The Importance of History in Jewish Life
There is no future for any identifiable group without a sense of their past. And if there is no future, the past is not remembered. As Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, once wrote in a letter to a friend, “The chain of tradition remains unbroken generation to generation.”
Memory is an important Jewish value. Whether or not they are historians, Jewish Americans are taught from an early age about the importance of knowing one’s history. Knowing history is for the sake of the future of the Jewish past.
From Yale and Yeshiva to Brandeis and Tulane, numerous institutions have their own library collection and archives related to Jewish history. In addition, there are numerous historical societies and foundations throughout the nation – all committed to remembering the past and working for the sake of the future.
The following is a list of resources for further study and research:
The American Jewish Archives
Founded in 1947 and located on the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College, the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives is committed “to preserving a documentary heritage of the religious, organizational, economic, cultural, personal, social and family life of American Jewry,” according to their web site.
The American Jewish Historical Society
Responsible for the Future of the American Jewish Past
Founded in 1892, the American Jewish Historical Society fosters awareness and appreciation of the American Jewish heritage and serves as a national scholarly resource for research through the collection, preservation and dissemination of materials relating to American Jewish history. The oldest national ethnic historical organization in the nation, the American Jewish Historical Society’s library, archives, photograph, and art and artifacts collections document the American Jewish experience.
The American Social History Project
Founded in 1981, The American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning (ASHP/CML) aims to revitalize interest in history by challenging the traditional ways that people learn about the past. ASHP/CML produces award-winning print, visual, and multimedia materials about the working men and women whose actions and beliefs shaped American history.
The Center for Jewish History
The Center for Jewish History in New York City houses different Jewish organizations, including The American Jewish Historical Society. The Center fosters the creation and dissemination of Jewish knowledge and to make the historical and cultural record of the Jewish people readily accessible to scholars, students and the broad public.”
Facing History and Ourselves
Since 1976, Facing History has been committed to teaching tolerance and being a change agent. Their work is focused on engaging students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.
The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life
The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) is dedicated to providing educational and rabbinic services to isolated Jewish communities, documenting and preserving the rich history of the Southern Jewish experience, and promoting a Jewish cultural presence throughout a twelve-state region.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum promotes tolerance and historical perspective through the presentation and interpretation of the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan's Lower East Side, a gateway to America.
The Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis
The Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University conducts scholarly work that can enhance understanding of the Jewish community. The Center is a multi-disciplinary research institute and an integral part of Brandeis University's distinguished programs in Jewish studies and communal service.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City has a tremendous collection of resources and exhibits. The Museum is at once a museum devoted to the exploration of Jewish heritage and a living memorial to the Holocaust. It depicts in detail the lives and communities that shaped Jewish culture in the early part of the century, for it is only through an understanding of life before the Holocaust that one may truly begin to comprehend the magnitude of its destruction - and the sense of determination and courage that shaped the renewal of Jewish life after the war.
JewishGen: The Home of Jewish Genealogy
(An affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust)
JewishGen connects researchers of Jewish genealogy worldwide. The site includes a JewishGen Discussion Group, the JewishGen Family Finder (a database of 400,000 surnames and towns), the comprehensive directory of InfoFiles, ShtetLinks for over 200 communities, Yizkor Book translations, and databases such as the JewishGen Communities Database and the All Country Databases.
The National Center for Jewish Film
The National Center for Jewish Film is a unique, independent, nonprofit motion picture archive, distributor, and resource center, housing the largest collection of Jewish-themed film in the world, outside of Israel. NCJF exclusively owns 10,000 reels of feature films, documentaries, shorts, newsreels, home movies, and institutional films, dating from 1903 to the present. NCJF has restored dozens of “orphan” films, including 36 Yiddish language feature films.
The National Museum of American Jewish History
Since 1976, The National Museum of American Jewish History has been dedicated to collecting, preserving and interpreting artifacts pertaining to the American Jewish experience.
Southern Jewish Historical Society
The Southern Jewish Historical Society is focused on learning about the Jewish experience in the American South from the Colonial period, through the Civil War to the present.
The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington
Founded by volunteers in 1960 and incorporated as a nonprofit in 1965, The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and its Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum preserve, chronicle and present the story of the local Jewish community through archival collections, exhibits, educational programs, publications, and the restoration and preservation of the oldest synagogue building in the nation’s capital.
American Jewish Yearbook
Produced by the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Year Book is a rich source for information and analysis about the American Jewish community, Jewish demography, Jewish history, and Jewish life worldwide.
The Jewish Virtual Library
A division of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, the Jewish Virtual Library is a comprehensive online Jewish encyclopedia, covering everything from anti-Semitism to Zionism. More than 13,000 articles and 6,000 photographs and maps have been integrated into the site. Their Vital Statistics section has an exhaustive list of current statistics and comparative data.
National Jewish Databank
The central repository of social scientific studies of North American Jewry, the Data Bank’s primary functions are to (1) acquire, archive, and disseminate quantitative data sets and reports, both contemporary and historical and (2) encourage utilization of the archive through training and provide information about methods for studying Jewish communities.
National Jewish Population Survey
The National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) is a representative survey of the Jewish population in the United States and is sponsored by United Jewish Communities and the Jewish federation system.
The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington
Founded by volunteers in 1960 and incorporated as a nonprofit in 1965, The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and its Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum preserve, chronicle and present the story of the local Jewish community through archival collections, exhibits, educational programs, publications, and the restoration and preservation of the oldest synagogue building in the nation’s capital. The Museum is located in the historic 1876 Adas Israel Synagogue—the oldest in the Washington, DC, area. The synagogue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.