Prior to the late 1880s, all news coverage of the Jewish population of Western Pennsylvania came from general interest periodicals in the region or from national Jewish periodicals based outside the region.
“The Occident and American Jewish Advocate” (1843-1869) out of Philadelphia is considered the first Jewish periodical in the United States. The publication reached Jewish settlers in Western Pennsylvania almost immediately. A subscriber list from July 1843 is one of the earliest known documents recording individual Jewish settlement throughout Western Pennsylvania. Through the 1850s, the newspaper regularly reported on the development of Jewish communal life in Western Pennsylvnaia, including early divisions and compromises between German and Posner segments within the local Jewish population.
“The American Israelite” (1854-present) out of Cincinnati was published by Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise and was closely associated with the burgeoning Reform movement in the United States. It provided regular coverage of liberal Jewish communities in Pittsburgh and surrounding small towns throughout the region, including several first-person accounts provided by Rabbi Wise following visits to the area. Through the late 19th century and into the 20th century, “The American Israelite” covered affairs in Western Pennsylvania with national significance or significance to the Reform movement.
The first Jewish periodical produced in Western Pennsylvania was “Der Volksfreund (The People’s Friend).” It was a weekly Yiddish newspaper with an occasional Hebrew supplement, published from 1889 until 1922. The paper was written, edited, printed, and distributed almost entirely by Joseph Selig Glick, who also ran a print shop on Logan Street in the Hill District. The editorial perspective was closely aligned with the ideas of religious Zionism.
Following Glick’s death in 1922, Louis Yale Borkon acquired “Der Volksfreund” and renamed the newspaper “Der Fihrer (The Jewish Leader).” It later evolved into “The Jewish Pictorial Leader,” a short-lived English monthly (before 1949-after 1954). Borkon also edited the local “Der Ṿegṿayzer (The Jewish Indicator),” a Yiddish newspaper with an English supplement published in the 1920s and early 1930s.
In addition to these locally produced Yiddish publications, Pittsburgh had a regional office of the national Jewish Daily Forward newspaper. The office opened in the Hill District as early as 1918 and continued in some capacity into the 1980s. It secured local advertising and wrote briefs to accompany the international news coming out of the New York office. The Pittsburgh edition had two managing editors, Julius Weisberg (1918-1941) and Bess Topolsky (1941-1980s).
As early as 1889, the “Cleveland Hebrew Observer” hired Charles H. Joseph and other stringers as Pittsburgh correspondents to contribute community and social news out of Western Pennsylvania.
The first English-language Jewish periodical produced in Western Pennsylvania was “The Jewish Criterion.” Samuel Steinfirst and Joseph Mayer began publishing the weekly newspaper in February 1895 with Rabbi Samuel Greenfield of Rodef Shalom Congregation as editor. Charles H. Joseph joined the Criterion as a contributor and became its editor in late 1898 or early 1899, when Rabbi Greenfield took a position out of state. Dr. J. Leonard Levy of Rodef Shalom Congregation and Rabbi Rudolf I. Coffee of Tree of Life Congregation were contributing editors during this time. The Jewish Criterion was closely associated with liberal Judaism and especially the Reform movement in its early years but expanded its coverage over time to include other segments of the regional Jewish community.
The Criterion struggled financially until David and Sadie Alter joined as owners and publishers around 1909. They acquired new equipment, resolved outstanding debt, dissolved the former corporation, and relocated the operation to the Bijou Building downtown. The newspaper later operated out of the Oliver Building and then out of the Clark Building, both downtown.Jewish Criterion 25th anniversary issue, Dec. 21, 1934 (online).
Joseph left the Criterion in 1934 to become assistant manager of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. He was succeeded as editorial columnist by Milton Susman. The largest responsibility of the editor in these years was writing a weekly opinion column. Joseph and Susman both maintained additional business opportunities outside the Criterion.
The “Jewish Criterion” remained the only community-wide English-language Jewish newspaper in Western Pennsylvania until 1934, when the “American Jewish Outlook” began publishing under editor Dr. Asher Isaacs and business manager Al Golomb. The “American Jewish Outlook” was a weekly publication and covered the entire Jewish community but attempted to be more sympathetic to the interests of Orthodox elements within the local Jewish population.
Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the “Jewish Criterion” and the “American Jewish Outlook” regularly featured similar local coverage with distinct voices on their opinion pages and supplemented by different advertisements. Eager to improve the quality of journalism in the regional Jewish community, the United Jewish Federation briefly considered launching a third publication in the early 1960s but ultimately decided to merge the existing publications. The United Jewish Federation acquired the “Jewish Criterion” and the “American Jewish Outlook” in 1962 for approximately $300,000. It created a nonprofit corporation called the Pittsburgh Jewish Publication and Education Foundation, which began publishing a newspaper called “The Jewish Chronicle.”Lidji, Eric. “Why Was The Chronicle Created?” Dec. 26, 2022 (online—Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle).
To avoid using communal charitable funds for the project, the United Jewish Federation structured the newspaper as a franchise. “The Jewish Chronicle” paid some $55,000 annually for the right to its name, a list of advertisers, and office furniture. The United Jewish Federation used the franchise fee to pay down the purchase price of the predecessor newspapers. By the mid-1980s, the Jewish Chronicle had become financially self-supporting through advertisements and subscriptions. The newspaper became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2010. Through a major restructuring in 2017, the newspaper became the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and made its subscriptions free.
The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle has had six executive editors: Al Bloom (1962-1983), Joel Roteman (1984-2001), Lee Chottiner (2001-2014), Joshua Runyan (2014-2019), Liz Spikol (acting, 2019-2020), and Toby Tabachnick (2020-present). The newspaper has had five business managers/CEOs: Albert Golomb (1962-1967); Albert Zecher (1967-1993); Barbara Befferman (1993-2011); David Caoin (2011-2012); and Jim Busis (2012-present).Tabachnick, Toby. “A timeline: 60 years of connecting Jewish Pittsburgh,” Dec. 26, 2022 (online—Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle).
In addition to these newspapers covering the entire Jewish population of Western Pennsylvania, individual organizations throughout the Jewish community occasionally published newspapers covering internal affairs. The Irene Kaufmann Settlement House published the small bulletin “Neighbors” in the 1920s. The Young Men’s & Women’s Hebrew Association published a weekly newspaper covering its own activities from 1926 through 1976.
|↑1||Jewish Criterion 25th anniversary issue, Dec. 21, 1934 (online).|
|↑2||Lidji, Eric. “Why Was The Chronicle Created?” Dec. 26, 2022 (online—Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle).|
|↑3||Tabachnick, Toby. “A timeline: 60 years of connecting Jewish Pittsburgh,” Dec. 26, 2022 (online—Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle).|