Rescuing Community Records

Jewish Museum/YIVO

The waves of immigration to the U.S. in the 19th century are a well-known chapter in American history, but 2.7 million Jews arrived in the country in the 20th century. Some were seeking fresh opportunity in a new land, while many others were escaping poverty, anti-Semitism, Communism or Nazi persecution.

Who those immigrants were — how they were able to survive and acculturate to American life and the massive contributions they made to New York — is one of history’s most riveting human narratives. (Howard Milstein’s grandfather Morris Milstein’s experience is part of that account.) But this story’s details were in danger of being lost forever, as the documents that recorded it became fragile and risked being discarded. Thanks to the Milstein Jewish Communal Archive Project, those stories will be preserved. A three-year project, launched by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research at the Center for Jewish History in 2006, consolidated a wealth of records archived by five New York Jewish social service agencies. In preserving them for the benefit of scholars, historians, and future generations, the project serves as a model for saving the archives of Jewish agencies nationwide.

“The coming of Jews to America in the 20th century is one of the ten most important events in Jewish history. Without the assistance of these UJA-directed social service agencies, it would have been extremely difficult for those Jews to settle in New York and start a new life in a new country…. Jewish social service agencies have amassed a vast and extraordinarily rich archive of documents… and other materials that, taken together, document the entire history of the organized New York Jewish community.”

— Bruce Slovin, Chairman, YIVO Institute & Center for Jewish History

Visit Website: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

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