Believe It or Not! First Woman Editor Heads Hadassah Magazine

After 68 years of executive editors in more than a century of publication, the flagship magazine of America’s largest women’s volunteer organization and largest American Jewish organization finally has a female executive editor.

With this appointment, Lisa Hostein completes a trifecta of Jewish journalist firsts — first woman editor in chief of the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency), first woman executive editor of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, and now Hadassah Magazine’s first woman executive editor.

In all fairness, only two Hadassah executive editors preceded her — founding editor Jesse Zel Lurie, at 103 still a voice for Arab-Jewish peace; and Alan M. Tigay, retired after 35 years, working with an editorial board of strong women (and a few men, including Elie Wiesel). Both men operated within Hadassah’s unique parallel structure of the all-powerful woman volunteer chair working side by side with each department’s paid professional, each with her own desk. And Hadassah women don’t retire. The new chair for the magazine, Marlene Post, at the top of the masthead, is a former national president of Hadassah.

Always in Jewish journalism, Hostein, 55, went from interning at the Jewish Exponent while at Swarthmore College to working at the Exponent upon graduation. She spent 18 months in Israel then returned to the Exponent for 10 more years. She then headed the JTA for nearly 15 years, playing a major role in bringing the international news operation from faxed daily bulletins into the digital age. Hostein returned to the Exponent as executive editor from 2009 to 2015. At both the JTA and the Exponent, she developed their websites. Through the Internet, the JTA expanded from news source for Jewish publications and organizations to a direct online connection to individual readers with, as Hostein puts it, “News you can use.” At the Exponent, she maintained the paper’s loyal print following while building a go-to website for Jewish Philadelphia. 

No surprise, Hostein sees “a lot of room for growth for the Hadassah Magazine website,” in spite of the financial cutbacks reducing the magazine from monthly to bimonthly. Hostein’s overall goals: “Rethinking both form and content, with a complete redesign for print, a new focus on issue-oriented stories that deal with topics of particular concern to Jewish women and a vastly enhanced digital presence to engage in the lively Jewish conversation online.” Part of the conversation, she plans to rev up Hadassah Magazine’s social media presence, with a relaunched Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

For a magazine that is not a house organ but a Jewish general interest magazine, Hostein says she will be “trying to differentiate it from the rest of the Jewish media landscape.”

Hostein’s presence as the magazine’s first female editor is loud and clear in her first “Editor’s Turn” in the February/March issue. The large type, hard-to-miss lead: “Purim was never one of my favorite holidays — until I became a feminist.” And her heroines include both Vashti and Esther.

Esther, in the Purim story, was also known as “Hadassah.”