St. Louis has rich history of Jewish journalism

Early Jewish newspapers included The Jewish Record and The Modern View.  

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

Walter Ehrlich, the late local Jewish historian and author of the two-volume “Zion in the Valley: The Jewish Community of St. Louis,” devotes an entire chapter in Volume II to “Press and Politics.” According to Ehrlich, the very first appearance of a Jewish newspaper in St. Louis took place in 1868 with the publication of the St. Louis Jewish Sentinel. Only a few issues were published, and no intact copies are known to exist. Several other Jewish papers were to follow, both English-language and German-language, “but by 1888,” Ehrlich writes, “only the Jewish Voice had survived.”

Edited by the widely respected Rabbi Moritz Spitz of B’nai El Congregation, the weekly Voice became a valued source of information not only about the local Jewish community, but also the Jewish communities in the United States and around the world. During World War I, the Voice published stories about the exploits and heroism of Jewish soldiers, whether in the American, German or Russian armies, “especially when those soldiers were awarded decorations for meritorious action,” Ehrlich writes.

The Voice never engaged in partisan politics nor did it endorse a political candidate for office, either at the local or the national levels (a practice still in place at the St. Louis Jewish Light, which is a tax-exempt corporation and is thus precluded from endorsing candidates). Spitz’s paper articulated what Ehrlich describes as a “moderate Reform viewpoint.” His compassionate views on Orthodox Judaism and Zionism often drew criticism from his more liberal Reform readers.

The Voice also provided coverage of Jewish life cycle events, including stories on weddings and bar mitzvah celebrations as well as obituaries of prominent members of the Jewish community. Spitz served as editor of the Jewish Voice from its beginning in 1888 until his death in 1920. 

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“Without his dynamic leadership, the newspaper rapidly went downhill, and in 1923 it ceased publication,”  Ehrlich writes. “While it existed, though, it provided an immeasurable service to the community.”

The Jewish Voice had a monopoly as the local Jewish newspaper for its first 13 years. In 1901, the Voice was joined by The Modern View, an English-language weekly. It dealt exclusively with local, national and international Jewish matters, leaving non-Jewish issues to the secular press.

The Modern View was regarded as a “silk stocking” Jewish publication, which catered to the “Our Crowd” segment of the Jewish community – Reform, German-descended – and with room not only for news but in-depth articles by prominent local Jewish writers.

While the Jewish Voice “looked like any conventional newspaper of the late 19th century with few illustrations and dull an unattractive headlines, The Modern View … was clearly a 20th century journal,” Ehrlich writes. “In fact, in some respects, it did not even look like a newspaper at all.” 

It was usually 20 pages long, replete with photographs and illustrations that brightened its covers and internal pages. Its 25-year anniversary edition, published in 1925, is still a treasure trove of hard-to-find photographs and information on early St. Louis Jewish leaders and institutions.

The first editor of The Modern View was the very able and admired Abraham Rosenthal, who ran the paper until his death in 1929. After his passing, The Modern View passed through several editors until it published its final edition May 6, 1943.

Another “first” of note in the history of the local Jewish press was St. Louis’ first Yiddish-language paper of any permanence, Der Vorsteher, or The Representative, which appeared in 1906. This paper would be joined by Der Yiddishe Record, or The Jewish Record, with Sol Goldman as managing editor. He was soon replaced by Leon Gellman.

The first attempt at another English-language Jewish newspaper serving St. Louis was the Missouri Jewish Post & Opinion, a regional edition of the National Jewish Post & Opinion, whose Indianapolis-based publisher was Gabriel Cohen. From 1948 until 1989, the Missouri Jewish Post & Opinion was essentially a four-page “wraparound” of the national edition.

In 1947, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis began to publish its own house organ, the St. Louis Light, which was replaced by the St. Louis Jewish Light, on April 3, 1963. Last year, the Light celebrated 50 years as St. Louis’ independent Jewish newspaper. 

Readers share connections to subject of past column

A postscript to the March 5 “Cohnipedia” on Matilda Sarah Johnson Levi, the first Jewish woman known to have been born in St. Louis, in 1822:

Two members of the local Jewish community are direct, or close, descendants of Matilda and her husband, Solomon Julius Levi.

Michael A. Iskiwtich (whose wife, Diana, is a member of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees) had heard stories for years that his maternal family was somehow related to Benjamin Disraeli, the Jewish-born prime minister of Great Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria. 

Matilda’s father’s original surname was Israel and he was related to the noted British statesman. Iskiwitch sought the assistance of a genealogical research site, Geni.com, which traced his ancestry, proving definitively that Matilda Sarah Levi is his “second great-grandmother.”

The genealogical line provided to Iskiwitch traced his maternal ancestry back from his mother, Anita Iskiwitch, to her mother, Matilda Sarah Scholer, to her mother, Zanetta Appolina, to her mother, Matilda Sarah Levi.

Shortly after the March column was published, I received a card from Judy Ross Goodman of Clayton, along with an earlier article on Matilda Sarah Levi, which had appeared in the March 31, 1971, edition of the Jewish Light. The article was reprinted from the September 1889 issue of the St. Louis Republic containing a lengthy obituary of Matilda Sarah Levi. 

That article had been forwarded to the Jewish Light by Simon Schnitzler, then 81, a native of Bonne Terre, who in 1971 resided with his wife, Irene Goldstein Schnitzler, in University City. Simon Schnitzler was Goodman’s maternal grandfather. Schnitzler’s grandmother, Louisa Levi, was a direct descendant of Solomon Julius Levi.