Saving Our Stories | American Libraries Magazine

Ladino singer-songwriter Sarah Aroeste discusses how the migration of Sephardic Jews from Spain to Macedonia and Greece shaped Ladino music. Aroeste performed on June 27 at the 2022 Conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries. Photo: Sally Stieglitz

The breadth and depth of Jewish cultural heritage and history was explored at the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) 2022 conference, held in Philadelphia June 27-29. Aptly titled “Together Again,” the event was the AJL’s first in-person conference since 2019. Attendees gathered at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History for programs spanning a wide range of collections, books and Jewish experiences.

Showcasing history

In the “Documenting History through Collections” session, presenters discussed how collections tell or exclude stories from the past.

Herb Calanes, retired director of public libraries in Corpus Christi, Texas, shared his research on Sephardic Jews in northern Mexico (an area then known as Nueva España) after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Although Sephardi families are longtime members of the Nueva España community, they were largely absent from official records, Calanes noted. Her work focuses on including Jewish stories that have otherwise been erased from historical records.

Lauren Gilbert, head of public services at the Center for Jewish History in New York, spoke about the center’s Sid Lapidus Collection of Early Modern Judaica, which examines the intersection of Jewish life and the Enlightenment movement in 18th-century Europe. and nineteenth centuries. . Through key documents, she highlighted the expansion of freedoms for Jews during this period.

Between the 1880s and 1910s, hundreds of postcards depicting Jewish life were produced in the city of Salonica (now Thessaloniki, Greece), which at the time had a thriving Jewish population. Gabriel Mordoch, Irving M. Hermelin Curator of Judaica at the University of Michigan (UM) Library in Ann Arbor, explored UM’s collection of these postcards, which captured home life, professional life, customs and dress of Sephardic Jewish communities.

Collections and community

During “In Real Life: Building and Updating Physical Judaica Collections,” attendees discovered three research collections that have interesting origins or faced unique challenges.

Lenore Bell, senior advisor for strategic initiatives at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, reviewed the changes taking place at the museum’s Shapell Center, a specialized facility that holds the US Holocaust archival collection. Previously, the physical layout of the center was not conducive to collaborative work. Improvements have therefore been made to move technical services and areas open to the public to better meet needs. The changes resulted in a “dynamic new center for access and collection service”, Bell said.

The second is the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library, which holds the largest and most diverse collection of Jewish cookbooks in the world. The collection “tells us about women’s work that is often missing from scholarly and primary sources,” said Amanda (Miryem-Khaye) Seigel, research librarian for the division. The Closed Stack Collection was the initiative of the late Roberta Saltzman, who collected a wide range of materials, including community cookbooks, such as those created by women’s organizations for local audiences. “Sometimes a historical cookbook is the only documentation of a community,” Seigel said.

Finally, the archives of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim came into existence through a chance discovery: previously unknown historical documents were found in a filing cabinet, leading the Montreal-area synagogue to hire an archivist. Hannah Srour-Zackon was hired as Archivist and Director of the Congregational Museum and began the difficult process of identifying and organizing records for preservation and access.

As word of the binder’s contents spread, more stored documents were discovered within the community. The collection, which dates back to 1902, includes photos, sermons, recordings of synagogue activities, rabbinical documents, musical compositions and marriage records – and ‘kept snowballing from there’ , Srour-Zackon said. Processed records (except those limited by copyright law or privacy concerns) are made available to the public and continue to grow as a living archive. She credits the archives’ success largely to outreach efforts: “By engaging the community, people learn what we have.”

preserve the language

Singer-songwriter, author and activist Sarah Aroeste illuminated her Jewish heritage with an evening musical performance at “Ladino Culture From Yesterday to Today”. Ladino is a pan-Mediterranean, Judeo-Spanish culture and dialect spoken by those with Sephardic roots and is in danger of disappearing. Aroeste sang songs in Ladino and shared stories about the community’s history and family background.

“[Aroeste’s] pride in his heritage is much appreciated by those of us who share [these origins]said Arlene Ratzabi, librarian at the Westchester Jewish Center in Mamaroneck, New York, and a participant in the performance. “[She] is a multi-talented force of nature who has brilliantly [brought] Ladino music and culture to life.

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