Posted on December 4th, 2013 by Rachel
People sometimes ask me, “What is the use of Jewish history?” And “why do you study and write about that so much?” Author and historian, Lucy Davidowitz, wrote a book on this subject.
2007.054.027 Book cover, The Hoffburger Journey in America: 1882-2005, compiled primarily by Lois Hoffberger Blum Feinblatt.
Others take their concern and doubt to an annoying level, saying, “History is not important.” Perhaps not, for them, compared with the latest Hollywood gossip, the score of Sunday’s football game or newest technological toy. Their view is short sighted, to say the least.
For me, researching and writing about Jewish history is akin to raising a memorial to departed relatives, ancestors and – yes – to strangers. Some may be famous community or congregational leaders while others served their families quietly with love and dedication.
Only two of my relatives served the community in public ways – one was a Hershfield who served as secretary of a synagogue in New Jersey. The shul is now defunct, and I have no documentation about this except for Oral History tapes of my mother.
Another Hershfield in the same family in Jersey City served on the public School Board. But this branch of the family are notorious for not answering letters, and we have been out of touch with them since the 1960s, so no documentation has been found to verify the anecdote.
(As for yichus, that is, genealogical status, I sometimes imagine that I am descended from a 2nd Century Sage or a Levitical priest. But this may be ego on my part!)
Every time we quest for our family’s history, read an article in a Jewish History periodical or visit the JMM, we are raising a memorial to the whole Jewish people. It is like placing rocks on the top of tombstones when we visit cemeteries. The purpose is to make the marker-stone larger, thereby, increasing the honor of those who have passed away. Saying Kaddish for one’s father is another example. Sharing our genealogies with living relatives is a third example of zichron – remembering our ancestors. And from where we came.
1973.008.001 Collage of Galitzianer gravestones (1903) from Gruft family collection. Artist unknown.]
The value of learning, teaching and celebrating our many-faceted history becomes more apparent when we consider how often in history that the Jewish people have faced extreme adversity. Even if our immigrant-ancestors lived a life of obscurity, toiling in the moderate Garment Industry of Jonestown or peddling as an arabisher, there is eternal value to our interest, care and memory of them. We need the Eternal One’s eyes to perceive the value of Jewish history.
1997.149.003 Button sewing machine (1930s), made by Singer, from D. Schwartz and Sons Garment Machinery Co., of Baltimore Street and later, Gay Street.
A blog post by Collections Volunteer Robert Siegel. To read more posts by and about JMM volunteers, click here.
Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by Rachel
Robert Siegel is our newest volunteer at the JMM. He has been with us for just over a month. He volunteers in the Archives department because he loves history and finds old documents intriguing. Also, because he knows that in the history world, what he is doing will be helpful to others in their research.
He is currently looking at questionnaires completed by Museum donors regarding their family histories, and at information about their donations. This information will be useful for the upcoming Accession’s Committee meeting at the JMM. He also does work in the photo archives with identifications. He inputs all of this information into Past Perfect, the Museum software system.
Robert admits to having a passion for Jewish history. He majored in History in college and had a double minor in Jewish Studies and German Studies. He acknowledges that most of his assignments involved some aspect or another of Jewish History.
He had the opportunity to live in Vienna, Austria for a while and hopes to live in Europe again someday. He won’t admit to being fluent in German, but has a strong intermediate level of understanding. He enjoys family history, and while researching his, he learned about a branch of the family who came to Baltimore in the 1950’s, the Hershfield’s. They are related to his mother and he’s trying to find out more about them. His great-great-grandparents emigrated from Moldova in the late 19th century. He is trying to follow clues to their past also.
We’re glad that Robert is able to meet his needs and ours by volunteering at the JMM. We hope he’ll continue to do so for a good, long while.
A blog post by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen. The first Monday of every month she will be highlighting one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-732-6402 x217! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.