Around the Jewish World Dwindling Readership Puts Dutch Jewish Weekly in Danger
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Around the Jewish World Dwindling Readership Puts Dutch Jewish Weekly in Danger

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When the Dutch Jewish Weekly was founded in 1865, it was one of many Jewish publications in the Netherlands.

Now known as the Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad, or New Israelite Weekly, it’s the oldest — in fact, the only — Jewish weekly left in the country.

Unless the newspaper secures substantial funding soon, however, it may be in danger of folding.

Recently the paper admitted its precarious financial situation and its board and editor in chief began a rescue effort. Initially it will target the Jewish community in Holland and abroad, but the paper also is considering asking non- Jewish groups for assistance.

The paper also wants to discourage readers from passing on their copies of the paper to others, hoping this will lead more people to take out subscriptions.

For some Dutch Jews, particularly those in the provinces, NIW is a crucial link to Jewish life.

“Oy, bad news — the NIW in danger,” one reader wrote. “This is my only link with the community.”

NIW was founded by a group of Dutch Jews who didn’t feel the existing papers were pro-Jewish enough. It was fiercely anti-Zionist until the end of the 1930s, when the shadow of Nazism was looming and fugitives started to arrive in the Netherlands from neighboring Germany. The paper has not had an anti-Zionist editor since.

Dutch Jewry was devastated in World War II, reduced from a population of 140,000 to about 20,000. Two weeks after the liberation of the Netherlands on May 15, 1945, survivors scraped together what money they could to get NIW rolling off the presses again. It was the only Jewish paper to reappear after the war.

Like most other weeklies in the Netherlands, NIW is financed by subscriptions and advertising. Because it is independent, it does not receive funding from any of Holland’s Jewish groups or movements, and tries to cater to readers across all religious and political spectrum.

It covers subjects ranging from Jewish rappers to Dutch Jewish history to the legitimacy of paternal descent — plus, of course, “hatches, matches and dispatches,” or births, marriages and deaths in the community.

In the past few years, anti-Semitism in the Netherlands and neighboring countries, and a growing intolerance in the Netherlands for Israeli policy and, some would say, for Israel in general, have become prominent topics in the paper.

Subscription fees have been kept low to enable less affluent community members to stay in touch with Jewish issues. However, with the Dutch Jewish population hovering around 30,000, subscription income is far too low to keep the paper running, and advertising does not make up the difference.

Readership had been steadily declining in the past decade as older readers died and younger Jews didn’t join. In the first half of 2003, after a successful restyling, hundreds of new readers took out subscriptions, the first rise in years – – but it wasn’t enough.

Some argue that without support from Jewish organizations, the paper’s chances of survival are minimal.

“The NIW reaches 20 percent of all Dutch Jews, not counting those who read it for free,” said Uri Coronel, chairman of the foundation that publishes the paper. “If the paper folds, Jewish organizations will have a hard time reaching so many.”

It’s too early to say whether the rescue operation will be successful. Representatives of Jewish organizations have sent messages of support, but the organizations — many of which are in dire financial straits themselves — have yet to make contributions.

It seems that some readers have stopped passing on their copies of the paper, and subscriptions are up by several hundred since the start of the rescue operation. One reader in the far north of the country enlisted 14 new subscribers in as many days.

Meanwhile, supportive and emotional reactions are pouring in.

“The NIW is more than just a paper,” one reader wrote. “It’s a monument that keeps alive the memory of the Jews who once lived in the Netherlands.

“The mere fact that many of” those who “perished subscribed makes it unacceptable that the NIW should disappear,” the reader continued. “This paper has been an important source of information for many generations, and the generation which is now growing up simply can’t lead a Jewish life without the only and oldest Jewish weekly.”

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