Honoring the Standard

Honoring the Standard

As our publisher and community editor are honored by the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey, we look back at nearly a century of service

They’re all in our office, shelf after shelf of them, mostly tall bound volumes, standing mainly in chronological order. But some of them are short, and others are too tall to stand upright and so they lie on their sides. They’re in a range of mostly sedate colors; dark blue and dark green, with a few in slightly more daring red.

The oldest ones are in sad shape; they’re on newsprint, and when they were printed nobody thought about how they’d hold up, nearly a century on. In general, they haven’t. To open one of them is to be showered with brown, oddly sharp shards of dried paper.

They’re the back issues of the Jewish Standard, first published in Jersey City in 1931, and issued, as far as we can tell, every week since then.

Morris Janoff began working at the Jewish Standard when he was young and the Standard was younger; he was in his early 20s, in the University of Newark’s law school, known as Morris Joseph Janofsky. The paper was just a few years old then. (The exact dates are not clear; this was some time in the early 1930s.) Just a few years later, he bought the paper; the Janoffs have owned and worked at and nourished and loved the Standard ever since.

Meyer Pesin, the paper’s first executive editor, and Morris Janoff.

Morris and Ruth Perlman Janoff’s two children, James Janoff and Beth Janoff Chananie, still own the Standard and they both still work here. (For those readers who are doing the math in their heads, don’t worry. Morris had children fairly late; they were born in the mid 1950s.) Jamie is the paper’s publisher and Beth is the community editor.

The Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey is honoring Beth and Jamie next Sunday, for the work they do for the community, and for the role the paper has played in defining the community by telling its stories. (See box.) So we thought this would be a good time to look back at the paper, to see how it has changed, and how it has reflected the changes in the world around it.

The Jewish Standard’s first issue, dated Friday, December 18, 1931, is 12 pages. Almost none of the news it carried was local; the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which provides most of our national and international news in the middle and back of the paper today, was prominent on the front page then.

Beth Janoff Chananie carefully reads the Jewish Standard’s first issue, dated December 18, 1931. She’s in the newspaper’s conference room, sitting in front of shelves of bound volumes.

The editorial, signed by Arthur Knas-ter, was about the Jewish Standard, and why it would matter to the community. “The Jewish Standard makes a timely appearance upon the scene,” he wrote. “The present depression” — he used a lower-case d, but he was talking about the Great Depression, which had begun two years earlier — “disrupted our group activities. In our anxiety over personal cares, there is a tendency to neglect our social obligations and to get out of touch with public news concerning our people.”

Mr. Knaster continued, in language far more formal and curlicued than any we’d use today, to detail the mission that we still see as ours today. “The service which our paper hopes to render must naturally depend, to a large degree, upon the cooperation and assistance of the public, particularly at the present time, with the aid of a cooperating public, The Jewish Standard will strive with all of its might to furnish the highest type of news possible; it will endeavor to keep its public informed on current Jewish problems; it will help to its utmost to carry on and perpetuate the traditions of our people; it will provide a common meeting ground for the expressing of opinion and the discussion of public topics; it will carry a complete report on Jewish affairs, local, state, and international.”

Jamie and Morris Janoff work with Max Milians, the newspaper’s award-winning political cartoonist, adviser, and longtime friend.

That first issue has an ad for a cigarette brand called Murads (“If you like to inhale your cigarettes — then smoke Murad”) and for “Hotel Plaza’s Gala New Year’s Eve Party,” which cost $6 per person.

There are social notes — “Miss Sylvia Brody of Akron, Ohio, is a guest of her cousin, Miss Ann Mandel, 55 Kearny avenue [sic — there are quite a few typos in these early years]. Miss Mandel entertained for her cousin recently. Among the guests were Misses Sylvia Brody, Sylvia Mandel, Ann Mandel and Nina Pallin, Messrs. Sidney Lichtenstein, Max Wasserman, Charles Gold, Michael Lichtenstein, and Mr. and Mrs. H. Brody.”

And there is one chilling headline: “Nazis Not at the Zenith of their Power Declares Head of Jewish Central Verein.” It will get much worse, the story accurately predicts.

As time goes by, the Jewish Standard includes more local stories, and it also includes more and more about what’s going on in Europe. Here’s a random headline, from February 28, 1941: “Nazis Order Mass Deportation Of Austrian Jews to Ghetto in Poland.” It’s in huge type. It’s terrible to read. On that same front page, another headline: “Local Women Undertake Rescue of 50 Beth Jacob Teachers in Europe.” Women rescuing women. It would be good to have known what happened; maybe it’s hidden in a later issue and we just haven’t found it yet.

And then, also on that front page, a story worth repeating in its entirety:


“From bomb-torn London comes this revealing little story:

“After an all-night air raid, a crew of British bomb-demolition workers unearthed a huge time bomb which had fallen in the street beside an important government building. Carefully they hoisted it on a truck, rushed it to a large open field and there sought to explode it. But in spite of all effort, the bomb did not go off. Gingerly the workers approached the bomb. This is what they found: the bomb was a dud; it had been made in a munition plant in one of the Nazi-conquered countries; and inside was a note which said, ‘This much, at least, we can do to help you.’”

Advertisements in that issue included ones for a vacuum cleaner (“Better Ways To Do Old Jobs”), oranges for 50 cents a basket, and Heinz vegetarian soup (“The whole town is talking about Heinz Vegetarian Soup. ‘A mechaya,’ says grandma. ‘Wow,’ says her grandson.”)

The issue of December 12, 1941 — the first one after Pearl Harbor, but probably too soon for news of the attack to get to it — was filled with news of the war; the next issue, December 19, told readers that three American Jewish soldiers had died at Pearl Harbor. (They were “Priv. Jack H. Feldman, 19 years old, and Corp. Theo. J. Lewiss, both of Philadelphia, and Priv. Louis Schleifer of Newark, N.J.”)

Locally, the Yeshivah of Jersey City was very visible in the paper; there seems to be barely an issue that did not include news or advertising from the school.

The hard part about writing a fairly short story about the Jewish Standard’s long history is that it is impossible to open a copy without being caught by something. We see both attitudes and assumptions specific to their time and place, and issues that reverberate across time.

Morris and Ruth Janoff, with Beth and Jamie, are at Grossinger’s in 1964.

How’s this, in an unsigned editorial from May 4, 1945: “Groups and individuals have a right to cultural distinctions of racial, religious and national origin. The spirit of American democracy not only permits but encourages cultural diversities and pluralisms. The death of a nation spiritually and culturally is bound” —sic, but I think it should be “found” — “where other than the predominant culture, religion, language, art, music, and comprehensive civilization is barred or discouraged. This, however, must not be confused with divisions or distinctions in political life along racial, religious, or national grounds. For the very essence of democracy is the right to aspire to and hold political office without any qualification whatever other than citizenship, residence and age.

“Let us make our point clear and precise. Jews do not vote as Jews. They vote as American citizens…”

The anonymous editorialist — most likely Meyer Pesin — goes on to mourn the way that ethnic groups are set against each other by politicians looking to find votes through divisiveness.

World War II ended on September 2, 1945. The next issue was September 7, the pre-Rosh Hashanah issue that year. “A Happy New Year,” the banner headline reads.

“The darkness of war has lifted,” the editorial, on the front page in this issue, reads. It balances joy with clear-eyed realism. What about the war’s victims?

“Truly, humanity stands at the crossroads of promise and menace,” it reads. “Which path it will take shall depend on the strength of the common man and the honesty of statesmanship…. To right the wrong of immedicable woes and abysmal injustices is the world’s primary task.

“And who shall ignobly question that the most brutalized of all victims has been the innocent and defenseless Jew? How shall there be the least semblance of justice in any negotiation or treaty of peace until the full recompense has been made to him, and until the perfidious White Paper has been tramped in the dust by an outraged statesmanship clamoring for the fulfillment of the legal and historical rights of the reconstruction of Palestine as a free and democratic Jewish commonwealth?”

This editorial was signed by the Jewish Standard’s editor, Meyer Pesin, and its publisher and managing editor, Morris Janoff, and that brings us back to the other strand of the story. We could fill dozens of issues of the Jewish Standard with the treasures we could reap from the back issues, but now we will move on to the Janoffs.

Both of their parents were Jersey down to the bone, Beth and Jamie say. All four of their grandparents came from eastern Europe; their father was born and grew up in Newark, and graduated from Weequahic High School, and their mother, who was about 12 years younger, was a native of Jersey City and graduated from Snyder High School there.

Morris went to college, and then to law school at night, at Rutgers. His day job — which he needed in order to afford law school — was at the Jewish Standard, then a young and struggling enterprise. He worked with Meyer Pesin, another lawyer-turned-newspaperman, who edited the stories, wrote the editorials, and provided the editorial vision that combined with Morris’s understanding of business and the local community to drive the Standard forward.

(Here’s some interesting if perhaps tangential Jewish geography — Meyer Pesin’s wife, Regina, had a sister. She was Jennie Grossinger. Catskills royalty. Everything connects.)

For a quarter of a century, Morris’s life revolved around the Standard and the community it served. And then, in 1954, he met Ruth.

Ruth Perlman did not go to college; instead, she went to secretarial school. “Her parents were very poor,” Beth said. “She had a brother, and they could only afford to send one kid to college. That was her brother.”

That brother, Irving Perlman, became an engineer named Robert Perry. “He had to change his name, because as a Jew, he couldn’t get a job as an engineer,” Jamie said.

Ruth got a job as a secretary at Manischewitz, the huge kosher food company that had its headquarters in Jersey City. “Our dad had a business call with Beryl Manischewitz,” Beth said. “They met.” That was it. They got married a few months later; Jamie was born a year later, and Beth the year after that.

The Standard stayed in Jersey City until most of the Jews it served moved out to the suburbs. It opened a satellite office, first in Englewood and then in Teaneck. In 1970, the family moved to Teaneck, and soon the newspaper, like its readers, left Jersey City. (Jews since have moved back to Jersey City, though the community’s not nearly as big now as it was in its heyday, and the Jewish Standard continues to cover it.)

Morris continued to work as hard as ever, and soon Ruth, too, joined the Standard’s staff.

“Our father was always working,” Beth said. “He would bring home shopping bags of papers. There were always papers on our dining room table. On the kitchen table. Piles and piles of papers.”

Morris Janoff brought his work home; his desk and the dining room table always were cluttered with stacks of papers.

Sometimes, that focus imposed hard choices. “He was sitting in the stands at my high school graduation” — Beth went to Teaneck High School — “and he had to leave because the delivery person who had picked up the boards” — the materials that the printers needed — “had been in an accident,” she said. The boards were destroyed. “My father had to go back to the office and recreate the whole issue.” And he did.

Beth remembers that when the paper still had offices at Jersey City, “he would park a couple of blocks away, and he’d carry the bags, but sometimes they’d be so heavy that he couldn’t carry them, so he’d leave them in the lobby and drive around to pick them up,” she said. “Imagine doing that now,” Jamie said; part of the changed times is the need for security now, and the lack of it then. “One day he’d put some fruit and vegetables on top, and when he came for them, the bags were gone. Someone had stolen them.

“We always used to think about how surprised the thief would have been when he saw what he’d really gotten.”

The Jewish Standard was part of the thread that sewed together the Jewish community in Bergen County then. “It was before the internet,” Jamie said. “It was before cell phones. It was hyperlocal. There was a birthday column. People could find literally anything that was happening in the community. And everybody read it.

“There was no other way of getting information about the community.”

The Janoffs, far left, in the White House with President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Morris Janoff was president of the American Jewish Press Association then; its annual convention was held in Washington that year.

That meant that the Janoffs were constantly out in the community. They supported just about every local cause, their children said, and politicians and celebrities sought them out. Beth and Jamie remember their father going on trips to Ireland, Morocco, and Israel; those country’s governments invited him to talk about how to run community newspapers. (And those are just the countries that Beth and Jamie remember; they’re sure there were more of them.)

The local Jewish community was much smaller then; it was just developing the institutions that now seem as if they’ve been around at least since just after Noah’s flood, give or take a millennium or two.

“Our parents would go to countless charity dinners, and they both were always dressed to the nines,” Beth said. “My dad would match whatever my mom was wearing. They would color coordinate. And he would wear these crazy dinner jackets.

“There was not an organization that they did not support. That was what it meant to be part of the community.”

For many years, the Standard, like other newspapers, was composed on a linotype machine. In the late 1980s, as technology advanced, we started using Macs.

Jerry Szubin, our brilliant art director, started working at the Standard in 1988. “It was the early years of Macintosh computers,” he said. “We were using Mac Pluses, and for some reason — I don’t remember why — I brought my own Mac SE to the office.

“We would set the type in columns, and then print it to an early version of a laser printer.

“We had a man working for us who would cut up all of the text and paste it onto boards, using a hot wax machine.” The wax was the paste that held the type onto the board; when it was freshly applied it was easy to squish and squirm lines around. That made it easy to work with, but it invited fresh disaster every week. Lines could be knocked askew. Words could fall off. Columns could be misplaced. Anything could happen.

Once, a line from another ad was waxed onto one from a bank; it was perfectly aligned, Jamie said and Jerry confirmed, so no one caught it. “It was in a list of bank rates; and it said that they also did catering,” Jamie said. Whoops!

“Every week, when the paper was done, we’d have a courier come to pick up the box and drive it to the printer,” Jerry said.

The boards would go to the printer on Wednesday nights. Late on Wednesday nights; the staff routinely would stay until 8 or 9 at night, and when the paper was particularly big or challenging they wouldn’t leave until well past midnight.

Later, as technology improved, we started using page make-up programs and printed out hard copy for the printer; now, we just send electronic files. It’s much easier — but of course the Jewish Standard still is a physical product (as well as a virtual one), so at some point it goes from pixels to paper.

Jamie Janoff and Beth Janoff Chananie stand in the lobby of the newspaper’s new offices in River Edge.

We have had adventures over the course of these 88 years, including the time that all the office equipment was stolen — Jerry suspects the thief was the freelancer who, like the computers, was there until she wasn’t. She and they vanished on the same day. But the paper always came out, every week, without fail. The most recent memorable adventure was during Superstorm Sandy. We had to haul all our equipment from the office to Jamie’s house. Phone lines were down, electricity was spotty, stories were hard to gather because everyone was too busy living them to tell them to us. But the paper got out, week after week.

In 1982, Ruth Perlman Janoff died. It was sudden and shocking. Morris Janoff was so hard-hit by her death that he found it impossible to continue at the Standard; he died five years later. So it was up to Jamie, Beth, and the staff to keep the paper going.

They did.

The Jewish Standard has chronicled all the big and small stories that have made up Jewish life in the northern New Jersey suburbs, the tristate area, the country, Israel, and the world in our nearly nine decades. We also have modeled the changes in grammar, vocabulary, and visual presentation that mirror the changes in our culture. To dip into our back issues is to be reminded of so much tragedy, in both sweeping impersonal terms — the intifadas—and in personal, acutely painful ones — the murders of Aliza Flatow and Sara Duker, both local girls with great talents and great futures, surrounded by love and hope throughout their short lives, murdered by terrorists in Israel. We see national politics as they played out in the Jewish community. We see unwitting tragicomedy as the story of Governor Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge played out right in front of us (and the epic traffic jams he caused didn’t even give us the chance to drive away).

We’ve expanded.

We’ve grown technologically. We were the Times of Israel’s first media partner; we’ve been able to take advantage of that very smart, online-only, English-language Israeli daily (and really, what’s a daily anymore anyway? It’s more like an hourly. A minute-ly). We benefit from its reach, from its Israel coverage, and from its blogging and web platforms.

We also have expanded locally. We had a somewhat on-and-off relationship with Rockland County for years; we published the local Jewish weekly there without having editorial control over it. Now, though, we see Rockland as part of our community. It is a fascinating place; it has so much in common with the very northern Jersey towns it abuts, and it also faces very different political challenges. It has been a real joy for us at the paper to meet the people who make Rockland Jewish, and an honor to be able to begin to tell their stories. We look forward to seeing that relationship blossom, and to having more and more stories to send out into the world.

We have watched the enormous growth of the Jewish community here, and its astounding vitality; we’ve watched as shuls and schools and restaurants keep opening. We’ve also watched as the divide between different parts of the Jewish world have grown so deep that they have become worrying, and potentially disastrous.

We see the stresses that work to pull apart the American polity also working to damage our subsection of it, and we vow to fight against that. We vow to represent all parts of the Jewish world in northern New Jersey and Rockland counties, as honestly and straightforwardly as we can. We understand the political passions that set us at each other’s throats, but we know that the ties that bind us — the connections that make us all part of the same people, even when we don’t want to be — are stronger even than those divisions.

We know the importance of community, and that is what brings this all home.

Jamie Janoff and Beth Janoff Chananie learned from their parents’ example. They both support many local organizations, both financially and with their time, energy, and love.

Representing Team Jewish Standard at JFCS’ Ride to Fight Hunger in 2017, from left: Beth; Jamie; Beth’s husband, Robert Chananie; and Jerry Szubin, the newspaper’s award-winning art director.

The Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey does an essential and largely (and in some ways necessarily) unsung job. As the culture around us has grown more and more chaotic, as the forces around us — including social media, which amplify the vulgarity and cruelty that combine to unhinge us — make more and more of us succumb to increased levels of anxiety that often cloud our thinking on the one hand, and to the increased financial insecurity that many of us, even in this community, experience, the JFCS’s work becomes even more desperately necessary.

It’s hard work, helping people deal with their emotional and mental-health issues and also ensuring that they have food (never forget that one of the JFCS’s services is its food pantry, and the kosher meals-on-wheels it delivers to the elderly homebound, some of them Holocaust survivors).

Beth and Jamie haven’t forgotten that. Jamie is a former JFCS board member, and Beth has brought meals on wheels to local homes for many years, developing very real relationships with the women to whom she delivers not only food but also attention and love.

That’s been the theme that the Jewish Standard has adhered to for nearly nine decades now. Attention and love. Honesty, clarity, decency, attention, and love.

All of us here — the staff now, the editors — Rebecca Boroson, Lois Goldrich, and Rabbi Shammai Englemayer — whose chair I am honored to perch on, and the people who have retired from the paper — associate publisher Marcia Garfinkle chief among them — have had a hand in making the Jewish Standard what it is today.

We are all immensely proud of Jamie and Beth, we honor their commitment to the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey, and we look forward to continuing to tell the community’s stories.

Who: The Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey

What: Is throwing its 2019 annual gala

When: On Sunday, November 17, at 5:30 p.m.

Where: At the Edgewood Country Club in River Vale

Why: To honor Beth Janoff Chananie and James Janoff; Diane Seiden, and Hazzan Ilan Mamber z’l.

For more information, tickets, and ad sponsorship: Call (201) 837-9090 or go to gala2019.jfcsnnj.org.

Please note: The gala includes a strolling dinner and dessert; it is kosher.

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