by Miriam Rinn
Former Communications Director, JCC Association
Originally featured in the summer 2003 issue of JCC Circle.
The JCC Movement ls part of that history, and the JCC story is part of the Jewish Welfare Board records now taking up 1,500 linear feet at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City. The boxes of Jewish Welfare Board personnel records, photos, meeting minutes, conference reports, chaplains· letters , and other materials make up a large collection that dates from 1917 to 1990. “Whatever was happening at JCCs is very well documented,” said Lyn Slome, director of library and archives at the AJHS, and all that material is now available to scholars and educators who want to understand more about the Jewish American experience.
The collection had been languishing in a warehouse in Massachusetts before the AJHS undertook its archival processing. The Society faced the challenge of sorting and organizing, and they proceeded in a professional way with generous grants from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. “It takes a certain skill to organize such a large collection,” said Slome. First, an archivist made a processing plan and organized the collection into series. Besides the History of Jewish Community Centers, the series include Administration, Conventions, Field Service, Jewish Education, Veteran’s Affairs, and Camping Services.
Once that’s done, the processing archivist prepares a finding aid, which consists of a historical note, a chronology, and a scope-and-content note for each series. “It was decided to do a box-level description,” said Slome, but the AJHS hopes eventually to create a folder-level database, which will be searchable on the Internet. They may need a $50,000 grant to achieve that, according to Slome, but the ability to access finding aids on the Internet will make the collection much more available to scholars In other parts of the country or the world.
As it is, scholars are eager to study the JWB archives. “People are very interested in the chaplains,” Slome said. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recently accessed the chaplaincy files for one of their interactive museum projects. Research topics in the collection include Jewish Women in Sports, Jewish Communities in the lnterwar Period, Jewish Chaplaincy in WWI and WWII, the Supply of Kosher Food for the Troops, and Chaplains in the DP Camps after WWII. The correspondence and monthly reports that chaplains sent to JWB reveals the wide range of experiences that they had, particularly during the two World Wars. The documents are very powerful, according to Slome, showing how Jewish chaplains reacted to what was for many their first experiences with non-Jews, and how they tried to help the survivors of the Holocaust they encountered in Germany’s displaced-persons camps. Graduate students from New York University and Yale University have also been looking through the archives, Slome said.
While scholars doing extensive research make appointments, the reading room at the Center for Jewish History, where AJHS is located, is open to the public, and a librarian is always on duty to help researchers or curious readers. The JCC Movement’ s impact on American life has been classified and categorized and is now available for inspection.
Image is from the National Jewish Welfare Board Records , 1917-1990, Veterans Affairs, Chaplains’ Reports, American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY and Newton Centre, MA