Tidewater community preserves its newspaper digitally

The digitally archived front page of The Jewish News. Photos courtesy of The Jewish News

The Jewish News, a print newspaper that covers the Jewish community in southeastern
Virginia, recently digitized its entire archive. Every issue of the 72-year-old publication is now available online.

Editor Terri Denison said the 9,000-member Jewish community, which includes Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Suffolk and Norfolk, is excited about the move.

“They go to do research about the community and then have a good time going through past issues,” she said.

The newspaper is published around 20 times per year by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, in Virginia Beach.


Having past issues available online was important to Harold “Hal” Sacks, who was the area’s unofficial historian and a writer for Jewish News. According to Denison, Sacks, who died in 2017, was “an extremely forward-thinking man. He was always pushing for the next thing.”

Hal Sacks

The Jewish News is now published online as well as in print. But until the past issues were digitized, the only way people could see community announcements, obituaries and photos going back to 1947 was by stopping in to Denison’s office.

There are members of the Tidewater Jewish community whose families go back six or seven generations, she said. There’s a lot of history in the area that should be preserved.
Paul Jeffko, president of Smalltown Papers, the company that digitized the archive, said
that putting the paper online will preserve the community’s stories.

“These stories won’t necessarily be around forever. Families might know their stories about their Aunt Nellie or cousin Bob, but stories of the community, that other people need to or want to know about, are the most valuable, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

All Denison had to do to ensure the safe transport of the issues was to photograph each of the papers, fill out some forms and then pack the thick black binders, each containing about a year’s worth of newspapers, into boxes. Smalltown Papers took care of the rest.
Each time the box shipped out from Denison’s office, it contained about a decade’s worth of papers, sometimes more. When the paper was first published in 1947, the monthly issues were about four pages long. These days, the paper comes out biweekly and issues are about 40 pages long.

The company scans each page of the paper and uses a program to make each page searchable. They then send the papers back. The entire process per box, including shipment, takes about eight weeks to complete. For the Jewish News, the entire digitization took about a year.

Smalltown Papers has digitized the archives of several Jewish newspapers, including the Heritage FloridaJewish News and the Jewish Transcript in Seattle.

“The idea of losing [these] stories would be devastating,” Jeffko said. “We scan for weekly [newspapers], Catholic papers, Jewish and small-town museums. The information represents the story of the community.”

In the end, it cost $20,000 for the Jewish News to digitize every page of every issue from 1947 to 2018, according to Denison. Sacks donated the money, some of which came through the sale of his book “Hal’s Navy,” about his service in the Navy, Denison said.
And it means Sacks’ many book reviews and news stories about campground openings and holiday events will also be preserved.

“Being able to access Tidewater’s Jewish community history, as well as news of recent events, anytime, from anywhere, is another benefit of our paper and one that we wouldn’t have without Hal Sacks,” said Betty Ann Levine, CEO of the United Jewish Federation of

She said the federation named the archives the Hal Sacks Jewish News Archives in his honor. WJW

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Twitter: @SamScoopCooper

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