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Mission & History
 
PJAC History
 

A July 27, 1972 article in the Jewish Times announced the formation of the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center for the following September. Jewish Archives Center, the first of its kind in the city, is being established by the Federation of Jewish Agencies in association with the Philadelphia Chapter, American Jewish Committee.

According to Morris A. Kravitz, FJA president, the purpose of the Archives Center is to obtain important historical records about the Philadelphia Jewish community, and classify and make available information for scholarly research and other educational purposes.

The Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center of the Federation of Jewish Agencies, Inc. will be located in the former Curtis Publishing building, Independence Square.

The center is currently in the process of applying for state charter and articles of incorporation as a non-profit corporation, according to Solomon Fisher, President of the Philadelphia Chapter, American Jewish Committee.

Dr. Murray Friedman, regional director of AJC wrote to Edwin Wolf II in June 5, 1972: The Philadelphia Jewish Archives will definitely open now after Labor Day. We have hired an archivist, Mrs. David Mogilner (Sue), who will go to work, part time.

In 1972 , leadership included Dr. Daniel J. Elazar, Acting Chairman, Sylvan M. Cohen, Solomon Fisher, legal advisor, Dr. Murray Friedman, and Donald B. Hurwitz, a Vice-President of Federation.

At a meeting between AJC and Federation October 11, 1972, Archivist Sue Mogilner reports that the Archives project is fully incorporated and has an official location, 625 Walnut St. Shelves have been donated and access to some 240 files of immigration records has been obtained. Goals for the project have been set and Mrs. Mogilner is working on finding out what is available in the Philadelphia Jewish community, obtaining releases, delivery dates, determining manpower needs, etc. She is also looking into the possible archive display models, bicentennial exhibits, historical site registration procedures, cornerstones, etc.

Goals for the Archives were set at this October meeting:

  1. Archives will be a Federation project with the American Jewish Committee as the implementing arm
  2. The initial scope of the Archives will be to assemble the records of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community for safe-keeping and at least limited use. Emphasis will be placed in the early stages on collecting records of the community, particularly the records of the Federation and its agencies although relevant private records will be housed as well, at least at the outset. No attempts will be made to prepare elaborate catalogs of the records or to organize them in more than a general way. 
  3. The Archives will be located in an area on the first floor of the Curtis building adjacent to Independence Hall. The space has been obtained by the American Jewish Committee at no cost for at least five years from the owner of the building. [Charles Kahn, Jr.,President of AJC in the early 70s obtained the office space from John Merriam for a $1.00 a year rent after viewing it with Murray Friedman and Maxwell Whiteman. Mr. Kahn noted later that with Federation’s $10,000 appropriation to the Archives came a caveat they requested and received a guarantee for the money.]
  4. The Archives will be managed by a combination of paid staff and voluntary workers under the supervision of the Jewish Communal Affairs of the American Jewish Committee. 
  5. Funds needed for the project are of two kinds: (A) An initial capital expenditure is required to renovate the space, install shelving and other supplies and equipment and to begin to assemble the initial record collection. We estimate that $20,000 in cash or kind is required to accomplish these goals. (B) In addition, annual operating funds will be needed to employ the staff, provide the supplies and equipment and general operating funds. The Federation allocation of $10,000 a year should cover these costs. The bulk of this money would be used to pay the salary of the archivist on a part time basis (perhaps 2/3 time) and the remainder would be used for supplies, equipment, telephone, printing and publicity and other administrative costs. This is a minimal amount since it does not provide for paid assistants for this archivist but assumes voluntary assistants. In addition, it would be wise to begin planning immediately for the acquisition of special operating funds, including money for summer student assistants, special collection cost, and an oral history to record the reminiscences of communal leaders for the Archives collection. Federation and AJComm. would have to arrange ways to acquire such funding in order for the Archives to get under way.

A Board of Directors was assembled and held their first meeting December 4, 1972. Those present that day were a cross-section of Jewish leadership in Philadelphia, including academics and heads of institutions:

Daniel C. Cohen , Dr. Ernst Preseissen (sic) [Presseisen] , Dr. Daniel J. Elazar, Acting Chairman and later first President of the Board, Maxwell Whiteman, Mrs. Leonard Epstein, Edwin Wolf, 2nd, Barton E. Ferst , Robert B. Wolf, Theodore Hershberg , Dr. Murray Friedman, Charles Kahn, Jr., Joan Heltzer, Dr. Seymour Mandelbaum, Sue Mogilner [Archivist], Mitchell E. Panzer , Leon Zimmerman, Dr. Chaim Potok. Dr. Presseisen, later an Archives President, and Charles Kahn, Jr. are still on the Archives Board of Directors in 2008.

Minutes of this first board meeting reported discussions on developing an archives:

The Philadelphia Archives Center is the first major attempt at establishing a community archives independent of any university affiliation and responsive to the Jewish community irrespective of any particular affiliation.

The Board’s role, as broadly defined, is to help crystalize the Archives’ purposes and to guide it in its endeavor. It was agreed that a draft statement of purposes be mailed to all Board members for their comments and suggestions.

Sue Mogilner gave a brief report of expenses incurred in renovating the present facilities in the Curtis Building:

$4,770 for remodeling, painting, floor and electrical work, and wall partitioning

$500 for erecting the shelving, moving furniture and records

$630 for equipment.

On behalf of the Board members, Dr. Elazar thanked all those who helped in the initial stages of the Archives foundation:

Charles Kahn, Jr., who was instrumental in helping to obtain the premises at a $1.00 a year, through the generosity of the owner, John Merriam, also donated the office furniture, desks and chairs;

Beryl Price, the noted architect, helped re-design and direct the renovation of the present quarters;

Mr. Joel Golden of Metalstand, Inc, donated all the shelving;

Mr. Robert Wolf helped obtain the $5,000 contribution that enabled the renovation of the premises to usable space; and the Presbyterian Historical Society, at Max Whiteman’s suggestion, donated two display cases.

The Federation of Jewish Agencies has agreed to contribute $10,000 yearly to the operating expenses of the Archives and is a co-sponsor with American Jewish Committee in this very important enterprise.

1973

By January at the next board meeting, the aims of the Archives were solidified:

1. Collect all official records, personal papers, manuscripts, pictorial records, artifacts and miscellaneous historical material relating to the community, and the people who lived in it.

2. Organize the material so as to make it available, in usable form, to the community agencies and institutions, and serve as a central registry for the community.

3. Make the materials available to scholars and students interested in the history of our community.

4. Develop a resource center of materials for information and display; and make this material available to both the Jewish and general public.

5. Mount exhibits which can be shown throughout the area.

6. Develop a roster of speakers on the history and life of Philadelphia Jewry, to be available to schools and organizations.

7. Cooperate with other educational, cultural and historical institutions in the area to achieve common goals of historical preservation and interpretation.

The Board approved six proposals set forth by Seymour Mandelbaum, Chair of the Collection and Scopes Committee:

  • Collect material from Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania and invite participation of the Camden [County] Jewish community.
  • Collect broadly without an attempt to distinguish between records of Jews and the Jewish community but restrict to regional interests.
  • Principal mission is to collect, store and provide convenient access to documentary and pictorial information. We should not encourage requests to become a museum.
  • Archivist should actively seek out records by contacting Philadelphia area Jews and develop programs
  • Encourage local journals to deposit microfilm or rag copies of their publications at their expense
  • Actively encourage students and scholars to use the Archives

February 5, 1973 Minutes

Seymour Mandelbaum (Collections and Scopes) committee reported:

  1. That the area (geographical) be defined to allow for maximum flexibility. The area will be designated as the Greater Philadelphia Community in order to leave the definition as broad as possible and to set no limiting boundaries at this stage.
  2. Sue Mogilner reports that processing of Federation records is halfway completed with the help of volunteers but it is a slow process.
  3. Philadelphia Zionist Federation is looking into depositing its records at the Archives and will be visiting the site to see if it meets their needs.

By May of 1973 the first inventory of collections was drawn up. These included 300 boxes of material from Federation, 200 cartons from the Neighborhood Center, 25 cartons from the Association for Jewish Children, 9 ring binders of history and memorabilia from Beth David Reform Synagogue. There were many other documents listed.

Mrs. Mogilner served as archivist for a couple of years and made aliyah to Israel. In 1974 the archivist earned $6,750 for a 20 hour week for 10 months. With the departure of Sue Mogilner, Lindsay Nauen was hired shortly thereafter. Ads in the Jewish Exponent and New York Times for 1974 reflected the move from a part-time to full-time archivist. Lindsay Nauen worked for PJAC for five years, leaving to take a position of Archivist for the State of South Dakota. Minutes of activities during the years she served PJAC reflect a willingness to go above and beyond collecting and accessioning archives with Lindsay and a corps of volunteers giving lectures about PJAC to Jewish groups throughout the area.

1975

By 1975 with the new archivist in place, an assistant, Lee Leopold, was hired. The $10,000 Federation subsidy covered about 1/3 of the budget with private donations making up the difference.

When the National Museum of American History was planned in the first few years of the 70s, discussion ensued about the archives becoming part of the project but the board consistently maintained that the Archives Center should remain independent.

1976

By 1976, it was clear that the quarters in the Curtis building were inadequate. More space was offered in the loft above the lower level Archives offices but lack of air conditioning jeopardized the records and as new collections were received space became an ongoing issue.

In 1976, June 3rd minutes reflect a notable change in the structure of the Archives. Archivist, Lindsay Nauen, notes that because the Archives collections and offices are at street level with no air conditioning, some of the papers are beginning to deteriorate. With a tight budget, moving to another facility was out of the question and the Archives remained in the Curtis building for several more years. In addition, Federation’s partnership with AJC in managing the Archives ended that year. Operating costs were judged to be around $50,000, much higher than anticipated by either organization.

1979

By 1979 the Board had grown and the issue of space and a document friendly environment continued. A status report summed up the Archives position in 1978-79:

BOARD There are 27 persons on the present Board of Directors. Included are some of the Federation’s most experienced lay leaders, Philadelphia’s best known Jewish historians, a host of university professors, the city archivist and individuals from throughout the area interested in local Jewish history. Notable among them are American Jewish Committee members who helped found the Archives Center. Dr. Daniel J. Elazar, the first President, has been succeeded in office by Jacob R. Rockower. A nominating process for new officers and Board members is underway.

AFFILIATION

From the beginning , the question of the Archives Center’s future status as either a separate constituent agency, an adjunct to one of Federation’s agencies or to some non-affiliated institution or its continuation as a Federation “service” has been discussed. Many such possibilities were explored and it was determined that the best arrangement, both for the community and the Archives Center , would be for its affiliation with a local Jewish educational agency.

To this end discussions on the staff level were initiated with Gratz College and it was agreed that it would be fitting and proper for the Archives Center to eventually become part of the college. These discussions will continue so that a consolidation plan can be worked out.

BUDGET 1978-79

When and if the Archives Center becomes part of Gratz College, some permanent source of its funding will be arranged through the College and subvention by the Unrestricted Endowment Fund in time will cease. However, for the fiscal year beginning September 1, 1978 an allocation from Federation of $30,000 is requested.

The Archives Center agrees not to initiate any new programs or services which would entail an additional expense, nor to employ additional staff or to make any new purchases other than what presently is required for the operation unless it obtains funds over and beyond those provided already to offset additional costs. It is anticipated that increased operating costs in the coming year will be met within the proposed budget.

LOCATION AND FACILITIES

Despite the favorable situation of having an Archives Center in a rent free location downtown, there are serious drawbacks to the present site. The quarters are not air conditioned which is a detriment to the staff, other persons using the Archives Center and to the material in our keeping whose preservation requires temperature control.

The facilities and furnishings are not attractive to either scholars who would use the records or to groups who might visit the Archives Center for program or for volunteer service. Microfilming and oral history equipment presently is beyond our means.

1980

Jacob Rockower, president, in his status report of 1980 included genealogy as an area now handled by the Archives.

GENEALOGY AND LIBRARY

Judging from the many inquiries we have gotten, the search for one’s roots is a fashionable activity, and one that shows signs of continuing unabated. The HIAS microfilm is a particularly valuable resource in this respect and we welcome genealogical inquiries. As a service to such researchers, Lee Leopold, our Archivist, and Harold Kravitz, have prepared a fact sheet which presents a sampling of genealogical sources in the Philadelphia area. Although we do want to assist persons seeking their family roots, we cannot undertake such studies except on a selective basis related to our on-going projects. Providing genealogists with the fact sheets enables us to render a service within our means and scope.

1981

During this first decade of the Archives existence, with its collections growing and the budget increasing along with it, efforts were made by several leaders on the Board of Directors to find an academic institution with which to merge. All attempts were unsuccessful. Prominent Jewish leader, Leon Perelman, newly elected President of the Board, wrote to Ed Wolf II on February 17, 1981:

We concluded, after all these exploratory probes, that Federation would have to provide an endowment for the Archives no matter with what other institution it merged. It was conceivable that the funding necessary if the Archives Center would be merged would have been greater than what Federation was spending to maintain it as is. This was because its housing was on a no-rent basis, payroll was modest and all its equipment was donated. Other institutions probably would calculate these costs at higher rates.

BALCH INSTITUTE QUARTERS 1985

The Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center was housed in the Curtis building until 1985 when, under the presidency of Leon Perelman, it moved to the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies on 7th Street at Market. The Exponent, February 22, 1985, reported a statement from Bennett Aaron, president of the Federation of Jewish Agencies. He called the Balch probably the best facility of its kind in the region to house the Archives. PJAC was housed at the Balch for the next 20 years.

1987

The Archives celebrated its 15th anniversary by honoring its Board President Leon J. Perelman. Sylvan Cohen said of PJAC: ‘Today, scholars from all over the world come to the Balch to use our records. Our photographs appear in many books and our artifacts are displayed in museums across the country.’

1995

Federation commissioned a detailed analysis of the Archives by distinguished scholars Dr. Abraham J. Peck and Dr. Michael W. Grunberger. The report entitled, Charting a Course: The Philadelphia Jewish Archives, American Jewish History and the Future of the Jewish Community recommended:

  • Renewing the lease with the Balch Institute for 5 more years but not exceeding 5 years
  • Use 5 year period to explore alternative governance and funding structures with a view toward finalizing a new arrangement with PJAC at the end of the period.
  • Reconstitute the PJAC Board to reflect a new financial activism and sense of communal purpose, both in terms of Jewish identity and American multi-culturalism.
  • Promote visibility of PJAC by participation in a yet to be established loose consortium of cultural and educational institutions.
  • Implement a detailed and multi-level archival selections policy
  • Support projects that would allow collections to be digitized

1997

PJAC applies for and receives 501c3 status and is thus given the go-ahead to raise funds for its operations.

1998

Lily Schwartz, who had worked for PJAC for many years, as secretary and administrative assistant eventually became the Archivist and Administrator. In 1998 she reported on the successful celebration of the Archives 25th anniversary the year before.

√¨In October of 1997, the Archives had a very successful 25th anniversary celebration. The generous support of patrons made it possible to compile a two-year calendar. The highlight of the evening was the premier of a klezmer video which the Archives is co-producing. The video short recalling the history of Philadelphia Klezmer musicians is entitled “A Joyful Noise: the Lost Jewish Music of Philadelphia.'” The documentary was wildly applauded by the audience. Funds are being raised for its completion, along with another video, “Echoes of a Ghost Minyan,” dealing with South Philadelphia, which the Archives is also co-producing.

Of special note was the beginning of efforts to gather business records under the presidency of Susan A. Popkin. As Lily put it: The archives is about to embark on the most significant project since its inception–the Philadelphia Jewish Business Archives. Philadelphia Jewish businessmen from their earliest arrival have made important contributions to the city, not only to its prosperity but to its philanthropic, educational, and cultural life.

Records show details of the business archive plan:

Plans are to collect the records and memorabilia of businesses in which the presence of Jewish entrepreneurs and professionals has been significant and enduring in this region. Jewish-founded enterprises were instrumental in establishing Philadelphia in the forefront of commerce. The ultimate goal of gathering this valuable material is the publication of scholarly works constructing the huge role these businesses and families played in the community, and nationally.

MATERIALS TO BE COLLECTED: Ledgers, bylaws, articles of incorporation, advertising material, any published materials; photographs of facilities, people and products, business correspondence and personal records, oral histories, videos, tapes. Where there are no longer business records in existence, the Archives will have oral histories and/or videotaped interviews made, preserving the recollected history of knowledgeable family members.

PROCESSING and PRESERVATION REQUIREMENTS: Additional archival staffing will be required to: inventory and collate all records, to create and place the material in intellectual order, to do needed conservation, create an index, place processed records in highest quality archival materials, and plan for dissemination of information [including public and scholarly access for publications and marketing materials].

FUNDING: An aggressive grant writing campaign to local, national and private foundations should attract a good share of funding for this project. In addition, the Archives will have to look to the donors of the materials to provide funds necessary to assure the preservation of these treasures and the publication of scholarly books so that these valuable lessons of the Jewish American experience will survive for future generations.

She also reported on the generous grant of the Robert Saligman Foundation to digitize the photographs. To date, over 3,000 have been scanned and are available for use.

Through a generous grant from the Robert Saligman Charitable Foundation, the Archives now has a state-of-the-art computer station dedicated to the sole purpose of scanning and digitally preserving its treasured photographic collections. This is a major step in assuring that the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center fulfills its mission to the preserve our heritage for future generations.

When Lily Schwartz died in 2000 Sue Popkin, then President of the Board, acted as Executive Director, until Nan Wallace was hired later that year. Donald Davis, Assistant Archivist, succeeded Lily Schwartz as Archivist. He left in 2006 for another position.

2000

PJAC Board responds with detailed report of 5 year response to the Peck-Grunberger recommendations.

1. Endowment fund established in 1998.

2. Sue Popkin explored merging with NMAJH, which declined such a proposition,

3. PJAC officially separated itself from Federation in 1997 but part of funding still comes from Federation.

4. Private foundations are tapped for significant funding, e. g. Saligman family for scanning of photographic collections.

5. Business archives instituted.

6. Two videos created: ‘A Joyful Noise’ and ‘Echoes from a Ghost Minyan’

7. Internet access explored.

2004

Letter to Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania provides reaffirmation of notice of proposed withdrawal of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia (JFGP) as the sole member of PJAC and that the corporation shall not have members. First notice was given in 1997 when 501c3 status was obtained.

ARCHWORKS BUILDING 2005

When the Balch was sold in 2005, PJAC, with funding from a capital campaign and the generosity of a Board member, moved to its present quarters in the ArchWorks Building, 125 N. 8 th Street. Nan Wallace oversaw the cumbersome transfer of records to the Balch. The new accommodations, which comprise the entire 6th floor, are climate controlled to protect the collections. Unlike both the Curtis and Balch quarters, numerous windows provide light and warmth. With new quarters, however, came higher costs, particularly for rent, which jumped from about $37,000 per year at the Balch to over $110,000 in the new building.

Federation, which had funded the Archives for many of its expenses through the years gradually decreased its subsidy. In 2006, PJAC received its last Federation funding.

The Archives has been served well by its Board Presidents for 35 years: Daniel Elazar, Jacob Rockower, Leon Perelman, Ernst Presseisen, Susan A. Popkin, David H. Wice, and Audrey Stein Merves, who have contributed both wisdom and finances in order to assist PJAC in sustaining its mission: to collect and preserve records and make them available for research and education.

Ernst Presseisen in his article ‘The Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center, a Community Project, 1975-2005’ opens his piece with the following statement, a good one with which to close: ‘An archive is a very special place. What makes it special is that it holds the paper and pictorial trail of earlier generations. The struggles, contributions, and accomplishments of our ancestors and their organizations tell their life stories. This is the precious legacy that the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center seeks to preserve.’

Information for this history has been taken from several sources: Nan Wallace and Sue Popkin contributed some details; the bulk of the material came from board minutes and documents in the Edwin Wolf II collection, Acc.MS49, Box 10 and recent papers donated by Charles Kahn, Jr.

Prepared by Carole Le Faivre-Rochester. It is in the process of being updated.

President of the Board 2007-2009