It was a time when horse-drawn carriages clattered down the street, and Woodrow Wilson was in the White House. The year was 1915, and a little Jewish newspaper was launched in the Twin Cities.
A hundred years later, the American Jewish World is still publishing — both in print and now online. While Minnesota newspapers large and small have folded over the years, American Jewish World has managed to sustain loyal readers who turn to it for local, national and world news from a Jewish perspective.
“The Jews are sometimes called the people of the book, but I think they are also the people of the newspaper,” said Mordecai Specktor, editor and publisher of the paper that marked its 100th anniversary this year. “To the best of my knowledge, we’re the longest continuously published community newspaper in Minnesota.”
Minnesota’s Jewish community numbered about 6,000 — compared to about 40,000 today — when American Jewish World first rolled off the press. The first wave of Jewish immigrants who came to the state in the 1850s, mainly from Germany and Austria, were being joined by a wave of newcomers from Russia and Eastern Europe, Specktor said.
A major role of the newspaper was to unite these Jews otherwise separated by geography, language and religious variation, Specktor said.
That task fell to Rabbi Samuel Deinard, who launched four newspapers in the decade before American Jewish World, all short-lived. This one stuck, however, offering a mix of information about Jewish social life, synagogue and community news, wire service reports and social announcements.
Over the years, it also offered news from Jewish communities in the Duluth area, Rochester and around the state. More recently, arts and culture have been a major focus.
“We’re like the communal bulletin board,” said Specktor. “The newspaper is full of information you don’t get anyplace else.”
Specktor attributes a big part of the newspaper’s staying power to its loyal readers. It has about 4,000 paid subscribers to the print publication, plus more readers online and who follow Facebook posts. But keeping the paper’s finances in the black has not always been easy, he acknowledged.
“We’ve got plenty of news to cover; it’s just a matter of keeping the business afloat,” he said.
In recent years, the American Jewish World was hit with a triple whammy, he said. There was a decline in the number of people who identify with Judaism and a drop in readers of all newspapers, in particular among younger people. Then came the Great Recession.
In 2006, the newspaper was bought from private owners by a group of local investors called the Minnesota Jewish Media LLC. Partners include Specktor, MinnPost publisher Joel Kramer and Steven Greenberg, a Twin Cities musician/record producer best known for penning the disco hit “Funkytown.”
Even as Jewish communities have dispersed from their historic neighborhoods in St. Paul and Minneapolis to the suburbs and beyond, American Jewish World continues to try to provide news of shared interest, said Specktor.
“We’re a little Jewish newspaper that could,” he said. “And we’re always looking for new readers.”
Go to ajwnews.com.
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511