Nebraska's First Jewish Newspaper
By Breanna Fanta, Editorial Assistant
“Newspapers are said to be the first draft of history.”
A short-lived twentieth century newspaper now provides insight into the politics and rivalries of Omaha’s early Jewish population. Oliver B. Pollak details the history of the paper and its founder in “William Castleman, Omaha and Chicago Printer, Activist, and Autodidact,” in Nebraska History Magazine’s Summer 2021 issue.
Throughout the 1890’s and early 1900’s, Jews fled their homes to escape persecution and poverty. From Hamburg and Southampton, ships delivered people to the East Coast where some traveled by train to areas such as Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha’s Jewish community grew, providing a hospitable environment for immigrants.
William Castleman and his family were a part of that population. After arriving in Omaha, Castleman spent 1900 – 1906 working various printing jobs.
Born William Silverstein, William changed his last name to Castleman as a teenager. Many Jews at that time changed their names to avoid discrimination. William was also interested in politics, and may have changed his name in hopes of furthering his political ambitions.
Castleman aspired to lead and improve society. He was an active member in the Omaha Hebrew Club, the Hebrew Sick Benefit Society, and was an elected advisor to Woodmen of the World. He was also a part of Omaha’s Socialist Party group.
When Castleman met Nathan Yaffe—another young Jewish printer—his printing career truly began. The pair met through their social and professional circles. They were entrepreneurs and competitors. They formed a partnership in 1909 and began publishing a newspaper: the Jewish Western Journal, Nebraska’s first Jewish newspaper. Several advertisements were posted in other papers regarding the need for an “office girl,” “advertising man on paper,” and others. Another ad ran in the Omaha Bee in July of 1909 targeting political candidates about their “printing needs” by identifying a Jewish constituency: “We are prepared to translate the same into Hebrew language.”
The partnership between Castleman and Yaffe came to an end in 1915. No surviving copies of the Jewish Western Journal are known to exist. A second Jewish paper appeared in March 1916 under the editorship of Max Konecky. (Castleman was identified as the paper’s founder in a 1919 issue.) The Jewish Bulletin was a weekly paper that ran from March 1916 to April 1921. It was often critical of local Jewish leaders. The Omaha Jewish Press, which survives to this day, was “launched to run the abrasive Jewish Bulletin out of business,” Pollak writes.
Castleman had already left Omaha by then, moving to Chicago in 1918, where he became the editor and owner of The Unionist. He was a labor movement leader and advocate for senior citizens for the rest of his long life.
("Castleman and Yaffe were entrepreneurs, competitors, and--for a time--business partners.")
The entire article can be found in the Summer 2021 edition of the Nebraska History Magazine. Members receive four issues per year.
Omaha, Jewish, Hebrew