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Capturing Our Stories

By Julie Lowy and Toni Siegel | Issue Date: March 2011

“When a day passes, it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If  stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts, only for the day. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.”    —Isaac Bashevis Singer

The Capturing Our Stories team. Photo: Jon WoodB’nai Jeshurun is beginning an oral history project to capture our stories. Judaism is a story that has been discussed for thousands of years. As a people, we read the stories of our ancestors in the Torah every week. We teach via stories. We sing and dance stories. Stories inspire us.

Stories are important at BJ. We hear them during the High Holy Days, at shiva minyanim, through Panim el Panim, at committee meetings, welcoming new members, and at many other times, we listen to and share these stories. There are so many stories! But we haven’t recorded our stories—the stories of the people of BJ. Over the years, many have suggested that we preserve them. Like other things in life, this was a worthy project that we said would begin one day. That day has arrived. We chose the name “Capturing Our Stories” for our community-wide effort to listen to, record, and store narratives of the BJ community—memories of the past, activities and thoughts of the present, and hopes for the future. This ambitious venture needs many volunteers from our community to realize our goal of recording and preserving the lives of B’nai Jeshurun’s members, and we encourage you to participate.

A multimedia archive will store the rich spectrum of our stories. It will include anecdotes, life histories, photos of people and artifacts; stories of BJ and its members young and old; people who have recently joined, and those who have been part of our community for a long time; tales of urban or suburban life; growing up religious or secular; supportive or dysfunctional families; immigrant life; holiday celebrations; experiences with Marshall Meyer; Holocaust survivors and their children; special new holiday dresses, the first Bar Mitzvah suit; the birth of a grandchild; the death of a parent—to suggest just a few. We welcome all the threads that weave together the history of our members.

Capturing Our Stories involves many tasks that will need the contribution of our talented community. We invite volunteers to participate in this exciting endeavor by interviewing members, listening to the stories, creating an archive, and helping plan the organization and future development of this long-term project. The archive will be available to current and future BJ members as a medium to preserve and access our life histories for now and future generations.

The initiative will be launched to coincide with Pesah, a holiday when storytelling makes up the fabric of our celebration. We will begin by interviewing the eldest members of our community. Ultimately we hope to hear about the dreams and realities of all who wish to record them. It will take time and volunteers to reach everyone who would like to be interviewed. To become a part of this adventure, contact Belinda Lasky.

Julie Lowy and Toni Siegel are longtime members of BJ and the co-chairs of Capturing Our Stories. They are are excited about the direction of the new group and look forward to engaging new leaders in the process.