Herman Horowitz relented, but only begrudgingly. For a good part of a decade, a chorus of community folk had tried to convince him it was a mitzvah to launch a publication that would both inform and define a fragmented but ever-expanding population of Jews living within the early-20th-century backwater known as the Pacific Northwest.
In a full-page announcement in the maiden issue of The Jewish Transcript on March 6, 1924, Horowitz cleared his throat (and possibly his conscience), admitting not that he was wrong, of course, but maybe just a tad premature to have dismissed this notion.
“At first, I absolutely opposed the idea as I did not believe that sectarian as well as racial differences should be kept alive,” he wrote. Times, however, had changed in a decade. “Then the Jew was being encouraged in his effort to become thoroughly Americanized. Today much is being done to discourage him.” Bigoted organizations had formed, vilifying Jews as outcasts. “It is this condition that confronts Jewry of today that has convinced me that the Jew must organize not for aggression but for self-protection. In order to make this organization effective, he must have a means of inter-communication.”
So with nary a hint of joy, Horowitz gave birth to the Transcript. He ran the show until 1942, when he bowed out in ill health, stricken also by the disruptions of war, the anti-Semitic trappings of which he had foreshadowed in his inaugural column 18 years prior.
Fast-forward to 1986, when Transcript editor Richard Gordon passed the torch in an open letter to his successor. The idea of Jews being forced to live as outcasts once again posed a fundamental struggle for the person entrusted to be the town crier for Jewish Seattle. But unlike Horowitz, who focused on threats from outside the community, Gordon took piercing aim at attitudes within it.
“Our community’s pluralism has become part of our strength, and I think the community’s newspaper should reflect that and reinforce it and defend it whenever necessary,” Gordon wrote. “When I write about the pluralism of our community, I’m not referring only to … Jews affiliated with a Jewish organization or institution. I’m also speaking about those who aren’t affiliated.” Those included the disenfranchised within the Jewish community — from Jewish singles to Jews with disabilities to Jews in poverty to Jews who intermarried. “I believe simply that God doesn’t make being Jewish conditional to affiliating with an organization, so what right do we have to make such conditions?”
From the Horowitz fascination with assimilation to the Gordon fixation on affiliation, every editor between and beyond sought to fortify the community against threats internally and externally, while simultaneously trying to represent it accurately and positively.
Fast-forward to 2015. The Jewish community’s means of “inter-communication” has shifted to a bimonthly magazine. This doesn’t mean the community is polished, shiny, and neatly packaged. The issues of assimilation, affiliation, and anti-Semitism remain with us today. Our Jewish identity — this cacophony of loud, opinionated voices — still is changing, ever hard to describe and nearly impossible to define.