The Boro Park Historical Society has made arrangements to transfer the majority of its collection of artifacts and documents to the Amud Aish Memorial Museum in Mill Basin, Brooklyn.
The Boro Park Historical Society was founded in 1983 by Jacque Friedman and Phillip J. Kipust. “Phillip wrote a column called ‘I Remember Boro Park’ in the Boro Park Community News,” Friedman recently recalled in an interview with The Jewish Press. “He was interested in history and we decided to form the Society. We started a circular, and quite a few people joined. … At the time we had Jews and non-Jews in the Society, and our file cabinets got bigger and bigger over the years as we saved quite a number of artifacts.”
The Boro Park Community News, also founded by Friedman, became the Society’s means of communicating with the neighborhood. “We wanted the Society to be a community project with all the ethnic groups of Boro Park represented: Italians, Asians, Scandinavians; we truly were a diverse meeting,” Friedman said.
The Historical Society collected and archived books, newspapers, and more. “We collected the books that came out from Etz Chaim, the first Boro Park yeshiva, located on 13th Avenue. We even acquired the yeshiva’s original stamp.”
Like the Etz Chaim Yeshiva, which closed in 1978, there is little left of old Boro Park. “It is a much more religious place today than it was in the past,” said Friedman. The Boro Park Historical Society still exists, but its members have dwindled from a peak of 30 to just four today. It hasn’t had a regular meeting in years.
“We were looking for somebody who was willing to take the items, or keep the Society going.” Friedman reached out to Amud Aish through a connection at The Jewish Press. Earlier this summer, Rabbi Dovid Reidel, director of research and archives at Amud Aish, visited the Society at its storage location on Ave. M to see some of its treasures.
“I am looking at this collection from old-time Boro Park,” said Reidel, “and it really is a testament of the growth of Jewish life here. I was just [holding an old] Talmud Torah which dates 1908-1923, and it has records in it.” He also found a suitcase “that a survivor took from the displaced person camps after the war and then brought with him to Boro Park,” he said.
Reidel said Amud Aish began as a very small project to memorialize what Holocaust museums had often overlooked: religious experiences in the Holocaust. “Obviously we focus on all Jews, but [for Amud Aish] it’s more about how a religious Jew might have risked his life to put on tefillin when you weren’t allowed, or having had to smuggle in a pair of tzitzis to a concentration camp, or fasting on Yom Kippur when they were already starving.”
Today, Amud Aish is a center with a full-service museum, Holocaust archives and artifacts, and an educational center. In the past three years, up to 20,000 students have visited the museum.
“Even though [Boro Park Historical Society’s] items are not directly related to the Holocaust, I felt they were important because they represent the rebirth experience,” Reidel said about his decision for the museum to acquire the archives and artifacts. “After the war, Jews were spending so much energy to rebuild, not just physically but spiritually. So, the fact that Mr. Friedman was able to document that early Jewish life and how it grew and continues to grow makes it a very important collection that we should incorporate into our museum and archives.”
Shoshana Greenwald, director of collections and exhibitions at the museum, noted, “Amud Aish distinguishes itself from other Holocaust institutions by focusing on the victims (Jews) rather than the perpetrators (Nazis). Our story cannot be told without also including the stories of the incredible rebirth of the Jewish people – and what is Boro Park, if not that? Thousands of Jewish survivors found and made their homes in Boro Park, and the Boro Park Historical Society has done important work in preserving that story and the hundreds of smaller stories therein.”
Within a year, some of the artifacts should go on display, Reidel said, in rotation, to preserve the integrity of the items, while other artifacts may be loaned to other museums for viewing. Amud Aish will help Friedman find a new home for any artifacts the museum doesn’t take.
“It’s a wonderful collection and untold secret,” said Reidel, who concluded with a message to the general public when it comes to old documents and other things they may have in their home: Don’t throw them away! “What you think is unimportant may turn out to be very important.”