In the spring of 1929, Jewish jurist Louis Brandeis was serving on the Supreme Court; Louis B. Mayer, Sam Warner and other entrepreneurial Jews were inventing Hollywood; the economy seemed healthy for many Jewish businesspeople (the stock market wouldn’t crash until October); and the country was at peace.
It was an interesting, emergent and, in many ways, optimistic time for America’s Jews.
Perhaps that’s why Sam Neusner decided it was a good time to publish a Jewish newspaper.
He co-founded the Jewish Ledger with Rabbi Abraham Feldman in April of that year for fellow citizens who, in his words, “should have and would welcome a vehicle of expression, a journal of Jewish public opinion, a record of its likes and events.”
Neusner co-founded the Ledger with Rabbi Abraham Feldman of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Conn. While Feldman, who died in 1970, limited his role to writing editorials, Neusner was charged with the day-to-day operation of the paper.
The story of Samuel Neusner is an old-fashioned tale of an immigrant achieving the American dream. Born in Eastern Europe in Koretz, a town that is now in the Ukraine, Neusner immigrated to Beverly, Mass. with his parents at the age of 10. He attended school for only four years before leaving to work as a machinist at the United Shoe Machinery factory. Neusner joined the Army Air Corps at the outbreak of World War I and was stationed in Fort Worth Texas where he continued to live after the war until – as the family legend goes – his mother took a train to Texas and dragged him home.
Despite his lack of formal education, Neusner began to work for the Boston Jewish Advocate in 1924, where he quickly mastered the journalism trade and was appointed by Jewish Advocate editors Joseph and Alexander Brin to build a Western Massachusetts edition of the paper. When the Brins decided to launch a Western Massachusetts edition of his paper, Neusner moved to Springfield’s North End with his wife Lee and growing family to head up the new venture.
In 1929, Sam Neusner struck up a partnership with Feldman and the two bought out the Western Massachusetts publication. Feldman was instrumental in securing the advertising revenue that enabled the paper to expand its coverage and circulation to Connecticut. And the Jewish Ledger was born.
At first, Neusner continued to live in Springfield with his wife, Lee, and their three children, Jacob, Fred and Sandra, where he managed the day-to-day operations of the Ledger through its Hartford and Springfield offices. In 1937, he decided to follow the immigration patterns of the Jewish community in Western Mass. and moved from the dense urban North End neighborhood in Springfield to a suburban area. Not long thereafter, he closed the Ledger’s Springfield office, relocated his family to West Hartford and made the Hartford office the center of the Jewish Ledger’s operations. He was so thoroughly committed to the success and longevity of the paper that when sales and revenue diminished during World War II he returned to work as a machinist to ensure the Jewish Ledger’s survival. The Connecticut and Massachusetts papers not only survived – they thrived.
Old issues of the Ledger are a look back in time – from announcements of Springfield Hadassah conventions in the 1960s, “Society Pages” with glamorous photos of young Springfield area brides, and ads from some of Springfield’s Jewish businesses, going back to the 1930s.
In 1954, health issues forced Neusner to retire, leaving the responsibilities of publisher to his wife. He died in 1960. In 1967, Lee Neusner sold the paper to its managing editor, Berthold Gaster and business manager Shirley Bunis.
N. Richard Greenfield of Sharon was among a consortium of businessmen who bought the Jewish Ledger in 1992. He bought out his partners two years later.
In 2001, under Greenfield, a new Western Massachusetts edition of The Jewish Ledger began publication, offering coverage of the Jewish community in both the Springfield/Longmeadow area as well Upper Valley towns including Amherst and Northampton.
In June of 2013, when the Jewish Chronicle, a newspaper that operated in Central Mass. for nearly 90 years, closed its doors, the Jewish Ledger stepped in and expanded its coverage to include the Jewish community of Worcester and the surrounding areas.
In February of 2014, with his health failing, Greenfield sold The Ledger to current owner, Hartford philanthropist and businessman Henry M. Zachs.
Today, the Massachusetts Jewish Ledger covers a range of local, state, national and international news of interest and importance to American Jews, affirmative and often inspiring articles on events, programming and Jewish organizations in the community; profiles of interesting Jewish personalities; political and religious opinions, cultural reviews, and communal announcements close to the hearts of Jewish citizens across the state.
For its efforts, the Ledger has garnered accolades and honors from the New England Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association.
“Besides reporting news, the Jewish Ledger’s mission is also to help strengthen Jewish identity and to support the Jewish community locally, nationally, internationally and in Israel,” says MA Jewish Ledger Editor Stacey Dresner. “We are here to serve and support the Jewish community, and what we cover and how we cover it is always guided by that basic principle.”