The BJ Archives Story

By Denise Waxman | Issue Date: January 2012

Rehearsal for children’s services, ca. 1960. Photo Courtesy Daniela SciakyThe exhibit Picturing Community: 25 Years of Life at BJ is testament to the foresight and vision of Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, who created the B’nai Jeshurun Archives Committee in 1990 to recover, collect, identify, and record every aspect of BJ, past and present, tasks he believed were vitally important given BJ’s rich and long history.

Rabbi Marshall T. MeyerRabbi Meyer worked to shape a congregation guided by the Jewish tradition of gemilut hasadim (acts of loving kindness), one that would provide Shabbat lunches for people with AIDS and their families, offer food and shelter to the homeless and hungry, and be fully and actively engaged in creating a kehillah kedoshah (holy community). And while that immense task was of primary importance to him, he also valued the need to keep and retell our stories.

He appointed documentary filmmaker and BJ member Myriam Abramowicz to be the Archives Administrator. She, together with other BJ members, researched, organized, inventoried, and preserved documents and artifacts from the rich history of B’nai Jeshurun going back to 1825. They also documented the daily life and ritual at the reinvigorated BJ (apart from Shabbat and holidays) by taking photographs, making videos, writing articles, and transcribing interviews.

BJ Teens. Photo Credit: Ariel SchneiderIn the Picturing Community exhibit the names of all the members of the BJ Archives Committee are listed with sincere thanks for their efforts. The BJ Archives, a vast collection that tells the story of the community back to its founding, is now primarily housed in the Ratner Center at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

BJ’s historical record continues toBJ Children. Photo Credit: Leora Frankel grow as a new generation of members shares their memories in video and audio recordings in the “Capturing our Stories” project, writes articles for the Kol Hadash, and takes photographs. Together with the extensive audio tracks of BJ’s music and services recorded by Hazzan Ari Priven, these materials document the significant contribution that BJ continues to make to Jewish heritage in America. Many thanks to the members, photographers and BJ staff who, in recent years, rallied to the cry to “Take pictures, please” and generously shared their visages and photographs with BJ.

The task going forward is to continue to document BJ and to maintain these materials in a way that will be available to future generations. We welcome the contributions of all members to these ongoing efforts.