The American Hebrew Daily ‘Ha-do’ar’ at Its Inception, 1921

הדואר' היומי: רקע, מטרות ומציאות.


Ha-Do'ar ("The Mail"), a Hebrew-language daily, was launched in New York in November 1921 during a period of ferment among Hebrew-speakers in the United States evoked by the establishment of the Jewish national home in Palestine as a result of the Balfour Declaration. While Ha-Do'ar was not the first Hebrew daily in the US (it was preceded by Ha-Yom ["The Day"] in 1909, which lasted for several months, was renewed in 1913 for several months longer, and then expired), and was preceded as well by Hebrew weeklies and other periodicals, it ultimately proved to be the most enduring Hebrew-language periodical published in the US. Five years beforehand, in 1916, an organized Hebrew-language movement, Ha-Histadrut Ha-Ivrit ("The Hebrew Federation"), was founded in the US, with the establishment of a daily viewed by activists in it as a necessary tool to realize their cultural, literary and communal goals, above and beyond ordinary reportage — aims that were unusual for the American press. Supporters of the idea included Hebrew writers in the US such as A. S. Orlans, Zevi Scharfstein and Reuven Brainin, who believed that a daily would unify the far-flung community of Hebrew-speakers. The first editor of the newspaper was Mordecai Lipson, previously assistant editor of the weekly Ha-Ivri ("The Hebrew"). An advance advertisement in Ha-Toren ("The Mast"), another Hebrew weekly, announced that such noted writers as Shalom Asch, Hillel Bavli, Shimon Halkin and Daniel Persky would be contributing to the newspaper. It also stated that the paper would be apolitical, devoted exclusively to the revival of the Hebrew language. An important impetus for the launching of the paper was the expiration in 1921 of Ha-Toren and Ha-Ivri. Coincidentally, the Warsaw Hebrew daily, Ha-Zfira, also closed at this time, so that Ha-Do'ar became the only extant Hebrew daily in the Diaspora. The paper's first-day editorial viewed the establishment of the Hebrew daily as the ultimate solution to vital national cultural questions, and as "the only ammunition in our war against ignorance." It would, according to its founders, reinforce Hebrew educators, help the younger generation discover its Hebrew national heritage, and serve as an impetus for contemporary Hebrew literature. The publisher was listed as the Ha-Do'ar Company, a shareholders' corporation established, inter alia, by activists of the Histadrut Ivrit, including Brainin, Abraham Goldberg, M. H. Twizner, Meir Berlin, Y. Z. Frischberg, Menahem Sheinkin and Abraham Spicehandler. The appearance of the first issue evoked great excitement among Hebraists in America. Greetings from Dr. Chaim Weizmann and from Ze'ev Jabotinsky, leaders of the World Zionist Organization in London, appeared in the fifth issue. The format of the paper resembled that of the contemporary daily Yiddish press in New York, with which Ha-Do'ar attempted to compete. Page one, with seven columns, was devoted to domestic and international news in brief. The editorial style was modern, as was the layout. Headlines, however, were conservatively styled, not in the "yellow" journalistic mode. News reports in the first issue included a lead article on the planned opening of a New York branch of the Anglo-Palestine Bank (later Bank Leumi); Arab attitudes to Zionism; the situation in Palestine; the French role in the riots in Palestine; Hebrew language in the higher education system in Germany; and general local and international items, including financial reports and ships' arrivals. The issues that followed included items of interest to the Hebrew-speaking community, such as news about prominent Hebraists and announcements of Hebrew-language events and institutions. The paper attempted to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, offering columns on the weekly Torah portion, health, linguistics, music, nature, the press, folklore and a voweled children's column. Although a daily, it incorporated the character of a periodical, running weighty philosophic articles relating to Hebrew culture in America, thereby functioning as a substitute for the Hebrew periodicals that had recently closed down. Three months after its establishment, Ha-Do'ar ran into financial difficulties, prompting vigorous efforts to sell shares in the Ha-Do'ar Company and to increase subscriptions. Testimonial pieces as to the importance of supporting the venture were written by noted personalities, including Hayim Nahman Bialik. While distribution initially reached 9,000 (or possibly 12,000) copies, this figure dropped to 3,000, and eventually less, until salaries could no longer be paid. Lipson, the editor, embarked on a field trip to raise funds, while Menachem Ribalow, secretary-general of the Histadrut Ivrit, filled in as editor. Despite a statement of support from the World Zionist Congress in June 1922, the paper ceased publication as a daily that month, eight months after its launching. A week later, it reappeared as a weekly, published by the Histadrut Ivrit. A three-man editorial board was appointed instead of a single editor, consisting of Y. T. Hellman, Lipson and Ribalow. The large-size daily format was retained in the hope of acquiring funding to resume daily publication, while an announcement indicating the temporary nature of the weekly publishing schedule appeared on page one for several months. However, despite ongoing efforts to secure the necessary funding, daily publication was never resumed. Two years later, the weekly Ha-Do'ar once again ran into financial difficulties and reduced its format to standard magazine size, signifying the end of any hope of its resumption as a daily. The considerable drop in subscriptions after the initial rush of enthusiasm for the paper apparently accounted for its loss of viability as a daily. In addition, distribution was limited primarily to the New York area. Advertising was weak, while the financial crisis of the 1920s discouraged contributions. The audience for this type of newspaper was also problematic. Immigration into the US was curtailed at that time, and in any case Hebrew-speakers, an audience which also knew Yiddish, were more used to reading Yiddish newspapers. Hebrew education for native American Jews was still a development of the future. Yet another reason for Ha-Do'ar's failure was the exceedingly ambitious task it had set for itself: the establishment of a cultural and ideological center which it aspired to sustain. With this, the very fact of its appearance as a daily signified an achievement which indeed spurred Hebrew-language activity in the US by enlisting support for its existence. Ultimately, Ha-Do'ar proved enduring in its weekly, and eventually biweekly, format, to the present day.

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Kesher /קשר

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