This spring the Forward, which has covered the Jewish world for 121 years, will no longer produce a print edition. After surviving a tumultuous period of American Jewish history, the former newspaper will transition to an all-digital presence.
The reality is that the Forward has gone through many iterations. What was once a Yiddish daily newspaper began to publish in English in the 1990s, when I first began to read it. Weekly and then monthly editions followed. In the last few years the Forward changed formats again and turned itself into a monthly magazine.
Each time the Forward needed to reinvent itself, it kept its journalistic focus the same: telling the American Jewish story. Some have lamented this latest death of print journalism, and the layoffs that accompanied the announcement are never a good sign, but I suspect that the Forward will continue to tell our story, if only in the digital realm.
The Forward has needed to face the situation confronting all print media: fewer and fewer people read their news on dead trees anymore. The challenge in the age of digital is how to make money, and perhaps the Forward will have more advantages than most traditional media companies. After all, it is run by a non-profit association and has, astonishingly, already “been losing money since 1945”!
I have spoken in the past about how the business of journalism and the business of synagogues are in the same boat. In an age when so much content is available for free, longtime institutions suffer, but the problem is not a lack of interest.
People continue to consume the news, and people still lead spiritual lives. They just are going to take the free or low cost option if it is available to them. The challenge for media companies and synagogues is how to build a financially sustainable business model in this environment.
Just as the Forward has had to let go of the past multiple times – moving from Yiddish to English, and from daily to monthly to updating its website every hour – so too do synagogues need to reinvent themselves. The way we deliver on our core values – Jewish living, belonging and education – may change, but not our commitment.
At Adath we created our successful MOSAIC center of arts, culture and ideas as part of this process of transformation. Every generation of Jews is bequeathed a living heritage. It is our responsibility to pass on that legacy that we have reshaped and renewed so that the next generation can do the same.