My ten-day visit to the Center for Jewish History was incredibly productive. Despite being in New York for two weeks, time felt limited and I took the "smash-and grab" approach to archival research. I know I generally grabbed photos of relevant and valuable documents, but it will take me a few weeks to read through them all in detail and see if my first impressions were correct.
I photographed around 1500 pages of Annual Agency Budget Files from the records of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York (UJA-Federation). This humongous collection was just recently processed, and I'm one of the first historians to go through and see how JCCs like the Y of Washington Heights Inwood, Educational Alliance, and Bronx House negotiated annually with the Federation's Distribution Committee. This process was highly regimented throughout the 1950s and '60s. Executive secretaries (god bless them) saved all the important paperwork related to the application, including agencies' initial budget proposals, the Distribution Committee's announcements of annual allocations, and thorough accounting worksheets for each fiscal year. These files are thus a great way to ascertain the health of each individual agency throughout the tumultuous years of the urban crisis, because they report figures like: membership numbers; income from dues; number and kind of programs offered; number of full- and part-time staff; and size and condition of facilities.
While incredibly rich, these budget materials are also dense and tedious. I am going to have to give myself a crash course in accounting, which is a foreign language to me. I've always been better at spending money than keeping track of it! Ideally, the experience will familiarize me with organizational budgeting, which is a useful skill to have.
I'll end with a pitch for the American Jewish Historical Society archivists' excellent blog, This Can Go Back to the Archives, which chronicles the processing of the UJA-Federation records. Susan and her team highlight some of the most dynamic and intriguing documents from the collection, and I'm always surprised by what they dig up!