THE INDEPENDENT'S LEADERSHIP
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
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
or [email protected].
HISTORY OF THE JEWISH INDEPENDENT
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
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
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.
KAPLANS AND INDEPENDENCE
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
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
FACES OF LONGEVITY
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
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,"
"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
"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."
WANNA BUY AN AD?
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
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
"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."
RETIREMENT AND YOUNG BLOOD
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
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
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.
70 YEARS OF NEWS
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
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
SUPPORT FOR ZIONISM
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
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
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
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
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
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
IF WE COULD DO IT OVER
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.