News for Sociology of Religion--Sun Apr 27 05:10:00 EST 1997

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    It was 100 years ago this week that the Jewish Daily Forward published its first edition, and by any standard, the Yiddish language broadsheet became one of the most successful  (*)

    NEW YORK—To express joy on a festive Jewish holiday, it is tradition to wear something new. Last week, for a Passover seder at her parents' home in Brooklyn, Suzy Berkowitz, 50, upheld tradition (New York Times) (*)


    c.1997 The Boston Globe

    It was 100 years ago this week that the Jewish Daily Forward published its first edition, and by any standard, the Yiddish language broadsheet became one of the most successful ethnic/special interest American newspapers of the 20th century. >From the lower East Side of Manhattan, it wielded enormous authority in the community of immigrant Jews who journeyed to America from Europe.

    It crusaded against facism and communism. It campaigned for English language assimilation, labor unions, social justice. It provided newly arrived readers with a wide window on the secular world, offering everything from articles on US history to cartoons, distinguished fiction and criticism to the famous ``Bintel Brief'' column, a combination of Ann Landers and Miss Manners. Generations grew up with the Forward, and its daily circulation reached a high of 275,000 in the 1930s.

    But by the 1980s, with virtually all its battles won, the paper was running on fumes. It converted to tabloid format, switched to weekly frequency, while circulation dropped (to a mere 8,000 copies today). Cooperatively owned and governed by a 50-member council of elders, the paper saw itself as existing mainly to preserve interest in the Yiddish language. It was just another fondly remembered relic of an earlier age fading into history, like the egg cream.

    Enter editor Seth Lipsky. In 1990, he launched an English language weekly version of the Forward, different in all respects from the Yiddish version yet faithful to its traditions. The English version since has grown excellent, and is now tottering _ just possibly—on the brink of going daily. It is a a fascinating story of brand management at its most complex.

    Lipsky is a legendary figure in contemporary journalism, a ``Big'' in the customary parlance of headlines in the Forward. I first ran into him nearly 30 years ago at Pacific Stars and Stripes, where he was a tough-talking Art Buchwald-look-alike who covered the American invasion of Cambodia with unstinting energy and panache. Before that he had been a Harvard Crimson editor, and before that, a peripatetic teen-ager in the Berkshires, where his father Karl owned and operated the import business that was Jennifer House.

    Lipsky's major phase^@began as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Detroit, next as a foreign correspondent, then as a founding editor of the newpaper's Asian edition. (For a time he wrote a column called the Iconoclast.) He moved to the Journal's editorial page, then on to run the European editorial page.^@Editorial writing was a transforming experience, leading to the espousal of well-informed views that sometimes were crisp above all else. He would boast, for example, of his one-step peace plan for the Middle East: ``a green card for Detroit for Yasser Arafat and the 2 million Palestinian Arabs registered as refugees with the UN.''

    But Lipsky longed to be not merely his own boss but a macher himself as well, and years of preparation paid off when in the 1980s he began to court the circle of elderly men and women who oversaw the publication of the Forward. He and Isaac Bashevis Singer formed a friendship—Singer had won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978 for the stories he had been publishing since the 1930s, mostly in the Daily Forward. Singer and his editor, Simon Weber, in turn helped persuade the 50-member board to bankroll an English edition edited by Lipsky.

    Since 1990, Lipsky has built a sprightly paper—a solid 18 pages for Passover week—if not exactly overflowing with advertisments, thick with political, religious, and cultural news. The paper has moved toward new frontiers from its earlier ideological preoccupations; in a single week in 1993 it zeroed in on the nomination to the Justice Department of Lani Guanier and the disciplining of a college student who employed the epithet ``water buffalo'' against fellow students at the University of Pennsylvania.

    The concerns that now regularly dominate its pages include the emerging tensions between secular Jews and their fundamentalist counterparts who are opposing cultural assimilation (a recent headline: `` `A Little Jerusalem' Emerges in Ohio; Liberals, Orthodox Face Off over Zoning''); the interplay between fringes of Judaism and Christianity; the shifting battles over race; the better-late-than-never restitution of Jewish wealth looted during World War II; the worldwide battle against sweat shops; and of course politics and foreign policy.

    Motivated by a vision of a Jewish renaissance, a tiny staff of gifted and committed young journalists keeps the paper consistently lively . Alumni have begun moving to the the staffs of larger papers. Illustrator Art Spiegelman won a special Pulitzer Prize for ``Maus,'' his retelling of the story of the Holocaust in cartoon form, which the Forward serialized, then nominated. A volume of ``Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer,'' another wry cartoon commentary staple of the paper, has just been published to glowing reviews, as has been ``Eve's Apple,'' a novel by Forward cultural editor Jonathan Rosen.

    As might be expected, the Forward's appearance has been greeted with much animosity in the Jewish policy establishment. Its borderline Republican views often trigger fury on the Jewish Left (Lipsky endorsed Bill Clinton, on grounds that he pursued free-trade agreements like GATT and NAFTA, signed the welfare bill, and intervened in Bosnia and Iraq.) Indeed, the little paper now finds itself embroiled in a newspaper war in New York City with The Jewish Week, which is heavily subsidized by the United Jewish Appeal.

    The Forward's circulation has grown to more than 23,000, but it is still losing money, around $1.5 million a year. In Lipsky's view, this is a problem of frequency. He says the paper needs to become a five-a-week newsstand daily in order to attract the advertising that it needs to turn a profit (the current mail version with its thick cultural section would become the weekend edition in such a scheme.)

    Enter Michael H. Steinhardt, a hedge-fund operator who made some hundreds of millions of dollars in currency-trading ventures during the 1980s.

    Steinhardt has for some time committed a fair amount of money to various attempts aimed at keeping non-Orthodox Jews culturally Jewish through the generations. In 1995, he bought into Lipsky's Forward venture with a view to taking it daily. The new money bought a bigger paper, higher quality, and expanded sales _ circulation nearly doubled to its present level. A Russian language edition was begun in 1995. But so far no daily edition.

    What happens next is anybody's guess. Taking an venerable old brand name and reinventing it as a modern consumer product is child's play by comparison—Arm and Hammer baking soda products, Little Orphan Annie comics, John Travolta movies, for example. Reinventing an old newspaper is a much more complicated task. New York is bubbling with start-up newspaper ventures: the old Brooklyn Eagle has been revived; The New York Observer has made its mark. And the Forward is once again tottering on the brink of real influence.


    (David Warsh writes about economics for the Boston Globe.)

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    NEW YORK—To express joy on a festive Jewish holiday, it is tradition to wear something new. Last week, for a Passover seder at her parents' home in Brooklyn, Suzy Berkowitz, 50, upheld tradition from head to toe. Exemplifying the Diana Vreeland dictum that elegance is restraint, she wore new Gucci pumps and a new Armani suit, hemmed discreetly just below the knee. She also wore a custom-made wig bought for the occasion.

    Like many Orthodox Jewish women, who follow Halakha, Jewish law, Mrs. Berkowitz has worn a wig since her wedding day. Women's hair exudes sensual energy, the Talmud teaches, and covering it ensures a married woman's modesty. But the Talmud also obliges a wife to care for her appearance, so though a hat or scarf will do, many Orthodox women favor wigs, the more natural looking the better.

    In fact, it was impossible to tell that Mrs. Berkowitz's rich, auburn hair—bobbed chin length with soft bangs brushed off her face—was actually a wig. Stylish Orthodox women like Mrs. Berkowitz eschew synthetic ready-made wigs for custom human-hair ones that closely approximate their own tresses. And much attention is paid, from purchase to the cut and style (new high-end wigs come straight and uncut).

    ``We talk about wigs the way women who don't wear them talk about their hair,'' said Liba Noe, 45, of Borough Park, Brooklyn, who with her husband owns Eshel Jewelry Manufacturing in Manhattan and owns a Claire, the self-described Rolls-Royce of Orthodox wigs. ``When women get together at a wedding or a party they ask, `Where did you get your shoes, dress and wig?' They even ask, `Who did it?' ''

    For Passover, Mrs. Berkowitz had chosen a $2,000 Olga, made by Olga Berman, a Hungarian wig maker in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. (Mrs. Berkowitz also owns a Claire and a status Ralph.) For that critical cut and style, she turned to Mark Garrison, whose Madison Avenue salon serves dozens of Orthodox clients who pay at least $600 to have their wigs transformed.

    ``Orthodox women want something contemporary and realistic, and don't want a wig to look like what it is,'' said Garrison as he began the slow, tedious process—three to four hours—required to shampoo, trim and style a wig. ``It's a challenge. You can't rely on next time. There is no next time.''

    Most swank stylists, including Frederic Fekkai, John Barrett, Oribe, John Sahag and Oscar Blandi, do Orthodox women's ersatz tresses. They aim to make a wig modest but not matronly and definitely not wiggy, the word Orthodox women use to describe the heavy appearance of wigs.

    Taking the idea of verisimilitude further, Fekkai suggested, ``An Orthodox woman should have several wigs. A real haircut grows out at different lengths. You need more than one wig at different lengths.''

    Given the code of modesty Orthodox women abide by, including clothes that must cover the knees, elbows and collar bone, is it a contradiction to wear a wig, especially a stylish one?

    ``When the practice of wearing a wig first emerged, there was quite a protest,'' said Rabbi Rafael Grossman, the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the world's largest body of Orthodox rabbis. ``There are those authorities who strongly object. A wig would seem to contradict the basic principal of avoiding incitement. But my personal view is that it is acceptable because the rudiments of Halakha only require women not to expose their hair, though a woman should avoid wearing a wig that could appear to be sensual.''



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