By: Zachary Greenberg  | 

Student Newspapers’ History Digitized by YU Libraries

For the first time in their histories, most issues of The Commentator and the YU Observer — Yeshiva University’s two undergraduate student newspapers — have been digitized and uploaded online. This project was undertaken by Librarian of Electronic Reserves Stephanie Gross, and includes articles dating as far back as 1935, leading up to 2000.

The project is part of the Yeshiva Academic Institutional Repository (YAIR) program, which collects research and scholarship works from YU faculty, staff and students. Currently, all the Commentator issues from 1935-2000 and Observer issues from 1959-1976 have been uploaded. Observer issues from 1976-2000 will be uploaded in the coming weeks. Thereafter, Gross plans to upload the modern issues from 2000-present. She hopes future editors of the newspapers will continuously send her their works to enable an ever-lasting archive of the publications. PDFs of Commentator issues from 2015 to the present are available on The Commentator website

Many other universities across the country have similarly digitized their student newspaper archives, including the Columbia Spectator, Harvard Crimson and Yale Daily News. YAIR’s project increases accessibility of Yeshiva University’s history through the prism of student publications. 

“The Commentator and Observer are repositories of YU history,” Gross commented. “There are people who say ‘why have newspapers since they are not really scholarly?’ I think the benefit of having newspapers is that it’s a cultural documentation of YU. It helps students get a sense of a breath of the institution.”

During her time with the YU Libraries, Gross has uploaded hundreds of PDFs of student publications such as Gesher, Nahalah, Kol Hamevaser, Chronos, Derech HaTeva, and beginning this past February, The Commentator and the Observer. Gross was able to convert photographs a student took of the archives in the late ‘90s into PDF files in a text-searchable format before uploading them to YAIR. 

The Commentator’s origins date back to 1935, a time when many Jews were fleeing Europe to escape Nazi Germany. Thereafter, The Commentator covered articles including the horrifying times of the Holocaust, post-Holocaust survivors coming to America, the Israeli War of Independence, Mccarythism, the Korean Wars, and beyond. Gross noted, “The newspapers show an amazing cultural documentary of how the young Modern Orthodox Jewish men felt about these historical events.” 

"The digital publicization of The Commentator archives is a wonderful development, spreading a wealth of information relating to Yeshiva's history. The library staff must be commended for their efforts,” Yosef Lemel (YC ‘21), editor-in-chief of The Commentator, remarked. “Previously, students had to go to obtain special permission to receive access to the PDFs; now the archives can simply be accessed on the web. My hope is that there will be an effort to digitize the archives from 2000-2015, 15 years of important Yeshiva history that largely remain offline.”

In 1958, four years after Stern College for Women opened, the YU Observer was founded to give the women of YU a newspaper forum. The Observer especially covered cultural and internal political events that Stern originally faced. In addition to the mainstream articles of both newspapers, the Purim editions of both newspapers have also been uploaded to the repository. 

“The YU Observer has come a long way since it first began,” Fruma Landa (SCW ‘21), editor-in-chief of the Observer explained. “I believe that it was the passion of the founders and the dedication of the previous editors in chief that enabled this paper to be what it is today — a newspaper representing the Beren and Wilf campuses with six strong article categories. I feel privileged to further the legacy of the YU Observer and work on a newspaper created by strong-willed, motivated individuals.”

“One main point that continually jumps out at me (and pleases me to no end) is the need to defend their First Amendment Rights,” Gross said. “The controversies, hired deans, fired deans, resigned deans, censorship, Torah vs. Madda. I’ve been so impressed by a few of the editors that I’ve even looked them up to see where they are now.”

Photo Caption: Early issues of The Commentator and YU Observer, now available on YAIR’s online archive.
Photo Credit: Yosef Lemel