|Image of Jewish Daily Forward headline from May 18, 1903|
Courtesy of Yeshiva Institute for Jewish Research
Courtesy of Tenement Museum Photo Archives
The Forverts encapsulates another important cultural development that might seem unremarkable today, but was of profound importance a century ago: the creation of Yiddish newspaper readers. At the time of the Forverts’ birth in 1897, virtually no immigrant had read a Yiddish newspaper in the old country. Censorship in the Russian Empire, where the Rogarshevskys (along with most immigrant Jews) originated, prevented the publication of Yiddish newspapers until the early 1900s. Even with the easing of censorship following the 1905 revolution, a full-fledged Yiddish newspaper market took some time to develop. The Rogarshevskys probably had never seen a Yiddish newspaper or, at least, were not regular newspapers readers in Russia. When they arrived in New York, however, the Rogarshevskys discovered a thriving Yiddish newspaper market, in which a wide variety of Yiddish newspapers were sold in newsstands and read virtually everywhere: in cafes, in places of work, on park benches, at home, and so on. And if somebody did not have sufficient literacy—as was common among older women, for instance—that person nonetheless had opportunities to hear newspapers read aloud. In the Rogarshevsky household, the father or one of the children probably read the newspaper to other members of the family on a regular basis.
Newspapers had the effect of broadening the mental horizons of immigrants. The Forverts, for instance, not only provided news (often quite sensationalistic) from near and far, but also published fiction and poetry, educational articles on history and science, and gave practical advice that helped readers navigate difficult moral and ethical problems pertaining to daily life. Learning how to read the Forverts and other Yiddish newspapers often proved difficult. Immigrants encountered much unfamiliar vocabulary regarding unfamiliar subjects. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of immigrants learned how to read newspapers—often with the help of friends and relatives who had arrived earlier—and, in the process, became Americanized, albeit through the Yiddish language. An American innovation, the Forverts offers a glimpse into this complicated Americanization process.
In short, the Forverts provides a crucial piece of the Rogarshevskys’ life, connecting it to the larger immigrant Jewish experience as it unfolded beyond the four walls of 97 Orchard.