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about the publisher


Since June 1999, the Jewish Independent – formerly the Jewish Western Bulletin – has been owned and operated by Western Sky Communications Ltd.

Cynthia Ramsay, who is the newspaper's owner and publisher, was working as assistant publisher to the former owners, Sam and Mona Kaplan, prior to buying the paper. She has a BA from Carleton University and an MA from Simon Fraser University -- both in economics. In addition to her work at the Independent, she works part-time as a consultant in health-care economics. As a health economist, she has written hundreds of articles and has co-edited a book on health policy in Canada. Western Sky Communications published Ramsay's Beyond the Public-Private Debate: An Examination of Quality, Access and Cost in the Health-Care Systems of Eight Countries in 2001.

Western Sky Communications also provides a diverse range of writing, editing, public relations and distribution services. The company mailing address is PO Box 47100 RPO City Square, Vancouver, B.C., V5Z 4L6. Telephone (604) 689-1520. E-mail [email protected] or [email protected].



The predecessor to the Jewish Independent, the Jewish Western Bulletin, was established Oct. 9, 1930, superseding another Vancouver Jewish community newspaper called Jewish Centre News, which had been published since 1925.

Originally labelled "The Organ of the Jewish Community Centre," the Jewish Western Bulletin was operated by the Jewish Community Council, which acted similarly to today's Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.

Through its first 18 years, the JWB had many different leaders as the council changed its publisher frequently. In 1949, the council finally hired a journalist who would remain the publisher and editor of the paper for the next 11 years.

Abraham J. Arnold had been working for a weekly news service in Toronto before moving to Vancouver and offering his services to Lou Zimmerman, executive director of the Jewish Community Council. Zimmerman sent Arnold to see the paper's publisher, Goodman Florence.

"I worked for Goodman Florence for a week at $40," Arnold said. "He said I wasn't that good but he would keep me on for $30 a week so I said no."

Florence resigned from his job a few weeks later, opening the door for Arnold, whose first issue was published Feb. 9, 1949.

"It was a very interesting time," he said of his first days on the job. "My wife and I had to work together for one salary that wasn't very high. We couldn't make much profit in those days. Our maximum circulation was only between 2,000 and 2,500 because there were only 6,000 Jews living in Vancouver so it wasn't really a profit-making enterprise."

The Jewish Community Council had promised Arnold a subsidy of $1,000 per year, but they didn't start paying it until after Arnold struggled through the first year.

Arnold said he took pride in the stories he published in his papers, particularly his efforts with a column he established titled "Lazar - Between Ourselves," which served as a community gossip column.

"That must have been the longest running column in any newspaper in Canada until it was discontinued," he said of the feature that stopped running in 1995. "It was so popular, it was the only thing that was retained after I left."

Arnold, who was also very involved with Canadian Jewish Congress while he was in Vancouver, left the JWB in 1960 when he accepted a job as the public relations director of the Jewish Federation in Montreal. He has since moved to Winnipeg, continued freelance writing for several Jewish publications across Canada and has authored two books on Jewish history.



In 1960, when Arnold announced his plans to depart Vancouver, the Jewish Community Council was again left searching for an experienced leader to run the JWB.

With the paper in such financial turmoil that the community agencies were asked to ante up in order to pay off its debt, the council called upon a young Winnipeg journalist who had been writing for that city's Israelite Press.

Sam Kaplan and his wife, Mona, had been dreaming of owning their own publication and the council's conditions of operation for the Kaplans gave them the closest thing to it. Kaplan was told that if he made any money, he could keep it, but if he lost anything, he would have to be prepared to take the financial responsibility. The couple used the less-than-$2,000 annual subsidy the council provided, along with several thousand more dollars they had collected from selling their house, and lost it all within the first two-and-a-half years of operation.

"We lost our shirts the first couple of years," Mona Kaplan remembered. "There were many business aspects that needed to be changed."

In 1962, the Kaplans finally began seeing black ink in their financial summaries, an accomplishment they credited to the idea of putting the right effort in at the right time.

"We came to the conclusion that the paper was going to lose money on the publication of the [regular] weekly paper and if [the paper] could just break even, that was what we aimed for," Mona Kaplan explained. "Our holiday issues and special editions were what enabled us to pay the bills."

Once that recipe for success began cooking, the Kaplans took another step closer to independence by turning away the council's subsidy, a move some council members discouraged at the time.

"They wanted to have control over the paper, but we wouldn't consider it because it was morally not right," Mona Kaplan said of the council's desire to contribute financially. "There were groups in the community that needed money badly and if we could make the paper stand on its own two feet then why should the community have to support it?"

Throughout the next 35 years, the Kaplans focused a lot of the JWB's attention on what Sam Kaplan called "the survival of the Jews." They felt that if there was a Jew in trouble anywhere in the world, it was their responsibility to let the community know so that they could help.

"Jews have to have a means of communication and being alerted to what's going on in the world around them," said Mona Kaplan.

"We would get up in the middle of the night to produce a last-minute story that would be sent to us by [an overseas correspondent]," Sam Kaplan added.

The Kaplans also took a very strong approach to things in the Jewish community that they believed in and never backed down from a challenge. Their proudest example came around the time of Israel's 25 anniversary in 1973.

Playing a dual role as the JWB publisher and the first chairman of the Zionist Federation in Vancouver, Sam Kaplan, along with various other leaders in the community, wanted to celebrate the event with a large public show, while some other people thought they should just hold it inside an auditorium somewhere. Under the leadership of Alec Jackson, a huge parade down Cambie Street was planned. However, one of the community organizations spoke out against the parade on behalf of a Holocaust survivor.

"Her feeling was that Jews should not parade down the streets because crowds will gather and terrible things will happen," said Mona Kaplan. "It was like the Jews used to think before the Holocaust; hide yourself and be quiet and they'll let you be as long as you aren't too public in your beliefs or who you are."

The event, which was covered weekly in the pages of the Bulletin prior to the date, finished with an assembly of more than 2,000 people at Queen Elizabeth Park and was completed with no problems.

"I will always remember the elderly people from the [Louis Brier Home] saying that they were spared to live to the day they could see a parade for Israel in Vancouver," Mona Kaplan said.

In 1969, the Kaplans faced their toughest legal controversy when they allowed a group of high school and university students editorial control in a weekly column called "The New Breed."

The students, feeling offended by the way young people were being attacked for their use of marijuana, wrote a column which questioned members of the Jewish community who owned pharmacies. The young writers ignorantly assumed the stores were some of the world's largest illegal drug pushers.

"For 35 years, we were never sued but that was a close call," Mona Kaplan laughed.



While the Kaplans had many different staff working for them over the years, there were a couple of people whose contributions greatly impacted the history of the JWB.

From 1970 through 1985, Bob Markin held several different titles, including editorial assistant, city desk editor and assistant editor. He told the JWB that he appreciated the opportunity to work on what he called "the world's ongoing No. 1 story: the Middle East situation and the Jewish people, their survival, culture, religion and history."

The Vancouver Jewish community was growing rapidly during those years and its diverse members looked to the newspaper as a key source of information for major local, national and international Jewish issues and stories, said Markin.

"These were pre-computer days. There was no Internet or e-mail access to provide instant information. The then-printing methodology of linotype machines (used in the back of the Bulletin offices) resulted in a much longer production time than there is today, where late-breaking stories can be printed more readily."

Reflecting on his 16 years at the paper, Markin said, "In a way, each issue's preparation was an 'ongoing highlight,' with the general excitement of the approaching deadline always producing an intensity in office visitors, planning, writing and editing, phone calls, the sounds of typesetting." Other memorable times, he said, included the chance to meet visiting and local VIPs for stories and profiles and participation in a special Jewish Agency-sponsored tour of Israel for North American Jewish journalists, during which participants met many top Israeli leaders.

"One goal was prevalent in all of the paper's undertakings – to serve and advance the community, its individuals and organizations and, of course, Israel and world Jewry, as best we could," explained Markin.

"The staff always came through," he added. "When heavy snows closed offices around the city, we were at the JWB ensuring that the paper got out. When postal strikes thwarted distribution, we made arrangements for copies to be picked up at key community locations. And when large holiday editions saw production time-pressure, the typesetters would work all night to make sure that the paper came out on time."

Markin, who left the JWB to spend more time with his family, business and freelance writing, said the Bulletin always respected the challenge of reflecting what was happening in the community.

"It was very interesting work and very enjoyable working with the people in the community," Markin said. "When people in the community came in and we would go over their stories, they were always very pleasant to work with."



While writers and editors play a critical role in any newspaper, it is the sale of advertisements that usually keeps it alive. For the past 33 years, Ron Freedman has been one of the JWB's secrets to survival.

Hired in 1968 by the Kaplans, Freedman came from Calgary with his wife, Cathy, who had grown up in Vancouver. Freedman's job interview was one that set the tone for his successful career in the B.C. Jewish community. After meeting with Sam Kaplan, Freedman was asked to show off some of his sales savvy.

"I just grabbed the Vancouver Sun and another weekly paper for ideas and I sold two pages of ads in about three hours," Freedman said. "[Sam] immediately wrote me a cheque and asked when I was ready to start."

Since then, advertising sales has always been an adventure for Freedman, as well as a way to get to know people in the community. Shortly after he began working for the paper, he was flipping through a seniors magazine looking for advertising ideas when he came across the Little Flower Academy.

"I was so clueless in those days that I thought Little Flower Academy was a flower shop," he said.

After being passed on to Sister Mary, Freedman explained the JWB's vital statistics and how advertising in the paper would help her company sell more little flowers.

"When I asked her how the flower business was, she explained that it was a Catholic school," recounted Freedman. "But she said she had a lot of Jewish friends and for the next several years they bought ads."

Freedman said his secret is as simple as chatting with his clients until they either want to hang up the phone or buy an ad.

"When I phone, I think I'm the only thing going," he said. "I always think they're waiting for me. That's my attitude and if I didn't have an attitude like that then I couldn't do it."

Today, Freedman is the paper's senior account executive and is responsible for most of the ads published in the Bulletin's holiday issues.

"I like selling a product that I believe in and I believe in the Bulletin," he said. "I've been offered maybe 100 different jobs, but I have my space here, I know what I'm selling and I like it better everyday."



In 1995, while dreaming of retirement, Sam, at age 70, and Mona, at 65, handed control of the JWB to Chuck Buerger and his son Andrew who, based in Baltimore, owned several American Jewish community publications. It was then that the paper took on the new appearance that, for the most part, it still has today.

"When Andy came in, the paper took a step to the next level," said Rick Wolk, who served the Buergers as the marketing director and publisher.

The Kaplan-Buerger arrangement was set up similar to a lease, with the idea that the American company would buy the paper outright after three years of management. Unfortunately, Chuck Buerger passed away shortly after the arrangement had started, forcing his son to return from Vancouver to Baltimore to run the family company. When the three-year term was up, Andrew Buerger chose not to buy the paper.

Back in charge again, but yearning to return to retirement, the Kaplans sold the paper to three young people who had worked for the paper -- Kyle Berger, Cynthia Ramsay and Pat Johnson. Today, the paper runs with a staff of eight full-time and four part-time employees, and several freelance writers.



Through more than 70 years of publishing, some trends have developed on the pages of the Jewish Western Bulletin. Despite all the changes in the world, many of the issues the Bulletin deals with today are similar to those that have graced the pages of the paper over its seven decades of publishing.

Among the first topics the Bulletin dealt with was immigration, something that has remained near the top of the community's agenda and the paper's coverage ever since. In 1930, at issue was a warning that the federal government could turn over authority for the "number, kind and nationality" of immigrants to the provinces. Since then, there have been countless articles on the appropriateness of this country's admission policy, particularly leading up to the war years when the Jewish community struggled to save European Jewry. Interestingly, however, there were probably more articles in the Bulletin about the British barriers preventing Jewish migration to Palestine than there were about the discriminatory policies in this country.

Immigration became key again in the 1960s and '70s, as the community mobilized in support of Soviet refuseniks. Though the issue was not so much Canada's immigration policy as it was Soviet intransigence, there was much pressure on the Canadian government to exercise its diplomatic muscle in their support. Immigration remains a top issue today, with frequent coverage of issues such as the integration into Canadian society of Jewish newcomers from the former Soviet Union, Israel and elsewhere.



Predictably, the Bulletin has run its share of reports on anti-Semitic incidents over the years, both locally and abroad. Some are left unresolved such as in the 1951 front-page report stating simply that a social event at Harmony Hall on West Broadway was cancelled after the owner of the hall discovered the renter was Jewish.

In 1932, some Canadian insurance companies had clauses in their policies stating "Jews and Negroes Need not Apply." In 1936, a writer reviewed an anti-Semitic pamphlet distributed in Vancouver and found it "the most scurrilous degrading piece of Charletanism in the history of Jew-baiting literature." And so on...

A tempest arose after a woman attempted to make an appointment to see a house for sale in Kitsilano and was told abruptly, "We don't do business with Jews." The year was 1954.

The rise of Nazism, of course, was the overriding example of anti-Semitism during this time. Coverage began early, almost from the inception of the paper, when Hitler first emerged in the 1930 Reichstag elections.

In retrospect, some delusions were already being formulated at that time, even among the wisest German Jews. Albert Einstein, who later warned of the Nazi peril, at first underestimated the impact.

"There is no reason for despair, for the Hitler vote is only a symptom, not necessarily of anti-Jewish hatred but of momentary resentment caused by economic misery and unemployment within the ranks of misguided German youth," said Einstein, days after the Nazis scored their stunning debut.

The Bulletin during the 1930s reflected the growing international concern, even panic at times, at the Nazi agenda. The community mobilized to raise awareness of the German situation, including a 1,500-person rally in April 1933 protesting Hitler's persecution of Jews. The meeting took place at Moose Hall. Aldermen and school trustees, rabbis and community leaders attended. Regrets were sent by the premier, top business people and other leaders in the province.

It is interesting to note that, contrary to some revisionist tales, the community -- both Jewish and at large -- did not for long underestimate the threat of Hitler. On the other hand, while the Bulletin throughout the 1930s was jammed with news from Europe, during the war years themselves, the paper was surprisingly barren of news of the Nazis. Though the progress of the war and the campaign on the homefront was at the top of the paper's coverage, there was probably little hard news emanating from the other side of the battle lines. Though local Jews may have feared the worst for their co-religionists in Europe, little was written about their plight. Even after the war, as news emerged of the Holocaust, coverage was understated and far from sensational. It has been said that much of the world, including many survivors, sublimated the experience until the Nuremberg Trials and, later, the 1961 trial of Adolph Eichmann. These were the periods when most of the Bulletin's coverage of the Holocaust appeared.



On the positive side, Zionism has been central to the paper without a pause for 70 years. The actions of Zionist groups both locally and in Palestine were regularly covered, including celebrations of Theodor Herzl's birthday and the minutiae of debates among local Zionist leaders.

The paper dutifully covered the debate over partition that led to the creation of the Jewish state, following the terrorism and political action in Palestine as Zionists clashed with the British Mandatory power.

On April 22, 1948, the paper appeared with an Israeli flag emblazoned across the front page, hailing the success of the Haganah at taking Arab positions after heavy fighting.

The May 20, 1948, issue told of 1,400 people crowding the Vogue theatre to commemorate the founding of the state of Israel. Many more were turned away for lack of space.

Throughout the 52-year history of Israel, the Bulletin has been unself-consciously pro-Zionist. As wars, internal strife and terrorism have threatened the state, the paper has sometimes acted as a cheerleader for fund-raising and sending support.

Though some Mideast conflicts have been mercifully short -- notably the 1967 Six Day War -- it brings challenges to a newspaper that publishes weekly. The issue before the Six Day War had the community girding for trouble, while the next issue was triumphantly sounding the ceasefire.



In another example of history repeating itself, recent events in the Knesset mirror earlier situations. In 1958, the paper reported that religious party ministers had resigned from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's cabinet over the issue of who is a Jew under the Law of Return.

Some things, however, do change with time and the feminist awakening of the 1960s and '70s was reflected in a 1973 article calling for the liberation of the Jewish woman titled, "Plain and Simply -- Judaism Discriminates Against Women." The article concludes: "[I]n an age when the alienation of young Jews from Judaism is of major concern to the Jewish community, we can hardly afford to ignore fully one-half of young Jews."

The Bulletin has almost always steered clear of partisan politics in Canada, a notable exception being a dramatic warning against the Social Credit party which, in 1947, was already in power in Alberta, but not yet a presence in British Columbia. An article warned that Social Credit was "an organ of bitter anti-democratic dimensions [and] an outspoken threat to Canadian democracy," whose "strategy is pipelined from the archives of Hitler and Goerring." The paper was far less harsh when the party, under W.A.C. Bennett, actually arrived in this province five years later.



The Bulletin has always played a dual role for its readers. In addition to weighty international concerns, there has always been a substantial portion of the paper that is light, gossipy and distinctly local. Especially in the earliest years, the paper was concerned mostly with meetings, wedding announcements and news of local figures.

Even today, there is a dichotomy between the community portion, which is undeniably important to readers, though obviously in a different way than the national and international news. Community milestones, such as the expansion of a synagogue or the opening of the new Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, have always been played prominently in the paper, as has the formation of communal organizations and their subsequent activities.

In 1933, the Bulletin reported on the creation of Canadian Jewish Congress, including local delegate section meetings.

"The Congress will create an authoritative body that would be able to voice the sentiments of Canadian Jewry, and would act in all manners concerning them as Jews and as Canadian citizens," said the announcement.

Hollywood news seemed popular with JWB readers and special appearances by famous personalities gained the paper's attention. In 1946, Eddie Cantor helped officially open the Jewish Old Folks' Home at 1190 West 13th Ave. In 1964, Jackie Mason was the special guest at dedication of a new wing of Schara Tzedeck synagogue.

Local names also became famous, with generations of the same families appearing in prominent places in the paper through the years. The following announcement appeared Feb. 12, 1931:

"On Sunday, Feb. 8, the community centre was the scene of a brilliant affair given by Mr. and Mrs. A. Rothstein in honor of their son, Norman, on the occasion of his 13th birthday.... Over 200 guests assembled in the hall to celebrate with Mr. and Mrs. Rothstein." Norman Rothstein's name, of course, now graces the theatre at Vancouver's present Jewish Community Centre.

A name that continued to appear in this paper until he passed away, is Morris J. Wosk who, in 1970, was heralded as head of the annual UJA campaign.



There have been a few embarrassing moments, too, as times and attitudes have changed. Entertainment that was deemed appropriate in 1930 strikes us as appalling today. Under the headline "Dark Secrets," the paper ran the following entertainment advancer "Director Nat Davis is now very busy getting his Black Boys lined up for the Big Show, and from advanced information received, the big minstrel show will be a wow."

Other embarrassments include hairdos and ties that most would probably rather forget, though they are immortalized in the paper.

Changes in common parlance also strike the reader as amusing, an example being the 1931 headline promising "Junior Council Dance to be a Gay Event."

The Bulletin, for all the changes it has seen, has provided a remarkably consistent record of Jewish life in British Columbia and around the world. And it will continue to do so, under its new banner, the Jewish Independent, the name that was launched July 21, 2005.

-- Updated from the 70th anniversary issue of the Bulletin.