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July 7: Abraham Cahan

July 7, 2014
220px-Portrait_of_Abraham_CahanAbraham Cahan, the editor of the Forverts for more than forty years, was born in Belarus on this date in 1860. Cahan came to the U.S. as a committed socialist at the age of 21 and became so proficient in English that he was soon teaching the language to other immigrants. Yet throughout his life, Cahan was an advocate of Yiddish as a language of socialist organizing, literature, and cultural uplift for immigrant Jews (although purists and activists to his left considered the Forverts to be sloppy and colloquial in its Yiddish, in part because of Cahan’s tolerance for Yinglish). Cahan took the helm at the Forverts in 1903 and built it from a circulation of 6,000 to a daily circulation of close to 200,000, larger than the circulation of the New York Times, which made him a major force in the lives of Yiddish writers. He was moderate in his politics and enthusiastic about America as a land of opportunity to which Jews, he believed, should rapidly assimilate. Cahan was also a fiction writer, author of The Rise of David Levinsky (1917), an excellent novel about immigrant Jewish life. He died in 1951 at age 91. “It is as important to teach the reader to carry a handkerchief in his pocket as it is to teach him to carry a union card. And it’s as important to respect the opinions of others as it is to have opinions of one’s own.” —Abraham Cahan