LilaTovCocktail: Ingredients: one part NE Ohio; two parts politics; two parts media, and one part each: culture, family & the Jewish community. Directions: Shake well.

May is Jewish American Heritage Month!


Jewish American Heritage Month thrives online

by Lila Hanft, CJN, 05/15/08

For Purim, you have the megillah; for Passover, the haggadah. And for Jewish American Heritage Month, you have the Internet.

In the three years since
Jewish American Heritage Month
was established, Cleveland, like most major U.S. cities, hasn’t done much to honor or recognize it. And this year the holiday, celebrated in May, has been overshadowed by Israel@60 celebrations.

In the virtual world of the Internet, however, Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) is going strong, thanks to the online museum curators, Internet librarians and digital historians who for the last decade have been preserving and democratizing Jewish American history by putting it online.

A growing number of websites not only preserve historical evidence of Jewish life in America (photos, personal stories, songs, news footage, home movies, diaries and newspaper clippings), but organize and present it in creative and thought-provoking ways.

The Yahoo directory contains about 2,800 listings for Jewish-American history websites, which, naturally, vary greatly in quality and usefulness. The best of them, like the websites of the Library of Congress and the Jewish Women’s Archives, contain a treasure trove of online information you could take weeks or months to pore over. Fortunately, in addition to online access to their holdings, ings, these sites also offer carefully- curated, interactive, multimedia exhibits that guide browsing visitors through new terrain.

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress’s website “The American Jewish Experience” is a state-of-the-art online exhibit built upon “From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life,” its acclaimed 2005 exhibit. A colorful interactive “Timeline of American Jewish History” can be accessed from the homepage (see list of links, below). “Interactive,” used in regard to online exhibits, means that the viewer has the opportunity to control how he moves through the online exhibit, whether chronological or in some other linear way, taking sidetrips to see additional photos or to read supplementary text.

Excerpts from the 1790 correspondence between Moses Seixas and George Washington can be enlarged so the viewer can read the two men’s declaration of American tolerance — “to
bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” n in their own handwriting.

The exhibit also contains Yiddish and English posters, sheet music, Rosh Hashanah cards. and prayerbooks intended to appeal to late 19th- and early 20th-century Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. There are similar artifacts in the sections on anti-Semitism, nationalism, Zionism, and development of the Jewish social-service system.

In addition to the main exhibit, the Library of Congress has other material related to Jewish-American history (Sephardic music, interviews with Jewish WW II veterans) that can
be reached from the Jewish American Heritage Month homepage.

The Jewish Women’s Archive

Founded in 1995, The Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) collects historical material by and about American Jewish women, offering a vast array of unique online material you would be
hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

Women of Valor” is a series of multimedia Web exhibits which use photographs, documents, and historical artifacts to spotlight trailblazing Jewish women like Henrietta Szold and Bella Abzug, who overcame social, cultural and religious barriers and made meaningful contributions to their communities.

The multimedia exhibit “Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution” looks at the many ways Jewish women contributed to the feminist movement. It also examines how feminists changed their own Jewish communities.

JWA also archives The American Jewess (1895-1899), which described itself at the time as “the only magazine in the world devoted to the interests of Jewish women.” The first English-language periodical targeted at American Jewish women, The American Jewess covered a surprising and controversial array of topics that ranged from women’s place in the synagogue to whether women should ride bicycles. Read the JWA’s blog “Jewesses with Attitude” for posts that use excerpts from The American Jewess to examine whether the concerns of Jewish women in the 1890s resonate with Jewish women’s experiences today.

The Triangle Factory Fire

Websites with a narrow focus can have a powerful impact. For example, the Triangle Factory fire website, created by Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations, uses layers upon layers of material to bring to life not just the fire, but the extended public outcry which followed. Testimonials from factory workers, speeches by labor leaders, and newspaper coverage of the fire and the trial (in which the factory owners were ultimately found innocent) create an intense, engaging experience.

Vivid evidence of the outrage and distress that followed the fire is seen in the speeches, editorials, political cartoons, popular music and calls for reform.

It doesn’t have fancy graphics or much depth of material yet, but promises to be a singular resource for Cleveland’s Jewish heritage.

Arnie Berger started the website in 2006 because “so little of (Jewish Cleveland’s) nearly 170-year history (is) on the Web.” To address this deficit, Berger has been developing new content and encouraging Jewish organizations to present their own histories online. He has gathered links to little-known resources for Cleveland and American Jewish history, like “The History of Jewish Life in Cleveland” page on the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland’s website, and the online version of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

A newer addition, more than 30 pages about Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver along with 70 photos, is the largest Silver archive online. Berger hopes to add audio files so the user “can experience his eloquence.” also offers a photo archive of historic Cleveland synagogues. The archive includes images of the Wilson Avenue Temple, the Euclid Ave. Temple (with its Tiffany windows), and the Morison Avenue Bath House and the Cleveland Jewish Center in Glenville.

Berger will soon add a section on Cleveland’s contributions to the Soviet Jewry movement, and is soliciting images and memories for an upcoming section on Jewish Glenville. is a labor of love for Berger, who hopes the site will be a catalyst for others to put their local Jewish history online.


Additional sites to visit during Jewish American Heritage Month

1. From the Jewish American Heritage Month homepage you can find visit other content related to Jewish-American history in the Library of Congress’s collection, including:

2. In a similar vein, The Center for Jewish History’s Letters from the Front: Jewish War Heroes commemorates of the special role played by Jewish soldiers in the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in World War II. At the same site, visit the exhibit Jews in America: Our Story.

3. The mission of the Goldring-Woldenberg Institute on Southern Jewish Life is to present a history of every congregation and significant Jewish community in the South. Currently, they have completed Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee - and will add other states in the future.

4. The Jewish Museum has several online arts-related exhibits:

5. At the Photo Galleries of the American Sephardi Federation, there are photos by Sephardic artists as well as works with Sephardic content, like the the portraits of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

6. A Perfect Fit: The Garment Industry and American Jewry, 1860-1960 at the Yeshiva University Museum traces the early thread of 19th-century Jewish immigrants seeking success in America.

7. The American Jewish Committee Archives’s tagline is “Making History Instantly Accessible,” and its multimedia archives include

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