Dispatch from the Archives

I found plenty of helpful, interesting information about the Charleston JCC in the archive last week, but I also amassed a collection of the most endearing, charming names: 

Flo Fleischman

Pinky Portugal

Arch Lugenbeel

Wally Butterworth

Rabbi Raisin

Puggy Solomon

And one of the best sign-offs I've ever seen on a letter... 

"As ever, that tubby bundle of lard, Arnie."


On Monday, June 5, 1950, a group of conference-goers filed into a room to participate in a session entitled "The Need for a Central Archives." Attendees were in Atlantic City for the Annual Meetings of the National Conference of Jewish Social Welfare, the National Association of Jewish Center Workers, and the National Council for Jewish Education. For five days, Jewish communal workers and educators could sit in on panels and lectures, visit with colleagues at meals, and contribute to committees that were charged with guiding these professional fields. The Conference Program was filled with practical panels like "Dynamics of Inter-Relationships in the Marital Counseling Process," "Characteristics of Youth Programming in the Synagogue-Center," and "Jewish Music Activity in the Center." Professionals could learn how to improve their practices and processes and could gather new ideas for programming--it was all directly applicable to the present. The Conference Program, however, described "The Need for a Central Archives" this way:

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the need for preserving institutional and organizational records and archives in the fields of Jewish community organization and social work, as well as methods of making them available for historical, social and professional research.
— Program, 1950 Annual Meetings. Association of Jewish Center Workers Collection (MS-654), Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (Cincinnati, OH). Box 7, Folder 4.

This panel was forward-thinking. It pushed Jewish communal workers and educators to consider their legacy. How would future Jewish communal professionals learn from the past and continue to improve the field? 

My dissertation could not be written without the foresight of the men (sadly, yes, all men) who led and participated in this conference session. As they went back to their agencies, Federations, and associations, they implemented filing systems (executed by women, their secretarial staff) to save and preserve the history of their work. Their forethought means that historians can now  study how these organizations made decisions, big and small, and how those decisions had an impact on the communities they served. 

Research Trip Recap

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!