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The Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center Photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center
Networking Central

Philadelphia Jewish Archives
A new home at Temple University.

--- Bonnie Squires and John Mason

It was a match made in heaven: the Philadelphia Jewish Archives and the Urban Archives in the Temple University Library System. A celebration of the merger of these two historic institutions took place recently in Sullivan Hall on Temple University’s main campus.

The heavenly inspiration for this merger actually originated with Audrey Merves, a long-time president of the Jewish Archives Board, who broached the idea with Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart at a lunch meeting a year and half ago. The Merves’ relationship with Temple University is a strong one; Audrey’s husband Stanley is a Temple alumnus and has endowed the Stanley Merves Professorship in Accounting at the Fox School of Business at Temple. So, when it became clear to the Board of the Philadelphia Jewish Archives that the institution could not survive as an independent collection, it seemed natural for Mrs. Merves to approach Temple’s president about a merger.

Samples from the archives were on display for guests to peruse. Included were: a poster for a Jewish Boy scout troop; an anthology of The Occident, the first national Jewish periodical in America, from 1843; a safe-passage document from 1887 issued by the US Department of State to Abraham Salas; a ketubah (marriage contract); a Jewish “cookery book” from 1871, published in Philadelphia; documents of the Hebrew Sunday School Society; and photographs of members of the Jewish Publications Society.

During the formal program Larry Alford, Dean of University Libraries at Temple, welcomed everyone to the celebration saying, “I am thrilled with the remarkable material that’s going to be part of the Temple Libraries Urban Archives, where they will remain accessible to the public and become a (useful) tool for research, for scholars at Temple and throughout the world.”

Alford noted that he Urban Archives holds records and information about life in Philadelphia from the late nineteenth century to today. He praised the Jewish Archives for “…the enormous depth and breath of these records as they tell the story of Philadelphia’s vibrant Jewish community and its contributions to the cultural and economic growth of our city and our region.”

Celebrating at Sullivan Hall on main campus are (left to right) Bob Rovner, Temple University trustee; Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart; and Stanley and Audrey Merves, patrons of the Philadelphia Jewish Archives who first raised the idea of merging the collection with Temple’s Urban Archives. (Photo: Bonnie Squires)

Temple President Hart thanked and praised Mrs. Merves and Carole La Faivre-Rochester, the current president of the Philadelphia Jewish Archives, for their work and cooperation in achieving the merger. She noted that the Urban Archives at Temple Libraries is the largest collection of its kind in the nation and pointed out that the Philadelphia Jewish Archives collection is second in size only to that of New York. President Hart also said that Temple had been obliged to have the collection appraised, and it is deemed to be valued at $7.2 million. “This is the quality of documents that demonstrates for you, for me, the need for careful archival preservation,” Hart said. “…as these documents become more fragile, how important it is for us to have an archival treatment of documents, as well as making them available for research and understanding.”

In her remarks, Professor Laura Levitt, associate professor of religion at Temple, acknowledged the unique nature of the Philadelphia Jewish Archives. Jewish libraries and archives, she said, are “absolutely essential. They are the heart of so much of the work we do, as we mine various Jewish paths, (whether) here in the United States or around the world.” The addition of the Jewish Archives to Temple, she added, “signals a new synergy and vitality around Jewish life and Jewish scholarship here at Temple.”

The archives were formally presented to President Hart and Dean Alford by Carole Le Faivre-Rochester, president of the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center.

“Now that our collection is in a safe, welcoming environment,” said Le Faivre-Rochester, “it is time to move ahead to endow it properly. Never did the Jewish Federation (of Greater Philadelphia) and the American Jewish Committee realize that their concept of a place to house the records of the Philadelphia Jewish community would be so successful. What started as a few hundred boxes of Federation documents in 1972 has become (a center that contains) five million records that now includes papers (and) pictures from Philadelphia, Southern New Jersey, and Suburban Philadelphia, (containing) records of judges, businesses, institutions, union leaders, rabbis, and many others.”

Le Faivre-Rochester handed to President Hart a copy of the diaries of Israel Chanin, who immigrated from Lithuania and wrote his diary in Yiddish. “Israel Chanin’s writings,” said Le Faivre-Rochester, “represents the struggles, triumphs and everyday interactions of Jews who came to America to prosper.”

Because of the expansive nature of the Jewish Archives – incorporating records, newspapers, diaries, board minutes, and other paraphernalia from Jewish organizations, businesses and individuals – numerous disciplines at Temple University will have occasion to do research in the newly acquired archives. Among the many different departments rejoicing at the addition of this unique collection were the Myer and Rosaline Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, the Jewish Studies, women's studies, religion, and history departments.

A reception featuring Jewish apple cake (of course!) followed the formal program.

Guests left Sullivan Hall grateful that the Philadelphia Jewish Archives had such a welcoming, caring and permanent new home.

To view previous editions of "Networking Central", please click here.

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