Connecticut: Recording oral histories and more

The Jewish Ledger of Connecticut covered oral history interviews in conjunction with National Day of Listening (November 27), while focusing on Estelle Kafer, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford.

The article covers Kafer’s suggestions and the society’s goal in the collection and preservation of the area community’s historical documents, photos and memorabilia. Its archive (open to the public by appointment) holds synagogue and organization collections as well as individual oral histories and memorabilia.

Kafer has organized several projects, from “Remembering the Old Neighborhood,” a book project on Hartford’s north end, to Hartford, to “Pride, Honor and Courage,” a documentary and exhibit on area women during World War II.

Reading through the Q&A from the article may provide ideas for you to think about in relation to your own Jewish genealogical society, your towns and cities, synagogues and school projects.

Kafer says oral history is important as it is a primary source, from the individuals who lived that history. In the old days (pre-computer and television), people talked more and families met more frequently, often sharing stories.

An oral history allows us to have an accounting of a person’s life as they recall it, which becomes part of our community history. We have researchers who come in all the time to look through the oral histories and see what was happening at a certain time: where people lived, what they did with their free time, where they went to synagogue and what those places were like. It’s a true-to-life accounting of history, because it’s a primary source. They lead us to facts about what was going on in the community at the time. It’s interesting to hear a true-to-life experience as opposed to reading facts in a book, to hear first-hand what a synagogue was like and what happened there, for example, instead of merely reading statistics in a book.

The Jewish Historical Society also offers workshops on interviewing and brings in professionals to help those interested. Such people have included the director of the University of Connecticut Oral History Office and the president of the New England Association of Oral History.

On May 2, the Family History Day will feature prominent Jewish genealogist Arthur Kurzweil, author of the must-read Jewish genealogy bestseller “From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History,” and co-founder of the first Jewish Genealogical Society (New York City) in the ’70s. It will feature beginner and advanced workshops on genealogy, memoir writing, how to do an oral history and its importance, scrapbooking and preserving photos and documents. Additionally, some videographers will do short 15-20-minute interviews for participants to take home.

The day will provide an opportunity to learn about interviewing parents and grandparents and will likely result in a resource for the community archive as these interviews are shared with the JHS.

For the past few years, the JGS has been conducting an oral history workshop for 7th-grade students and their parents at Beth El Temple religious school.

Says Kafer, the parents usually say how great it is for kids to have the opportunity to ask parents and other family members those questions.

Tracing the Tribe wishes we had had the opportunity to ask our grandparents and older relatives all the questions that we wanted to ask after we become interested in genealogy. By the time we’d learned what questions to ask, there was no one to ask. These projects with young people will enable them to record valuable information while they still can from the people who can provide the answers.

There’s also informtion on the book project about the North End, and how students interviewed temple members who grew up there. The students also interviewed women in the synagogue for the WWII project. They transcribe their interviews and give them to the JHS.

What does the JHS archive offer?

Said Kafer, it is an archives by the community for the , and includes collections from synagogues, Jewish educational institutions, Jewish agencies and the JCC, as well as more than 800 oral histories, a large photo collection of all subjects – institutions, synagogues and individuals. There are also files on people and documents concerning those who made community contributions which were covered in the media.

The JHS is always looking for more material.

Says Kafer:

When you go through your parents’ home, we ask people to not just throw things into the garbage, but to look through things carefully and contact us if there’s something they think we could incorporate into the archives.em>

Some good ideas to think about. Read the complete article at the link above.


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