of today’s Labor), “became the first public body in Israel to publish a Yiddish newspaper.” Despite the fact that Mapai’s “leaders held the reins of power . . . and spearheaded the country’s militant Hebraist policy,” she notes, they ultimately published two.
Few Jews in Israel or abroad today know that during the 1950s, about 100 Yiddish newspapers and periodicals were launched in the Jewish state. Some were short-lived, while others came out for a number of years, even decades. Between 1948 and 1970, 20 to 30 Yiddish newspapers and periodicals were published in Israel each year.
Only a small number of these periodicals were privately owned; the most prestigious of them being the leading daily, Letste nayes (“Latest News”), which went out regularly for five decades. Most private owners of Yiddish newspapers were new immigrants, often Holocaust survivors, who had been journalists or newspaper editors in Europe and wanted to renew the publication of an older paper in Israel.
But these privately owned newspapers were in the minority. The overwhelming majority of publications in Yiddish were issued by public organizations and institutions, such as Israel’s national trade-union center, Histadrut, or by political parties who were interested in reaching out to Yiddish readers, especially the immigrants, because throughout the 1950s the Yiddish-speaking public was regarded as highly literate, making it attractive to publishers looking for political or financial gain. Of course, to attract that audience and hold its attention, these had to be quality papers with a range of content, including literary and cultural content.
In paradoxical fashion, then, many of the same people and organizations that were opposed to Yiddish for ideological reasons actually contributed to the development of a vibrant Yiddish press in Israel.