Rauh Jewish Archives, Jewish Genealogy Society partner to help grow community roots
An average of 80 people have attended each event, and participants have tuned in from as far away as California.
A partnership between the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center and the Jewish Genealogy Society created nearly 30 programs with close to 2,400 attendees from around the world over the last three years.
Due to the success of the alliance, the organizations have decided to renew their collaboration for another two years.
The idea of a partnership first came to Rauh Jewish Archives Director Eric Lidji in late 2019 when he was approached by representatives of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, telling him that the William M Lowenstein Genealogical Education Fund, created after the pioneering genealogist’s death, required a distribution to be made every few years.
While trying to decide what type of programming would make the best use of the fund’s money, Lidji thought about the JGS, an organization that was created in the 1980s, closed and was relaunched by Steven Jaron in 2017.
The JGS had leadership with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, Lidji said. What it lacked was resources.
“I approached them and said, ‘Let’s do this partnership where we’ll be the funder and the administrative support for these programs and we’ll house it here,” Lidji said. “You’ll be the intellectual side of thing that finds the speakers and does that end of things.”
The organizations sealed the deal in February 2020. It was rendered moot almost immediately as the country was gripped by COVID-19, and in-person activities were canceled.
Instead of waiting for the pandemic to end, the two organizations pivoted to a monthly, all-virtual format, creating more than 30 programs.
“The JGS grew its membership almost tenfold over the past three years and gained enough financial stability to fund some of its operations,” Lidji said.
JGS became one of the first genealogy societies to offer virtual and, later, hybrid programming, according to JGS President Steve Jaron.
While the pandemic presented challenges, he said, it allowed the organization to focus on the work needed to be done to promote and shape the group.
“I was able to organize everything and research speakers that were willing to do virtual, come up with an initial list of people we could approach and figure out a schedule,” he said. “With my one VP, I worked to make sure the programming had a nice variety, and in July 2019 we had our first virtual program.”
An average of 80 people have attended each event, and participants have tuned in from as far away as California, Jaron said.
The programs are free for JGS members — annual membership in the organization is $18 a year — and usually cost $5 or $10 for the general public, depending on the speaker. They also occasionally offer a program that is free for everyone.
“We’ve had steady growth over the last few years, which I’m happy about,” Jaron said. “I’d like to grow more locally because we’re a Pittsburgh-based group, and more than half our members are not even from Pennsylvania.”
Jaron said he’d also like to add more volunteers to more local projects.
“That’s another thing genealogy societies do, they work on projects such as indexing cemeteries and burial lists and stuff like that,” he said. “We haven’t done any of that yet.”
He urged people to keep an eye on JGS’s website and social media sites.
The goal, Lidji said, is to develop a local community and bridge the gap through the internet with people they’ve connected with from around the world.
“People are hungry for something where they can connect with people in real life or people who are in their neighborhood,” he said.
The first program created with the renewed partnership was “Once More Under the Clock: Remembering Kaufmann’s,” on March 26, where speakers discussed the Kaufmann family and the department store that bore its name.
“The JGS is looking to find some innovative ways to bring people together, through small local meetups or through social media campaigns,” Lidji said. “We’re figuring it out as we go, but that’s the idea for the next cycle.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at [email protected]