On Jan. 15, 1948, the very first issue of the Jewish News was published. Almost four months to the day later, the State of Israel was founded. That has always been a source of pride for this newspaper. Obviously, we had nothing to do with the founding of Israel, but it does make us feel special that we share our birth year with the Jewish homeland.
Reading through the early issues of the Jewish News, the paper appeared to concentrated on three topics. The first was chronicling the opening of every new synagogue, organization or committee that served the Valley’s nascent Jewish community. The second concerned appeals to raise funds for the fledgling Jewish state. The third focused on helping Holocaust survivors struggling amid the chaos of post World War II Europe.
Valley Jews were always prepared to beat previously set records in raising money for the United Jewish Welfare Fund each campaign season. If the Valley was falling behind, local and national leaders would issue warnings loud and clear — raise the money.
As the decades went by and Israel began to thrive, the Jewish News evolved into a more traditional newspaper, albeit one focusing solely on the Valley’s Jewish community.
The paper ran stories on the creation of organizations that would later become, for example, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. We wrote stories about the services offered to Valley Jews through organizations such as the Jewish Family & Children’s Service. The creation of every Jewish congregation, along with the building or moving of synagogues, were and continue to be of great importance.
Like other papers of the time, the Jewish News had a society column, where fundraising luncheons, weddings and local achievements received substantial coverage. The Jewish News also was not afraid to single out secular country clubs, schools and organizations that excluded Jews.
Starting in the 1960s, the Jewish News began reporting through a Jewish lens on the issues facing the entire nation, such as segregation, civil rights, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the hateful summer of 1968 that saw Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy gunned down, the Vietnam War and more. But the Jewish News didn’t just cover those events; it talked to local Jewish spiritual and community leaders about how the Jewish experience informed the way we reacted to our nation’s tragedies, policies and triumphs.
Eventually, the Jewish News evolved into a publication that, along with the hard news of the day affecting area Jews, also strove to help people live more Jewishly. In the 1990s, the paper began running its Torah Study section in which rabbis across the Valley and state write about that week’s parshah. Some rabbis will put an amusing, contemporary, popular cultural twist to their Torah Study (“The magic of Hershel Potter-stein”), others will pose provocative issues, while still others look at how changing technologies and a faster-paced life affect how Jews practice their faith.
For holidays, particularly Rosh Hashanah and Passover, we began offering guides on what to serve, table settings and even dealing with difficult family members. Special sections on weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs offered tips on everything from dresses to photographers to incorporating ancient customs into the ceremonies. We looked at Jewish day schools and camps that best serve our particular needs. We also printed first-person accounts of young Jews’ Birthright trips, where they start to strengthen their relationship to their faith.
Today, we still look the tough issues in the eye. Recent reports from the Anti-Defamation League show that anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise in Arizona, and we are diligent in reporting such events and the follow-up investigations.
As a people forced for centuries to leave our homes and immigrate to new lands, many of our spiritual, social and political leaders have stepped up to defend individuals from other backgrounds and nations brought into this country as children who now face deportation. They also are sounding off on everything from the state of our environment to reforming the criminal justice system.
At today’s Jewish News, we report on how Valley Jews step up when crises happen elsewhere, such as 9/11; the devastating 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean; and Hurricane Harvey in Houston, which hit that city’s Jewish community particularly hard. The Valley’s Jewish community has always been quick to respond.
Jewish communities in the Western United States are quite different from those back East. The most significant difference is that there is no “Jewish side of town.” Our Jewish community is spread across the Valley and for some Jews it is easy to become isolated. Over the years, the Jewish News’ mission has evolved from not only covering news about the community, but also acting as a virtual gathering place where our people can find organizations, events, congregations, or even just each other.
It’s a mission we take pride in and we hope you join us as we continue our work for the next 70 years. JN