web analytics
August 2, 2015 / 17 Av, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Bringing Jewish History To Life


Shortly after she became chief archivist at the American Jewish Committee in 2001, Charlotte Bonelli came to believe the material she was discovering should be shared with the world.

“I would pull a box a box off a shelf, open it up, and find inside, for instance, World War II-era pro-democracy comics or scripts of radio broadcasts featuring stars such as James Cagney, William Holden, and Helen Hayes urging unity on the home front,” says Bonelli.

“I also found fascinating documents about the surveillance of pro-Nazi organizations in America during the war and similar efforts with various extremist groups in later years.”

Bonelli, who studied history with the renowned historian of American Jewish history Naomi W. Cohen, called her former teacher in Israel to express her excitement about her discoveries in the AJC archives.

“When I called her, I had on my desk a collection of very dramatic full-page AJC sponsored ads promoting America’s war effort. I was full of enthusiasm and I was pleased that Dr. Cohen thought my excitement entirely justified.”

Cohen’s encouragement served to strengthen Bonelli’s growing commitment to preserving these collections and making them accessible to the world. But the funds simply weren’t available at AJC for such a major project.

Some time passed and Bonelli was unsure how to proceed. Then a call came in to AJC Executive Director David A. Harris. The call was from New York philanthropist George Blumenthal, an avid collector of Jewish historical artifacts, including early Zionist memorabilia, and a man dedicated to making Jewish history as accessible as possible.

A year later, with Blumenthal’s extensive support, ajcarchives.org was born. At the new site, a century of American Jewish history springs vividly to life.

Visitors are just a click away from viewing the WWII-era documents and artifacts that had fired Bonelli’s imagination. They can also read AJC correspondence with Henry Ford; listen to a broadcast of the first Jewish religious service conducted by American GI’s on liberated German soil; and view letters between AJC and David Ben-Gurion, among other seminal figures.

The site opens doors to historic artifacts related to AJC’s many contacts with Catholic leaders as the Church moved toward Vatican II, where the deicide charge against the Jews was finally dropped. And to stirring films of Natan Sharansky, Elie Wiesel, and others addressing the historic Freedom Sunday Rally for Soviet Jewry in Washington in 1987.

“Unlike the vast majority of archival websites, ajcarchives.org provides instant access to much of the archival material itself. It takes a vital step beyond the traditional listing of archival contents,” says Bonelli.

The unusual access the site provides to the material itself is the result of a painstaking digitization process undertaken by Bonelli and her staff.

Through its user-friendly interactive timelines, and its basic and advanced search engines, the website opens to the Internet user an ever-expanding treasure chest of materials.

The site now contains a total of more than 75,000 pages of documents; a rare collection of films, radio and television broadcasts; more than 100 years of the American Jewish Year Book, the acclaimed annual record of events and trends in the Jewish world; and selections from the AJC-sponsored William E. Weiner Oral History Collection, one of the largest oral history collections in the United States.

The oral history excerpts let you listen in on intimate conversations with, among others, Abba Eban, Hank Greenberg, Golda Meir, George Burns, and Molly Picon.

In the Molly Picon interviews, for instance, you’ll hear the legendary Yiddish theater and film star, along with actor Jacob Kalich, tell a heartrending story about performing a concert in Poland for hundreds of children who had survived the Holocaust.

After singing for a few hours on a hastily constructed stage in an outdoor field in Warsaw, it began to rain. Then came an extraordinary downpour – “a tsaluchas,” Picon says, using a Yiddish term. She was forced to announce that, because of the rain, the concert was over.

Suddenly, a small child of no more than five years old standing near the front stood up and yelled out: “No! There is no rain! Sing, sing, sing!”

Film and radio selections available at the site include AJC-produced dramas about the devastating effects of anti-Semitism, prejudice, and hate. Among the famous actors and actresses you’ll see or hear bringing impressive intensity to these productions are Robert Duvall, Colleen Dewhurst, and Melvyn Douglas.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Bringing Jewish History To Life”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Cong. Albio Sires (D-NJ-8)
Third Democrat Breaks with Obama on Iran Nuclear Deal
Latest Indepth Stories
Silhouette of "hilltop settler."

“Yesha” and Binyamin Regional Council leaders said the attack “is not the path of Jews in Judea and Samaria.”

Schwartz-073115

The occasion? The rarely performed mitzvah of pidyon peter chamor: Redemption of a firstborn donkey.

Rabbi YY Rubinstein

American leftists have a pathological self-inflicted blindness to the dangers of political Islam

Tobin-073115

Hillary should THANK Trump; By dominating the news he’s overshadowed the implosion of her campaign

Hard to remember when Jewish youth were so hostile to their heritage as they are on campuses today.

Names of the enablers of Iran’s Nuclear weapons will be added next to Hitler’s on the list of infamy

By most accounts, the one person with the political muscle to swing enough Democratic votes to override a veto is Sen. Schumer.

The next day, in a speech in New York to the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Kerry substantially upped the ante.

In Israel, the judiciary has established itself as superior to ALL other branches of the government.

The Fifteenth Day of the month of Av became a day of national rejoicing. The moment that had seemed hopeless became the moment of Redemption.

I think the melodies in our religious services have a haunting sound to them that just permeates your guts and gets into your soul. If you have any musical inclination, I think they inspire you to compose.

Cavalier analogies to the Holocaust are unacceptable, but Huckabee’s analogy was very appropriate.

Pollard was a Jewish-head-on-a-pike for all American Jews to see and to learn the explicit lesson.

If the Iran deal passes, Obama’s WH becomes world’s leading financier of terrorism against Americans

More Articles from Gary Spruch

More than 140,000 people in the past month have clicked their way to a dramatic YouTube video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZihm6VlYjo) about a historic Jewish religious service led by a Brooklyn-born U.S. Army chaplain.

Shortly after she became chief archivist at the American Jewish Committee in 2001, Charlotte Bonelli came to believe the material she was discovering should be shared with the world.

“I would pull a box a box off a shelf, open it up, and find inside, for instance, World War II-era pro-democracy comics or scripts of radio broadcasts featuring stars such as James Cagney, William Holden, and Helen Hayes urging unity on the home front,” says Bonelli.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/bringing-jewish-history-to-life/2007/03/14/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: