How We Covered Israel’s Founding


As would be expected from one of the country’s oldest and most established Jewish newspapers, the Jewish Exponent offered plentiful coverage of the geopolitical developments that led up to the establishment of the Jewish state.

The “Jewish Crisis” and Frank Sinatra made a 1948 front page.

In 1947, the paper regularly featured the topic on its front page, in its editorials and cartoons and in its op-ed section. In 1948, it did this as well as link the coverage to the local Allied Jewish Appeal, a fundraising effort whose dividends helped with the effort to support the nascent state.

In the latter half of 1947, the Exponent had several front-page, large-type headlines, reflecting the dramatic evolution of the decision-making at the United Nations. “Free Palestine October 1,” read the headline on Nov. 21, 1947, reporting that a four-country working group had arrived at an agreement to enforce the U.N. project of Palestine partition. On the same front page, a smaller headline demonstrated the need behind the U.N. effort: “10,000 Jewish Children Are Born in DP Camps.”

That same week advertised the coming appearance of Chaim Weizmann, “distinguished scientist and foremost Jew,” as guest of honor at the Allied Jewish Appeal luncheon in Philadelphia.

In the weeks and months to come, Weizmann (Israel’s first president) would feature prominently in the Exponent’s coverage in mentions, citations, photographs and, on May 14, 1948, a full-page illustration on the cover. In one photo in late 1947, he was featured “rejoicing over Palestine Partition” with Philadelphia’s Samuel H. Daroff, who also figured prominently in coverage.

On Dec. 5, 1947, in the wake of the historic U.N. decision, the Exponent published one of a handful of editorials that would run on the subject. This one, called “The Dream and the Challenge,” emphasized the need to get beyond “the sentimental and poetic aspect” of the U.N. approval and move forward carefully.

“The tumult and the shouting, the jubilation and rejoicing will soon be followed by the sober voice of responsibility,” read the editorial, written under the aegis of Exponent Editor David J. Galter.

In that same issue, the Exponent published a map titled “Where Arabs Are Reacting to U.N. Decision on Palestine.” This is a topic that would recur in wire stories in the following months. A couple weeks later, Mrs. Ida B. Davidowitz, the sister of a Philadelphia resident and Exponent reader, sent an account from Tel Aviv called “How Jews in Palestine Greeted Partition Plan.”

In the last issue of the year, the Exponent ran an editorial establishing the foundation of the publication agenda that would follow in the issues leading up to partition: enjoining the Philadelphia Jewish community to participate in building the new state.

“The burden of implementation,” the editorial read, “falls entirely upon our own shoulders. … Certainly the Jews of this country, aided by Jews in other parts of the world in a position to do so, will bend every effort to meet the challenge … unprecedented in all Jewish history.”

It was, perhaps, the unprecedented nature of the task that enabled the Exponent to bend some journalistic rules starting in February 1948, when the high-profile front-page headlines turned from geopolitical considerations to undisguised promotion for the Annual Jewish Appeal, which was also bolstered by full-page ads in each issue.

The divide between editorial and advertising was certainly blurred a bit, but the case for such boundary-crossing was made again and again in both the news stories and the ads themselves. One of the promotional pages was rather unequivocal; in larger, bolder letters than the paper had ever used, the publication said, “SHALL THEY LIVE-OR SHALL THEY DIE?” and left it up to readers to contribute to the appeal for “desperate human beings” getting ready to rebuild.

The first issue after the partition broke format and featured a full-page illustration of Weizmann, with the headline “Dr. Chaim Weizmann’s Call to the Jews of Philadelphia,” along with a quote saying, “I hope that Jewry of Philadelphia, under the impact of this great event, will do its utmost to assure the success of the Allied Jewish Appeals and given the possibility to countless Jews to find a home with dignity and security in the near future.”

The following two weeks, another major figure was featured on the Exponent’s front page: Golda Myerson, who would later become known as Golda Meir.

Myerson, who was then administrator of the Jewish section of Jerusalem and a member of the provisional council of the state of Israel, came to the United States to detail some of the challenges. The Exponent reported on her appearance at Philadelphia’s Warwick Hotel in May 1948, noting her emphasis on the homeless Jewish problem. 

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Liz Spikol is the Jewish Exponent's editor in chief; she has worked for the publication for four years. Prior to that she was at Philadelphia magazine, Curbed Philly and the before-its-time Tek Lado, a magazine for bilingual Latinx geeks. She is active in the American Jewish Press Association and contributes to the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, Baltimore Jewish Times, Washington Jewish Week and Phoenix Jewish News. A Philly native, Spikol got a bachelor's degree at Oberlin College and a master's at the University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Mt. Airy.


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