American Jewish Historical Society

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Society's Archive of American Jews in Sports Sponsors Lectures by Peter Levine and Aviva Kempner

As part of its effort to chronicle and promote an appreciation of the historic participation of American Jews at every level of sports, the Society´s Archive of American Jews in Sports co-sponsored two lectures of a symposium entitled “Unexpected Encounters : Jewish and Western Cultures at the Crossroads.” The Jewish Studies Program at Kean University, Union, New Jersey, hosted the symposium.

The symposium sought to provide insight into Jewish and general Western cultures unexpected encounters and influences as they shaped the American Jewish experience in the 20th century. One of the most unusual of those encounters was on the playing fields of interwar American sports, where innocent revelry turned out to have been a crucial stage in the Jewish immigrant experience.

Professor Peter Levine of Michigan State University, author of From Ellis Island to Ebbets Field : Sport and the American Jewish Experience, offered stories, anecdotes, and portraits to recreate the world of Jewish immigrants and its historic intersection with American sports. Whether played or watched, American sports became a crucible in which immigrants and their second-generation children negotiated prejudice, created economic opportunity, worked out parent-child relationships and created a remarkably fertile “American Jewish” middle ground.

Independent filmmaker Aviva Kempner introduced a showing of her new, award-winning documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. To a generation of Jews still anxious about its place in American life in the 1930s and 1940s, Hank Greenberg, the slugging first baseman of the Detroit Tigers, became a larger-than-life hero who refused to play in a crucial game during the Yom Kippur holiday and instead attended synagogue services. The Archive of American Jews in Sports had previously sponsored the inaugural New York showing of Hank Greenberg at Lincoln Center.

AJHS Archival Field Service Will Preserve Records of Major Jewish Organizations

Few ethnic or religious groups in the United States are as highly organized and coherent as contemporary American Jewry. Especially since 1945, American Jewry has become one of the best-organized, most influential ethno- religious groups in the United States.

This was not always so. The remarkable story of American Jewry´s transformation from an 18th century outpost of Western European Jewish culture to a 21st century position of leadership of world Jewry is now the focus of widespread historical study. Our history holds important lessons for understanding who we are as a people today. Much of the primary material for understanding our past is contained in the records of the numerous communal, political and social agencies American Jewry created in the 19th and 20th centuries to deal with social, political and legal problems. A large number of those records are housed at the American Jewish Historical Society, but many more are still unavailable to researchers.

To assure that future generations can conduct serious historical analysis of the phenomenal transformation of American Jewry as a communal group, the archival records of major national Jewish organizations, many of them warehoused in the New York area, must be collected, preserved and made available to the international research and scholarly communities.

Only a handful of major Jewish organizations have an archival management system that allows for the ongoing collection of records, their preservation in a state-of-the-art storage facility, regular preservation reviews and, most significantly, access for researchers who want to write the history of these organizations or their involvement in particular domestic or international issues. The American Jewish Historical Society is obligated by its mission to assure that these and other records are not lost to posterity.

To meet its obligation to preserve Jewish organizational collections that are currently undermanaged, unmanaged or not easily accessible to researchers, the Society has designed an Archival Field Service, which will include the following:

  • Consultation on retention and management of recent and current records
  • Identification of those historic records suitable for research use
  • Liaison with management of warehouses where the records are stored
  • Review and reänement of researcher finding aids to the collections
  • Transfer of requested materials from institutional warehouses to the Center for Jewish History reading room and return of materials to the warehouses
  • Availability of researcher finding aids at the Society´s Center for Jewish History reading room
  • Control of researcher handling of materials in the reading room by AJHS staff
  • Assessment of and recommendation for preservation needs

The American Jewish Historical Society will bring professional management and provide researcher access to some of America´s most important Jewish organizations. The response by those major Jewish organizations that have been asked to participate thus far has been highly favorable. Few initiatives promise to accomplish more in the area of American Jewish archival preservation and access than the American Jewish Historical Society´s Archival Field Service. It is an idea whose time has definitely arrived.

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