Project Launches During International Jewish Genealogy Month
By Sallyann Amdur Sack
Vero Beach, FL: When I began my genealogy research back in 1977, Holy Blossom Synagogue in Toronto, Canada, sent me a copy of my maternal grandparents’ marriage record. Included is crucial information I couldn’t find anywhere else at that time. It’s a good thing that my grandchildren won’t need to look for my marriage record; I’ve made sure that they already have the information it has–but it might have been otherwise.
Last spring we learned that Anshe Chesed (Fairmount Temple) in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, had suffered a significant fire. I grew up in Anshe Chesed and was married there in 1956. Early rumors claimed that archival records had been lost. I checked today and happily learned that the archive was untouched—but it might have been otherwise. I now have sent for copies of all records the Fairmount Temple archivist can find for my family members. I’m going to keep them in a second, properly protected storage place. I’m not the only one who worries about these things. Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation keeps all of its survivor interviews in three different places, as I learned when I visited Dreamworks some years ago.
Sometimes things just seem to unfold all by themselves. That’s the way it was for Kim Sheintal when Kim Adler, the Chief Operating Officer of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee put out a call for grant applications for projects to be completed by the end of this year. Sheintal, long time president of the JGS of (Jewish Genealogical Society of Southwest Florida) Sarasota-Manatee counties, had just spoken to Marlis Humphrey, chair of the L’Dor V’Dor Foundation’s Documentation of Jewish Records (DoJR) Project about DoJR’s Records-at-Risk – Poland project and its project to create JCat, a free, online catalog of all existing Jewish heritage documents anywhere in the world.
Both women know that risk to records of Jewish documentary heritage don’t come only from war in Ukraine, or Iron Dome-protected archives at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem. The fire that occurred at Fairmount Temple in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, showed that records are at risk in the United States as well.
Sheintal’s JGS decided to become the initial U.S. based DoJR “Collaboration Team” and create a project entitled “Jewish Records at Risk in Sarasota-Manatee” that will survey all of the area synagogues, Jewish organizations, and individuals that might have collections valuable to those searching Sarasota-Manatee Jewish roots. The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee had just issued its call, and Sheintal began by responding with an application for the Records-at-Risk project.
Last week, Adler announced that the Federation had awarded Sheintal’s JGS a grant for a pilot project to begin immediately. It will start by listing what the local ORT chapter, Temple Emanu-El, and Kim Sheintal’s personal Jewish history collection have in their possession. Sheintal’s personal Jewish history collection is the product of research she undertook in authoring Jews of Sarasota-Manatee (Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America history book series) and a historical compilation for the 65th anniversary of her synagogue.
In a conversation with me, Adler explained that her Federation likes to give direct grants to individual projects, which allows them to have a better, more immediate sense of how those dollars impact the community. She expressed admiration for Sheintal’s earlier projects and noted how impressed the granting committee was with the DoJR project application. “Our committee felt that it was a really important project. I would urge other Federations to sponsor similar projects in their cities,” Adler volunteered.
“Our committee felt that it was a really important project. I would urge other Federations to sponsor similar projects in their cities” – Kim Adler, COO Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee
The JGS has started a spreadsheet of all area synagogues, organizations and individuals that might have collections valuable to those searching Sarasota-Manatee Jewish roots. Among other things, the process will identify and characterize organizations and individuals that hold historic Jewish records, paying special attention to “records at risk,” i.e., holdings in fragile physical condition and/or those especially vulnerable to damage or destruction. The grant will cover preservation expenses for digitization, archival storage, and advertising to individuals in possession of historical records. At the end of the pilot project, Sheintal expects to apply to the Federation for money to complete the entire project—and Adler looks forward to seeing that application as well.
An example of local records at risk, is a Jewish newspaper that began publication in Sarasota in 1971 as The Chronicle and later became The Jewish News. Unlike other Jewish newspapers from across the state that have been preserved by the University of Florida in its Ethnic Newspapers from Florida collection, the surviving paper copies of Sarasota’s Chronicle/JewishNews early editions were never digitized and now are deteriorating.
Project organizers also will interview custodial organizations and individuals and survey their holdings and create a JCat entry for each historical Jewish record collection that will inform plans for the conservation and preservation of the documents. The description will be available worldwide free of charge to anyone seeking to identify Jewish ancestors who lived in Sarasota-Manatee and to learn about their lives within the community.
Other plans call for preservation, curating and indexing of records as desired. The Florida State Genealogical Society Preservation Program chair, John Laurent, has offered to collaborate with Sheintal on best preservation practices and acquisition of equipment and volunteers if needed.
The JGS SW FL is one of 90 members of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). The IAJGS launched and incubated the DoJR project as a strategic initiative with a vision that each JGS identify and preserve documentary heritage in its own backyard.
Sponsored by the IAJGS and observed during the Jewish month of Cheshvan, International Jewish Genealogy Month honors our Jewish ancestors through the pursuit of Jewish family history research. What better way to honor those who came before us than by preserving the records of their lives in our own Jewish communities – as a community project and mitzvah of memory secured for future generations. The foresight of the JGS SW FL and the Federation to launch this Records-at-Risk project is especially important in coastal communities such as Sarasota and Fort Myers where loss from flooding and hurricanes is an ever-present danger. Collaboration with the L’Dor V’Dor Foundation means that their efforts will be brought to researchers worldwide.
With local, state, and international collaboration unfolding, Sheintal has garnered the support for a successful preservation project that we hope will inspire similar initiatives in other locations throughout the Diaspora. Many organizations are involved, but with one important thing in common – preserving Jewish documentary heritage before it is too late.
Jewish genealogical societies and other organizations and individuals interested in starting a Jewish Records at Risk project for their locality, should contact Marlis Humphrey, [email protected]. Humphrey adds that
“When the Jewish genealogy community, with the ambitious leadership of Kim Sheintal works with the support of the local Jewish community, as has happened here through the visionary support of the Federation, the entire Jewish community benefits.
The big impact of preserving these records is derived from the information they contain that strengthens our self-knowledge and identity and connects us through time and space, past, present, and future.” – Marlis Humphrey, CEO LDVDF
About L’Dor V’Dor Foundation
The L’Dor V’Dor Foundation (LDVDF) is advancing ancestral discovery for anyone with interest in Jewish family history and heritage. LDVDF is rescuing lost Jewish heritage through its Documentation of Jewish Records Worldwide (DoJR) project. DoJR’s goal is to discover every existing document of every Jew who ever lived – Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Crypto, Rabbinic and more – in a massive, free, online searchable catalogue called JCat.
About the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies
The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) is an organization of organizations formed in 1988 to provide a common voice for issues of significance to its members, to advance genealogical avocation, and to coordinate items such as the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.
About the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee
The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee strives to strengthen Jewish life and identity in its region, provide for Jewish people in need, and promote support for Israel. As one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the United States, they offer exciting programming and events where Jews of all ages can connect and engage with their culture and their peers in a safe, secure environment. They provide education grants, lead mission trips to Israel, work to fight antisemitism, and provide financial support to community organizations whose work aligns with its mission and values. The Federation is focused on building the foundation for a strong, vibrant, secure Jewish future in Sarasota-Manatee.
About the Jewish Genealogical Society of Southwest Florida
The Jewish Genealogical Society of Southwest Florida (JGS SW FL), based in Sarasota and Manatee counties, assists individuals in learning about Jewish genealogy and methods for researching and documenting one’s family history. JGS SW FL is dedicated to collecting, preserving and disseminating genealogical information, techniques and research tools.