Chicago’s Oldest Independent Jewish Newspaper Closes After 27 Years

After over 27 years, the Chicago Jewish Star, the city’s oldest independent Jewish voice, published its final edition on May 4. The industry-wide decline in advertising was given as the reason for the closure.

The bi-weekly for-profit paper was owned by Douglas and Gila Wertheimer (Editor and Associate & Literary Editor) and run by them and their son Aaron Wertheimer, who was the Assistant Editor. It was a continuation of The Jewish Star of Alberta, Canada, which appeared in Calgary and Edmonton editions from 1980-90. It was the first time that the same owners and editors had published a Jewish newspaper in both Canada and the United States.

Like its Canadian version it was an award-winning publication. During the past nine years, it was cited 22 times as a Finalist and six times as an award winner in Chicago’s annual Peter Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism competition, the city and state’s pre-eminent journalism prize. In those competitions the Jewish Star was cited in Arts, Design, Editorial, Political Reporting, In-depth Reporting and the Sports categories, achieving an unparalleled success for a Jewish newspaper.

The newspaper fearlessly reported on local events, some of which were reported on in Editor & Publisher. In its early years it was involved in the cancellation of an appearance at the University of Chicago of an alleged Nazi, wrote about an allegedly looted Edgar Degas painting at the city’s Art Institute, and described the aggressive local move of corporate America into the kosher food business. It successfully battled the City of Chicago over the newspaper’s free speech right to distribute its newspaper in news racks in public places (E&P, Aug. 6, 1994, p. 16; Sept. 17, 1994, p. 33; Oct. 8, 1994, p. 32; D. Wertheimer, ”Shop Talk: Ill Winds Blow Over Windy City News Racks,” Aug. 29, 1998, p. 56); its in-depth reporting and editorials directly led to legislation (first in Chicago and later in Illinois) which guaranteed renters and condo owners the right to place a mezuzah on the exterior doorpost of their unit (E&P, Oct. 2005, p. 13; April 12, 2006). Those two pieces of legislation were the first in the country, and were the models for similar bills in Florida and Texas.

When the paper was launched in Chicago on February 22, 1991, it was the first new Jewish newspaper published solely for the Chicago area in nearly 75 years. In the 176-year history of Jewish settlement in Chicago, it ranked as the 8th longest running Jewish newspaper.

“We wanted to make what we did matter,” the newspaper said in its final editorial. “We never ceased trying to do our best.”

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