return to Home page Leon Wiesenfeld        
Yiddish-language journalist and a champion of his people.

 Leon Wiesenfeld in 1938
with a copy of The Jewish Voice
image from Merging Traditions

About Leon Wiesenfeld

Leon Wiesenfeld was more than a journalist. He championed the Jewish people and opposed their enemies, locally, nationally and foreign. He saw the dangers of Nazism early and fought it fiercely. He campaigned for an inclusive Jewish community, with cooperation between the “assimilated Jews” and the Yiddish-speaking Jews he wrote for who were the majority of Cleveland’s Jews in the 1930s.  He worked to establish what became The Jewish Community Council, a federation of Jewish organizations and synagogues that would later merge with the Jewish Welfare Federation. He urged his readers to give to the Jewish Federation's annual campaign. A passionate Zionist, he supported Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver. An author of plays in Yiddish, he also advocated for the Yiddish theater.

Leon Wiesenfeld (February 2, 1885 – March 1, 1971) was born Lieb Wiesenfeld in Rzeszow, Poland. He wrote for Polish and German publications before coming to America. He worked briefly in New York for Abraham Cahan's Jewish Daily Forward and for the New Journal in Brooklyn before coming to Cleveland in 1924.

For 10 years he was the associate editor of the Yiddishe Velt (The Jewish World), Cleveland's principal Yiddish-language newspaper, before becoming its editor in 1934. In 1938 he left to establish an English-Yiddish weekly Die Yiddishe Stimme (The Jewish Voice) which failed after about a year.

He then started an English language annual, Jewish Voice Pictorial, which endured into the 1950s. (From the entry in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.)

Like most of the Jewish community, Leon and his wife Esther kept moving east. In 1930 they lived on East 55th, near the offices of The Jewish World. The 1940 census (see below) shows them at 1289 East Boulevard. Living with them was 21 year old Sandra Amsterdam from Poland, the youngest daughter of Esther's brother Adolf who had sent her here for safety in late December 1938. Around 1946 they moved to a two story apartment building at the northeast corner of Mayfield and Coventry Roads. Leon's obituary in 1971 shows an address in a larger building across the street.

A dinner on Sunday evening January 10, 1937 at the Cleveland Jewish Center celebrated Leon's 50th birthday and the couple's 25th wedding anniversary. It was attended by 600 persons representing 55 organizations. (see clipping).

In 1965, then 80, Wiesenfeld published essays he had written for his Jewish Voice Pictorial as Jewish Life in Cleveland in the 1920s and 1930s, subtitled The Memoirs of a Jewish Journalist. He also wrote a novel.

Wiesenfeld would be a fascinating subject of a biography, but at this time none is known.

Leon died in 1971, his wife Esther in 1980.


Above: 1940 U S Census showing Leon and Esther Wiesenfeld and Esther's niece Sandra Amsterdam
They lived in an apartment at 1289 East Blvd. in Glenville.

The Jewish community honors Leon and Esther Wiesenfeld
As reported in the Plain Dealer  January 11, 1937

Cleveland's second generation Americans were now reading papers like the Plain Dealer and the Press, and as this story shows, the Cleveland papers were paying attention to them. Each year fewer Clevelanders were reading papers that were not in English. For Leon Wiesenfeld, this meant that Yiddish language papers were struggling to survive.

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, born Abraham Silver in Lithuania (a "Litvak"), was teasing Galician-born Wiesenfeld (a "Galician"). It's a distinction between Eastern European Jews rarely heard today but the audience of 80 years ago would have enjoyed it.

Note that Wiesenfeld, born in February 1885, was within a month of his 52nd birthday.

The Plain Dealer  March 1, 1971

Cleveland Jewish News  March 5, 1971

Above: Leon and Esther Wiesenfeld are interred in the Park Synagogue Cemetery. Photo Michele Seligmann
Below: Esther Wiesenfeld's obituary in the Cleveland Jewish News mentions two adopted grandchildren. Their story is a loving tale we we have added to these pages.  Read the story.


Learn more about Leon Wiesenfeld

The Leon Wiesenfeld archives, donated in 1977 by his widow Esther, are at the Western Reserve Historical Society. The finding aid includes a detailed biography by Scott Cline. Read the finding aid.

Wiesenfeld entry in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Wiesenfeld's memoir published in 1964
Jewish Life in Cleveland in the 1920s and 1930s, subtitled The Memoirs of a Jewish Journalist

The Wiesenfeld Adopted Grandchildren - on these pages


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