28 December 2007

A mitzvah to preserve community history

Each Jewish community's history is made up of the people who first immigrated, who lived and worked, raised families and contributed in many ways. This history is not only that of community leaders, and necessarily involves the lives of ordinary people and the choices they made. Preserving the history of a community means learning from all the people.

Philadelphia's National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) and the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center (PJAC) are co-sponsoring an oral history project.

Some two dozen seniors have participated in the project. Each will receive a CD containing his or her story, in addition to a personal photo. Copies of oral histories will become part of the center and museum repositories.

Josh Perelman, the museum's historian and deputy director of programming, was delighted to "give voice" to the stories of Weltman, as well as 22 other men and women over the age of 70 who participated in the project.

"Through the lived experiences of ordinary folk, we gain an appreciation of what it was like to live at this time ... what economic, religious or cultural and psychological factors led people to make the choices they made in their lives," said Perelman, who felt that the project was a success on many levels.

"It offered participants historical longevity, helped to preserve the history of Philadelphia and afforded access to neighborhood stories that make up the fabric of human life," he said.

Julie Levitt, Ph.D., vice president and chair of the PJAC education committee was "impressed by the obstacles these men and women overcame to become success stories."

"They dealt with language and cultural barriers, anti-Semitism, the Great Depression and other adversities, yet managed to move forward," she said, adding that "understanding this process will be extremely valuable to today's émigrés."

"You don't have to be famous to have an impact on future generations," she commented, emphasizing that "our children and grandchildren who hear these stories can learn valuable lessons about how to successfully assimilate and participate in the American process while transmitting important Jewish values."

Read more here.

For those searching family in Philadelphia, the PJAC offers important resources for Jewish genealogy, including HIAS records and indexes of Philadelphia port arrivals 1894-1921; HIAS naturalization cards c1910-1950; passage order books (not all runs are complete) for the banks of Blitzstein (1888-1930), Lipshutz (1906-1948), Rosenbaum (1894-1927) and the Rosenbluth Company (1907-1926); microfilms of The Forward (Philadelphia Edition), Jewish Times and the Jewish Exponent; links to other area genealogical resources and visitor and search information for the PJAC.

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