Capturing Our Stories

By Martha Ginsberg | Issue Date: May 2012

Martha teaches Ivan, Ellen and Linda how to use the camera. Photo: Belinda LaskyOn a chilly evening in mid November, eight people gathered in my apartment. as we went around the room introducing ourselves we all mentioned our favorite food for the upcoming Thanksgiving meal. For three of us it was the cranberry sauce—but we all had particular preparations in mind, and individually rich stories to accompany the recipes. This was the first group meeting of the newly formed Capturing Our Stories (COS) committee, led by my co-chair Toni Siegel and me. Our mission is to gather stories of BJ members: to learn who we are, where we come from, and who we want to be.

The idea is to capture our stories and compile a video library of footage that would be available for many purposes from documentary, to research, to marketing; the opportunities are endless.

Sue Rosenblum, Martha Ginsberg, and Rochelle Friedlich work the camera as Ellen Turk interviews Vivian Yale. Photo: Belinda Lasky One person in the meeting shared that her father had written an autobiography, which proved an invaluable treasure for the family. Indeed. A number of years ago, when my father first got a computer, he decided to write an account of his experience in World War II, partly to correct an erroneous account he had read in a book, but mostly just to put down his story—make sure someone would know it. Its 20 or so pages are infused with his own brand of humor and prankster mentality (evident even back then in his 19-year-old self) and weighed down with a healthy dose of fear. At his shiva my mother displayed The Military History of Harold Ginsberg or How We Defeated Germany in World War II proudly and prominently. Everyone read it. Though he was a big storyteller in life, many of us had never heard his own personal story. This was the one he wanted to make sure he had the chance to tell.

At the end of that first meeting, we decided to hold a big group intensive training/ interviewing day. On Sunday, January 8, 11 volunteers with huge hearts and eager ears showed up at the BJ office for the first training session to practice some basic interviewing techniques and figure out some technical aspects of shooting video. With video, we can capture the spoken word, facial expressions, and the animation of the interviewee and also feature artifacts and meaningful objects.

We started the day capturing the story of BJ member and fellow COS volunteer Ellen Turk, who talked about her recent search to find her past in her grandparents’ communities in Belarus as well as about her youth as a social activist, and the joy of being the mother of BJ musician Matt Turk. In the afternoon we recorded the story of longtime BJ member Vivian Yale who by age 7 had lost her mother and by age 20 had married the camp counselor she met years prior. Her constant quest for treating people with dignity led the couple to later join the Westchester delegation of the now-famous March on Washington. Thanks to both Ellen and Vivian for sharing your lives and dreams with us. and thank you to Andrea Newman, Ellen Turk, Harriet Abraham, Ilene Richman, Ivan and Sue Rosenblum, Linda Marshall, Michel Evanusa, Rochelle Friedlich, Sian Gibby, and Susan Sanders for helping to capture our stories!

The day was incredibly productive and a lot of fun, so we’ll be scheduling additional training days. We are planning to add many more recollections to a library already graced with the beautiful stories of Nancy Greenblatt, Jack Richard, Joe Antenson, Larry Gifford, Ellen Turk, and Vivian Yale. Only 3,994 to go! If you would like to join us as part of the interview team or if you would like to be interviewed, please contact Belinda Lasky. Everyone has a story to tell.

Martha Kate Ginsberg has been coming to BJ since 1991. She serves as a sleepover volunteer for the shelter and is also on the Education and Communications committee. She likes to take long walks on the beach and is equally comfortable in jeans or a little black dress … but it’s rare that you’ll find her in stilettos.