“The Jewish Daily Forward,” airing at 11 tonight on KCET Channel 28, charts the history of what was once the mightiest Yiddish daily newspaper in the world to its current status as a small weekly with an uncertain future.
As history, “Forward” offers much to enjoy; as television, it suffers somewhat from having too many talking heads telling too many stories.
Not that the stories aren’t interesting--some of them are quite good--but the constant shuffle of interviews with editors, writers, academics and long-time readers distracts from the historical footage and readings from editorials, news stories and letters that give life to the show’s real topic--the special role that the newspaper played in the lives of millions of immigrants adrift in the New World.
Started as a Socialist Party organ in 1897, the Forward became far more than a partisan conduit for news. It was the primary community adviser, targeting the “greenhorns” who toiled in sweatshops on New York’s Lower East Side. As long-time editor Simon Weber says, the reader “lived through it . . . it spoke to his heart.”
“Forward” is at its best in the narrated segments, particularly the ones concerning Abraham Cahan, the Lithuanian immigrant and staunch editor who guided the paper as he saw fit--indelibly shaping the Yiddish language, culture and literature in the process.
By the 1920s, the Forward had a circulation of more than 250,000 for its “Americanization” message. Today, the paper clings to life; circulation is under 20,000. “Forward” is valuable as a document of a way of life that has nearly vanished.