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Honest Abe

- Abstract

The lost world of Abraham Cahan was alive with clamorous politics, intellectual combat, and misery leavened by immigrant optimism. For 50 years, Cahan was the pulsing heart of the Forward, the greatest Jewish newspaper the world has ever seen. He ruled his Yiddish empire with a mix of brains, courage, and guile. When he died at 90 in 1951, ten thousand people swarmed the street in front of the paper’s 10-story beaux-arts bastion on the Lower East Side with its bas reliefs of Marx and Engels over the door.

Cahan, who fled Czarist Russia when he was 22, was one of the most influential Jews in America in the first half of the 20th century. His resistance to Zionism, early recognition of the menace of Hitler, and indomitable fight against Communism here and abroad shaped opinions far beyond those of his Jewish readers. His 1917 novel of immigrant aspiration and anguish, The Rise of David Levinsky, was hailed by the doyen of the WASP literary establishment, William Dean Howells, and celebrated by the crabby H.L. Mencken, who thought of Jews as “rude, unpopular, and often unintelligent.”

About the Author

Edward Kosner is the former editor of Newsweek, New York, Esquire, and the New York Daily News and the author of a memoir, It’s News to Me (2006).