38 Western Jewish Historical Societies, Museums and Archives
Available to the public Online and at Depositories
Asked to design a mass email to announce that 11 Western Jewish historical societies, 4 museums, and 23 archives had just posted been on my website, Jo Yatar, graphic designer, opened her notebook: "Is there another list like it?" "None I know of," I replied. As a longtime client, I expected and got more questions. Why did you start it? What does it include? What's noteworthy about it?
In the 1960s, when I first learned of Jewish pioneering in the early West, I flung myself into this budding history in search of answers to questions I'd never thought to ask. While researching and writing various articles, I met and prized my relationships with the directors, archivists, and librarians of the first Western Jewish historical societies, a Western Jewish history center, the editor of a Western Jewish history journal, and the staffs at several university special collections. They encouraged my efforts, recommended resources, and filed my published stories. As did I, most perceived in this emerging history, despite horrendous hardships, ample evidence that thousands of openly Jewish pioneers were as accredited citizens in an open society.
Deeply grateful for help I'd received, and eager to assist other researchers, when I started my first website in the mid-1990s, I included a list of the first seven Western Jewish historical societies, all founded between 1952 and 1981. By 2002, I'd added another five historical societies, four museums, and nine historical collections. The current Archives list includes twenty-three historical collections, gathered by eight historical societies, a museum, a major Western Jewish research center, and a Western Jewish historical journal, plus tweve collections assembled by historians, families, and congregations. The good news is that these collections are now available to the public online and at major universities, libraries, a state record center, two historical societies, a museum, and a temple.
What's most noteworthy about these voluminous collections is that they were gathered in the last five decades by historians and archivists, enthusiastically assisted by history-hungry Western Jewish volunteers of every possible stripe. Of these efforts, an expanding history of biblical breadth is being recovered. This work will continue, deepen, and expand. As it does, more Jews will discover in their Western American roots records of their dramatic march out of strictly-imposed exclusion and into unprecedented freedom to be and do their best.