Since the early 1950s, local and regional historical societies have been an important part of the American Jewish landscape, providing community outreach, housing archives, fostering research, and publishing historical studies. This book charts the development, undertakings, successes, shortcomings, and possible future of local and regional Jewish historical societies in the United States.
The lead chapter, by Joel Gereboff, explores the challenges of constructing and presenting Jewish history and what disparities exist between amateur historians and professionals in regards to standards, tools, methods, analysis, and contextualization. Following an overview of key players, major themes, representative organizations, and recurring critiques, the chapter proposes ways to address the essential question: Can Jewish history on the local and regional levels be more inclusive, better integrated with broader trends of Jewish and general history, and improved according to scholarly norms and expectations of social history?
Following this are six chapters by leaders of local and regional Jewish historical societies: George M. Goodwin of the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association; Jonathan L. Friedmann of the Western States Jewish History Association; Mark K. Bauman of the Southern Jewish Historical Society; Catherine Cangany of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan; Jeanne Abrams of the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society; and Lawrence Bell of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society. The selected societies cover major regions of the country—New England, Midwest, South, Southwest, and West—and, as such, are representative of the broader phenomenon of American Jewish historical societies. These chapters are followed by a chronologically arranged appendix listing American Jewish historical societies, their mission statements, and their publications.Historical grounding is imperative for an understanding of community and self. Equally essential is the type of information that makes up that history, as well as how that information is recounted and interpreted. No individual or community exists in isolation; human history is complex, multilayered, and interwoven. While all history may be local, it does not exist in a vacuum—this volume illuminates that concept and situates it within the Jewish historical landscape.
"The case studies in this book cover a range of Jewish historical societies with different organizational histories, priorities, and institutional affiliations. They demonstrate a variety of approaches to the tensions, laid out so expertly by Gereboff and Friedmann, between critical assessment and communal celebration. Together with the very useful listing of all of the (known) Jewish historical societies and their missions in the appendix, the essays in this volume provide an interesting, well-documented, and thoughtful discussion of these significant but understudied societies."
—Ellen Eisenberg, co-author of Jews of the Pacific Coast: Reinventing Community on America’s Edge