A Look Back: How the Jewish Exponent Covered Major Events

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A mournful nation was trying to make sense of what had happened that previous Friday in Dallas when the Jewish Exponent arrived at subscribers’ doors Nov. 29, 1963.

“Kennedy Beloved by Community,” ran the headline next to a picture of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on the front page. Beneath that was a poem by Ben Wolf, along with another story, “Leaders Mourn Kennedy’s Death,” telling how the assassination of the 35th president was as much a blow to the Jewish people as it was to all Americans.

On the same page was “LBJ Close to U.S. Jewry,” which spoke of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s long track record in support of the Jewish community.

For 130 years, the Exponent has imparted its own touch on the news.

Being a weekly, our stories on momentous events often wouldn’t appear in print for a few days after the fact. While the immediacy might be lost, there’s a certain value in having time to recover from the impact of such events, gather thoughts and present them from a different perspective.

It’s impossible to tell 130 years of history — particularly how it pertains to Jews — in these few pages. But here’s how we covered some major events over the years.

The State of Israel

Issue of May 21, 1948

A week after Chaim Weizmann’s front-page call to the Jews of Philadelphia to throw their support behind the Allied Jewish Appeal, the state of Israel was celebrating its first week of existence. The momentous occasion, ratified by the United Nations on May 14, was met with joy.

“As an American and as a Jew, I hail the announcement of the Jewish State of Israel,” said noted philanthropist Henry Morgenthau III, former treasury secretary under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “The Jews of America can now have the greatest opportunity in their history to share in the recovery and rebirth of Jews in Europe who are homeless.”

Closer to home, Rabbi Louis Wolsey of Congregation Rodeph Shalom urged fellow Jews to “support the present reality of a state of Israel with all our strength.” At the same time, Mayor Bernard Samuel unfurled the flag of Israel.

But while Jews throughout the world celebrated, a fear of the how the Arab world would react lingered. That was spelled out in an editorial, “The Historic Week.”

“Uppermost among these is the reality that Zionism, regardless of the varied definitions attributed to the word, is no longer a theory or an ideology or a dream. The Jewish state is a reality. Individuals, even groups, may harbor thoughts about this newborn state, but they cannot argue it away. Our only hope is that they will not be put to the test too long; the infuriated Arabs or if need be the nations of the world will read the handwriting on the wall and bring the present encounters to a speedy end.”

President Kennedy Assassination

Issue of Nov. 29, 1963

The Exponent cover from the issue immediately after President Kennedy’s assassination includes numerous articles about the slain leader and examines successor Lyndon B. Johnson from a Jewish perspective.

While Kennedy’s stunning, tragic death rocked the country and the rest of the world, it particularly hit home with the Jewish community.

“John F. Kennedy was an indivisible part of the Jewish community,” read the Exponent. “He identified himself with Jewish life at home and in Israel. And Jews everywhere identified themselves with this young visionary.

“His door at the White House was always open to Jewish organizations, Jewish causes and Jewish individuals. But this in itself was not the principal reason why Jews held him in such high regard and mourn so sincerely his untimely death. John Kennedy’s relationship with the Jewish community

was not one of political expediency. It was a matter of choice and devotion.”

While thousands poured into their synagogues the night of his assassination searching for comfort, religious leaders extolled him. “President Kennedy was a martyr to the highest ideals of our country and our tradition,” said Rabbi Abraham AvRutick, president of the Rabbinical Council.

“The people of the Jewish community in Philadelphia are at one with every American of every race, creed, political outlook and walk of life in our deep sorrow and profound sympathy for you in your bereavement,” added Jewish Federation President Nochem S. Winnet and Executive Director Donald B. Hurwitz.

The Six-Day War

Issue of June 9, 1967

The Exponent’s post-Six-Day War cover features a green headline and a lengthy editorial along with coverage of the war itself in the form of three articles.

Nineteen years had passed since Yom Ha’atzmaut, and tension between Israel and its Arab neighbors had reached a boiling point. In its June 2 edition, the Exponent’s front-page headline, “Arabs Draw Iron Ring about Israel as Middle East Moves Towards War,” sensed open hostilities were inevitable.

Three days later, the battle began in what was soon referred to as the Six-Day War, though it didn’t take more than a couple of days. In that time, Israel had not only fought off its oppressors but seized control of crucial territory. Victory brought the Old City of Jerusalem, which had been in Jordan, back into Israeli possession, along with key areas along the Golan Heights.

“Israelis Sweep Sinai, Rout Hussein; Million from Annenberg spurs IEF” ran the June 9 cover in bold green print. Beneath it ran an editorial, “If I Forget Thee…,” next to a story about newspaper publisher Walter H. Annenberg contributing $1 million on behalf of the Israel Emergency Fund.

Elsewhere on the page, “Jews Win Jerusalem Old City” spoke about the momentousness of this occasion.

“It was 1956 all over again — only more so,” it began. “In 1956 Israel fought only Egypt, while units watched other borders cautiously. This time 13 Arab nations declared war against the Jewish state.

“Standing alone Israel defeated each in turn, occupying Sinai, taking control of all land west of the Jordan and capturing the Old City of Jerusalem holy to the Jews from time immemorial.”

The Moon Landing

Issue of July 25, 1969

It turns out Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” catchphrase had a Jewish connection.

“Now that man has actually landed on the moon … it is interesting to note that several of the larger and more important landmarks on the moon have been named in honor of illustrious Jewish mathematicians and who have made significant contributions to astronomy and to the study of the moon in particular,” read the Exponent in a story titled “The Moon and its Monuments to Noted Jews.”

The story detailed how certain quadrants of the lunar surface had been named in honor of Frenchmen Levi ben Gerson, who invented a device for precise astronomical measurement in the 14th century, and Spanish astronomer Abraham ben Samuel Zacuto, who helped determine the rising tide of the planets and even provided navigational assistance used by Christopher Columbus and Albert Einstein. They’re just a few of the ones so honored.

Besides that, setting foot on the moon meant the Hebrew prayer for a new moon each month would require change.

“As I dance against you and do not touch you, so others if they dance against me to harm me they will not touch me,” had been the previous version.

Munich Olympic Killings

Issue of Sept. 8, 1972

The Exponent’s coverage of the 1972 Olympics in Munch, Germany included the triumph of swimmer Mark Spitz’s record-setting performance that was immediately overshadowed by the murder of 11 Israeli Olympians.

There was a good deal of fear when it was announced the Olympic Games would return to Germany for the first time since Adolf Hitler used them for propaganda in 1936. But no one could’ve possibly foreseen what happened.

On the morning of Sept. 5, the Israeli compound in Munich was overrun by a terrorist group known as Black September. After killing two on site they took nine members of the team hostage, demanding the release of 234 Israeli prisoners.

Ultimately, a long day and night ended tragically, with all the hostages murdered when a rescue mission failed. Not only was the Jewish community horrified by the chain of events, but so was much of the rest of the world.

In an editorial, “The Lesson of Munich,” the Exponent had this to say: “Within the shadows of Dachau where thousands of Jews were slaughtered, 11 Israeli athletes were gunned down Tuesday by a group of fanatics. The tragic events of the 20th Olympiad in Munich at first shocked the world, then angered millions. It is our hope and prayer that this outrage will not pass into history or be welcomed by more apathy.

“Each Arab terrorist raid, which has claimed the lives of innocent people, has been followed by sorrow and condolences but never had there been concrete action. This time the world cannot dismiss the events from Munich so slightly.”

9/11

Issue of Sept. 13, 2001

Terrorism reared its ugly head numerous times following Munich, but for Americans it was always from a distance.

That all changed on Sept. 11, 2001 when two planes — taken over in midair from their unsuspecting pilots — slammed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Coupled with the crash of another plane into the Pentagon and a fourth into the ground in Western Pennsylvania, this was the first true attack on American soil.

And it occurred just before the start of the Jewish new year, prompting the headline “A Year Begun in Mourning,” above two full-page photos of the devastation.

“These attacks have unfortunately turned all of us into what the people of Israel have been experiencing over the course of the last year — and for decades,” said Rabbi Jacob Herber of Har Zion Temple. “Unfortunately, we’re kindred spirits because of what’s happened and we have to respond.

“Those who have perpetrated these savage, terrible acts have to be brought to justice.”

Rabbi Neil Cooper at Temple Beth Hillel preferred to focus on his congregants’ pain.

“It shows the instinct many of us have in times of crisis is the need to be together and the need to pray,” he said in response to a massive turnout for services that evening. “That’s how we express ourselves best.”

Election of President Barack Obama

Issue of Nov. 8, 2008

What once seemed a fantasy became a reality when Barack Obama soundly defeated John McCain to become the first African-American president.

“For some Jewish voters, the strangeness of Barack Obama was like a recurring dream,” read an article published in the Exponent. “Unsettling and then settling in — and then suddenly revelatory.”

“His biography feels so Jewish it feels like an Ellis Island archetype,” said Ari Wallace of Jewsvote.org. “It resonates much more than I thought it was going to.”

While McCain seemed to start out strong in the Jewish community, his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — whom 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of compared to 15 percent who opposed Joe Biden — doomed him.

In the end, Obama won 82 percent of the Jewish vote in Philadelphia and 60 percent in Pennsylvania. A week later, his appointment of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff drew this reaction: “Chief of Staff, Attack Dog, Committed Jew.”

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