This newsletter is part of a special series exploring election coverage throughout The Forward’s 123-year history, written by deputy culture editor Talya Zax with reporting by archivist Chana Pollack. Click here to read it in a browser and share on social media, and find earlier installments here.
October, 1918: As the Spanish Flu pandemic ravaged the United States and the midterm elections approached, The Forward attempted to balance the flow of increasingly sobering news with its trademark proselytizing for voter mobilization.
So at the bottom of a column reporting that 2,930 New Yorkers were sick with the flu, the editors appended an item with a jarringly enthusiastic tone.
“Shvester!” — “Sister!” — the brief notice began. “Have the women in your home registered? Appoint a committee in your tenement, and go find this out.”
Though it would be two more years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting suffrage to women nationwide, New York had passed its own version of the measure in 1917. These midterms were to be the first time the state’s women could cast ballots. The Forward was determined to do its part to energize this new electoral bloc.
The contrasting stories in the Oct. 18, 1918 edition shown above — grim pandemic news versus enthusiastic call for voter registration — suggested an attitude that, while distinctly out of line with public-health recommendations past and present, was dogged about the importance of democracy. A fatal illness was spreading through the city, with its cramped, poorly ventilated tenements serving as a primary vector, but that did not stop our predecessors at The Forward from encouraging women to gather together in those tenements to make sure they all made the most of their new franchise.
The Forward, with its staunch Socialist affiliations, had been a vocal supporter of suffrage from its early days. On Nov. 7, 1917, while reporting on New York’s approval of an amendment giving women the vote — “Brava! Brilliant Victory For Women’s Rights!” read the front page’s banner headline — the paper couldn’t resist a pat on its own back.
“Out of all the parties, the Socialist Party is the only one that worked very hard in favor of the amendment for women’s rights,” it said. It was the rare spark of character in a report that focused primarily on the number of voters who turned out to support the amendment in various counties, an irresistible celebration of a win not just for women, but for the radically liberal politics of the paper in that era.
The Forward continued to celebrate the advances made by women, however slow they might be. On Aug.19, 1920, the day after Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, the front page was most preoccupied with the ongoing violence of the Polish-Soviet war, which put the lives of hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews in jeopardy.
But while the top headline read “PEACE NEGOTIATIONS IN MINSK WHILE BATTLE RAGES ON IN WARSAW,” the second-most prominent story was “WOMEN’S RIGHT TO VOTE VICTORIOUS IN AMERICA.”
That day’s edition betrayed an unmanageable swell of news not unlike the 24/7 reporting cycle of our pandemic era: Beyond the foreign conflict, the paper was concerned with the imminent deportation of 11 “radicals,” a set of political primaries unacceptably scheduled for the same day as Rosh Hashanah, and rumors of a pogrom in the far-off town of Parczew.
Yet the editors prioritized coverage of the vote that had suddenly opened up the franchise to 27 million U.S. citizens — an opportunity to revel in progress, even in the middle of a time of increasing grief and fear.
Not long afterward, The Forward would not only encourage women to vote, but ask readers to vote for women. While state and country alike underwent a serious delay between giving women the franchise and electing them to public office, female candidates emerged as soon as they could. And The Forward endorsed them, as long as they were listed on the preferred party line, whether Socialist, American Labor or otherwise.
Image by Forward Archive
Gertrude Weil Klein.
Among the most profound of those endorsements was for Gertrude Weil Klein, who first ran for office in 1918, aiming for the New York State Assembly. Klein, like many of the early women who set their sights on political positions, spent much of her career losing races, most of them for the Assembly, for which she ran in at least five different districts.
The Forward had no shortage of reasons to push Klein’s many candidacies forward: She was a Socialist stalwart who attended the 1921 International Socialist Congress in Vienna, and her father, Joseph Weil, had created the New York Socialist Party’s trademark emblem.
In 1940, the Forward endorsed Klein for the Bronx 8th District seat in the Assembly, a race that she lost. But the next year, after two decades of trying, she finally was elected to the New York City Council, along with two other women. She remained on the council for four years, then lost her 1945 re-election campaign after the American Labor Party removed her from its ticket. (She ran as an independent.)
Klein’s story could have been that of many of her contemporaries: Filled with political fire, she never lost her will to have a say in the future of her city, state and country, despite the many obstacles arrayed against her. As Chana wrote in 2014, she brought “nakhes to the yikhes that was her progressive birthright” — and to the women who came up with her.
Join comedians, celebrities, politicians and your favorite Forward journalists as we gather on screen for a light-hearted evening in these uncertain times. Emcee, Jessica Kirson will keep us laughing through the night as we hear from Mayim Bialik, actress and activist; Miri Ben-Ari, grammy award-winning violinist; Michael Bloomberg, 108th mayor of New York City; Yisrael Campbell, comedian; Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist; Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary and many more!
Dear Members and Friends of the Lake Chapala Jewish Congregation:
This year, as the High Holy Days approach and we prepare to celebrate the start of 5781, we know we will be unable to physically gather. This is sad and disappointing. We rely on these important Jewish holidays to reset, renew and prepare for the year ahead. And while we may still be able to worship and share together the holiness of these special days, we realize it can only be through a shared virtual experience.
However, the changed experience this year shouldn’t dampen our expectations or enthusiasm for Jewish life in our community. Here, through the Lake Chapala Jewish Congregation, we continue to have regular Friday night and Saturday morning worship, as well as Torah study via Zoom. In addition, plans are underway for various religious-related virtual guest-lecturers, discussion groups, and so on regarding issues of concern to Jews here and all over the world, with opportunities for online participation. Plans are underway, as well, for several non-religious activities to bring some fun into our somewhat cloistered lives—challah-baking, games, and other collaborative online activities to help us keep our connections and fellowship strong. Please check your email for weekly updates through our bulletin, El Shofar.
As the new year approaches, so does our recommitment to supporting our only synagogue in the area. As is clear from news around the world, we know that we are not alone in being isolated from each other, unable to attend in-person worship services and events we’ve become accustomed to. However, in order to have a vital and viable place of worship and social gathering center on the other side of this global catastrophe, the expenses of regular upkeep remain. These expenses include the following, (among others):
Salaries Regular maintenance of the building and gardens Utilities Cemetery maintenance
In addition to continuing expenses, we cannot foresee many–if any–opportunities for fundraising in the near future, which we’ve always depended upon to supplement membership dues and donations. So, as you can see, we are more dependent than ever on our membership to help us get through this difficult coming year. We must maintain our financial solvency and be ready to welcome all of our community once again when the crisis has passed.
We urge all of our current and past members to renew your membership to bolster not only our operating funds but to show solidarity with each other in this troubling time. Also, if you’ve considered membership but haven’t yet done it, please reconsider and be a part of our vital community. You may also choose to honor loved ones through donations in their names or adding the names of loved ones who have passed on to our yahrzeit board. Our current membership dues remain unchanged from last year: 6000 pesos person. However, we never turn anyone away because of financial hardship. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Robin Hayden, our treasurer ( email@example.com) to discuss any such issue.
We look forward to a rapid end to the virus that encompasses our world. But be assured that with your support, we will do everything within our power to keep the light of the NerTamid glowing in our hearts, in our sanctuary and in our community.
Betty Shiffman Membership Chair, Lake Chapala Jewish Congregation
Chag Sameach! I am including the following two texts, each one for the services I am leading in English: one for the first night of Erev Rosh Hashanah, and the other for Ne’ilah, the last service on Yom Kippur. (See David Rosett’s Services above.) I will be using the scroll function on Zoom, but if you prefer to have your own copy, you may print these out and read along. (It may be easier on the eyes.) One text is 12 pages and the other 13 pages, so you won’t have to fidget for very long! Thanks to OneShul for providing the template.
Click below to go to Newsletter for downloads and links to three outstanding synagogues, Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative, which will be having more extensive services.