Happy 50th birthday to ‘us’ as an autonomous publication

Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Today’s April 3, 2013 edition of the St. Louis Jewish Light marks the exact 50th anniversary of this publication as an autonomous Jewish community newspaper with its own independent board of trustees.  A glance at Page One of that first issue reveals how enduring many of the Jewish community issues and concerns have been through the past half-century. Consider:

Jewish Federation fundraising

The main story in the 1963 April 3rd paper was headlined, “Federation sets goal at $1, 888,369 for ‘63.”  Federation President Earl Susman announced that the goal represented an increase of $284,528 over the amount raised in 1962.  

“Weeks of careful study of agency needs for the coming year preceding the board’s approval of the new fund goal,” Susman told the Jewish Light.  A major expenditure involved the construction of the David P. Wohl Pavilion at the Jewish Center for Aged, making it possible to add 100 additional beds to the facility, which was then located at 1438 East Grand Avenue at Blair Avenue in the City of St. Louis.

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Ultra-Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law

A small item, also on the first front page, was in its own way prophetic of ongoing problems with the ultra-Orthodox domination of life-cycle events and documents in the State of Israel.  The Rabbinical Assembly of America postponed its summer convention in Israel “as a protest against an action of the religious officials in Israel.”  The Conservative rabbis cancelled the conference because the Israeli religious authorities refused to accept two Jewish divorces executed by the Rabbinical Assembly’s Bet Din (Rabbinical Court). This dispute has gotten even worse in the years since 1963.  The growing political power of the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox rabbis, over matters of Jewish divorce, conversions and the honoring of documents issued by American Modern Orthodox rabbis has remained a growing concern in Israel and among non-Orthodox rabbis.

Persecution of Jews throughout the world

A story in the April 3, 1963 issue told of eight Jews who had been arrested in Moscow for the “crime” of baking matzahs for Passover.  They were charged with “illegal manufacture of foodstuffs and speculation.”  A year later, Holocaust survivor and novelist Elie Wiesel would visit the Soviet Union and its Jewish community.  On his return, he published “The Jews of Silence,” which described the persecution and suppression of Jewish life in the USSR.  Three years later, a new generation of Soviet Jews were inspired by Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War and were “silent no more.”  By December 1987, over 250,000 American Jews and other supporters of freedom of emigration for Soviet Jewry marched on Washington to demand Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev “Let Out People Go.” The effort caused Gorbachev to open the gates and allow over 1 million Jews to immigrate to Israel and another 250,000 to settle in the U.S. and other Western nations.

In more recent years, Jews have continued to flee places such as Ethiopia for Israel and the U.S. in the name of religious freedom and human rights.

Good news and human interest stories

No one wants a steady diet of doom, gloom and destruction in their paper, especially when there are simchas and selfless acts of kindness to report. That reality never changes and was never more evident than on the bottom right of that same news-packed front page in 1963, with a report that Mrs. Dora Offchincoff, a 79-year-old resident of the Jewish Center for Aged, had knitted both a shawl and two brocaded pillows for then First Lady Jackie Kennedy.  Mrs. Offchincoff was proud of the fact that her gift to “that nice-looking young wife of our President” responded with an official White House thank-you note.  

Sam Zibit, then the JCA’s executive director, “suddenly had a celebrity on the premises,” whose story appeared in newspapers around the nation.