by Anna Khomina, Research and Special Projects Intern, Center for Jewish History
Visitors to exhibits at the Center for Jewish History sometimes discover the Ackman and Ziff Genealogy Institute and the adjacent Lillian Goldman Reading Room, and they wonder what these serene and light-filled research oases are. This post serves as a basic introduction to these two rooms, based on inquiries I have received from visitors.
Baum Family Tree. Germany, 1976. c/o Leo Baeck Institute.
The Ackman and Ziff Genealogy Institute is geared towards individuals who would like to know more about their ancestors—be it figuring out the origins of a surname (a quick look into the Institute’s copy of a Jewish surname origins book told me my mother’s last name means “castrated rooster” in Russian), locating an obscure and long-gone Jewish shtetl, or simply tracing a family tree farther. A shelf near the Genealogy Institute’s entrance holds books that offer visitors information on surnames, areas of significant Jewish populations in Europe and beyond, and general directions for searching. Resources focus on Jewish genealogy, though some of them are broader and relevant to people of other backgrounds, such as the option of searching on Ancestry.com and similar genealogy websites for free. A row of computers offers wide genealogy services. So, if you’re curious about discovering your roots, visit the Genealogy Institute and start searching!
The book-filled Lillian Goldman Reading Room serves as a hive for academic research as well as a bridge between the public and the vast archival and book material held by the Center’s partners. A large amount of photographs and papers have been digitized, but if you believe that there’s nothing like the smell of an old cloth-bound book or the feel of a yellowed document, archival collections can be accessed here. If you have searched digital.cjh.org and found any material of interest to you—be it for research or for curious browsing—it can be accessed with the filling out of a simple call slip.
Don’t forget that you can chat with a librarian or genealogist via the Center’s website. Click here to begin!
The column ruminates on nurses, why there have always been so few Jewish nurses, and the importance of Jewish nurses in the professional life of Henrietta Szold and the long history of Hadassah. Hadassah’s mission of practical Zionism, of course, began with 2 Jewish nurses in 1913 and continued with a medical unit in 1918 that sent American Jewish nurses and other health professionals to Palestine to heal the sick as well as to begin training local Jewish women as nurses.
There are many links between Jenna’s column and the collections at the Center for Jewish History. First and foremost is the Hadassah archives, currently on deposit with the American Jewish Historical Society at the Center. Here can be found many of Henrietta Szold’s papers dealing with her leadership during Hadassah’s earliest days and the development of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Palestine. (View the finding aid for the Hadassah Medical Organization collection at: http://digital.cjh.org/826508).
Hadassah led by Henrietta Szold was indeed the driving force behind the creation and funding of the American Zionist Medical Unit, which was finally permitted to sail as part of an American military convoy in the summer of 1918, as WWI was ending. Also participating in the funding for this Unit were the Joint Distribution Committee and the Federation of American Zionists (the forerunner of today’s Zionist Organization of America). For a detailed and powerful oral history recounting the trip across the Atlantic, the long journey from London to Jerusalem that summer, and the unhealthy and unsanitary conditions that these young American Jewish nurses found on their arrival, listen to the oral history recorded by one of the young nurses, Madeleine Lewin-Epstein, 40 years after the event: http://digital.cjh.org/1358275.
Henrietta Szold’s “Familiar Letters,” from which Jenna quotes, are not yet available online, but they can be viewed onsite for research by sending a request to the Center’s reference staff. Jenna wrote, “I couldn’t possibly hold a candle to the glories of Szold’s prose.” Henrietta Szold’s writing is indeed beautiful, detailed and very heartfelt. One of the deepest pleasures of researching original materials is the opportunity to discover unpublished letters, beautifully written.
Jenna also mentions The American Jewess. You can read about The American Jewess Project undertaken by the Jewish Women’s Archive, with issues now available through their website, at: www.jwa.org/research/americanjewess.
Another Center collection in which to find information about Jewish hospitals in New York City is the UJA-Federation of New York collection, now undergoing processing by the American Jewish Historical Society thanks to generous funding from UJA-Federation of New York. Nursing-related files that have turned up so far include mostly budgetary and financial files from the Mount Sinai Hospital Training School for Nurses, 1918 to 1951, plus an intriguing folder labeled, “Salaries of Nurses and Orderlies, 1918-1919.” Within the next few years, watch for announcements of finding aids posted for this large and diverse collection.