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Jean Jaffe

1900 – 1958

by Tony Michels

From the 1920s until her death, Jean Jaffe distinguished herself as one of the leading journalists in the Yiddish press. Jaffe roamed the globe as a reporter—the very best in her field according to some colleagues. A lifelong Labor Zionist, Jaffe spent several lengthy periods in Palestine and Israel.

Born on April 20, 1900, in a Lithuanian shtetl (sources differ on the exact place), Jean Jaffe immigrated to New York City with her parents in 1910. Along with six brothers and sisters, Jaffe grew up on Henry Street, in the heart of the Lower East Side. She attended both public school and a Labor Zionist natsyonaler arbeter farband [national workers organization] school, where she mastered Yiddish and Hebrew. She later studied at Hunter College and Columbia University. Jaffe embarked on a literary career writing short stories in Hebrew but soon thereafter took up Yiddish as her primary medium. In 1916, Jaffe began writing for the daily Der Yidishes Tageblat, where she quickly gained popularity as a journalist. She also contributed to several other newspapers, including Der Amerikaner, Di Fraye Arbeter Shtime [The free voice of labor] (an anarchist weekly noted for its high literary standards), and the satirical weekly Der Groyser Kundes [The big stick]. In 1920, Jaffe joined the staff of the liberal daily Der Tog [The day] (after 1928, Der Tog-Morgn Zhurnal), where she remained employed until her death. Throughout her career, Jaffe’s work appeared in Canadian, South American, Israeli, and (until World War II) Polish Yiddish publications. Jaffe also published articles in English-language publications in New York, such as the New York Herald Tribune, and sat on the editorial board of Pioneer Woman, a Labor Zionist monthly to which she regularly contributed.

Jaffe’s work encompassed a range of areas including art, music, theater, political affairs, and human interest stories. Primarily, though, Jaffe earned a reputation as an outstanding reporter blessed with a keen eye for a story and extraordinary empathy for her subjects. Known as a restless spirit and inveterate explorer, Jaffe traveled internationally as a correspondent for Der Morgen Zhurnal. She sent dispatches from Poland on the eve of World War II and from the displaced persons camps, where Jaffe was one of the first American reporters to arrive on the scene after the war. In the early 1950s, Jaffe accompanied Yemenite Jews on their journey to Israel, and in 1956, she covered the Hungarian uprising, interviewing refugees as they crossed into Austria.

Jaffe was a rare figure in the history of the Yiddish press. She achieved distinction in a field that claimed few women beyond the confines of the so-called women’s pages (though Jaffe did contribute to Der Morgen Zhurnal’s women’s section under the pseudonym Helen Blum). Perhaps more remarkable, Jaffe chose a journalistic career primarily in Yiddish at a time when most of her Jewish contemporaries in the United States sought a wider audience in English or did not know Yiddish at all.

Jean Jaffe died of a heart attack on November 20, 1958, while aboard a freighter en route from Hong Kong to India.

Bibliography

AJYB 61 (1960): 417; Chaikin, Joseph. Yidishe Bleter in Amerike (1946); Glants, A. “Faktn un Perushim.” Der Morgen Zhurnal, December 10, 1958; Glatshteyn, Yankev, Sh. Niger, and Hilel Rogof, eds. 75 Yor Yidishe Prese in Amerike (1945); Howe, Irving. The World of Our Fathers (1976); “Khyene Yafe, Bavuste Shrayberin, Shtarbt Plutsim.” Der Morgen Zhurnal, May 23, 1958; Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur, s.v. “Khyene Yofe”; Margoshes, S. “News and Views [English].” Der Morgen Zhurnal, December 6, 1958; Obituary. NYTimes, November 23, 1958; Raskin, R. “Di Tsaytungs-froy.” Der Morgen Zhurnal, November 2, 1957; Rotbard, Dvoyre. “Jean Jaffe z”l [Yiddish].” Pioneer Woman (February 1959): 10; “Shrayberin Kh. Yafe Toyt Afn Veg fun Hong Kong keyn India.” Forverts, November 23, 1958; Syrkin, Marie. “Jean Jaffe.” Pioneer Woman (January 1959): 9; WWIAJ (1938).

3 Comments

Jean Jaffe was a good friend of the Jewisch-Austrian(-American) writer Soma Morgenstern. He mentions her as such in his memoirs (written in German, not (yet) translated into English) "In einer anderen Zeit. Jugendjahre in Ostgalizien" (In another time. Days of Youth in East Galicia), 1995. ISBN 3-924245-37-1. Also his son, the American Jazz critic Dan Morgenstern, mentions in his article about his father Jean Jaffe as friend. ("Soma Morgenstern's life in America" in: Weigel, Robert G. (ed.): Vier groÌāüe galizische ErzÌÄå_hler im Exil [Four great Galician Novelists in Exile] : W.H. Katz, Soma Morgenstern, ManÌÄå¬s Sperber und Joseph Roth. Frankfurt, 2005. ISBN 3-631-53001-3.)

Soma Morgenstern's legacy contains five letters from JJ to him, the first one from July 1946, the last one from 30 July 1958.

If the letters Morgenstern had written to Jean Jaffe still exist somewhere, I would be very interested to read them. Maybe somebody could advise me about the chance. Also I would like to know if somewhere is a photo on Jean Jaffe is still existing.

... born in 1902 - came to NYC in 1923 --- became a contributing editor to this newspaper - published 3 books and was listed in 'Who's Who in American Jewry' - this was my beloved father - may his soul be bound in the bonds of heaven, omayn - Suzie Kusnetz

Jeanne was my Mother's great aunt. Her brother Charles Jaffe was also a Yiddish journalist, another brother, Ben Zion a cantor. Before she went to NYC, aunt Jeanne lived with her brothers and sisters Tamara, and Elke in Cambridge MA. Their place of birth was Shututshin (Czucztin) in Lithuania. Your report of her academic studies in Hunter and Columbia does coincide with what I heard from my parents and grandparents. Her marriage to Mr Albert Shurtz was short, as her satisfying jounalistic wanderlust was not written in her Ktuba. Jaffe also reported from Nuremberg and also gave testimony on the DP camps. Jaffe was very generous with whatever income she had for her work: cousins who survived the Holocaust received the wherewithal to begin their lives in France and Israel.

How to cite this page

Michels, Tony. "Jean Jaffe." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 20, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/jaffe-jean>.

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