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Milstein Family Funds Groundbreaking Project


September 28, 2006

MILSTEIN FAMILY FUNDS GROUNDBREAKING PROJECT TO RESEARCH ARCHIVAL TREASURES OF NEW YORK'S JEWISH HERITAGE -- YIVO Institute To Spearhead Work in Surveying Five Agencies’ Records Documenting Communal Jewish Life in 20th Century New York --

NEW YORK, Sept. 28, 2006 -- During the course of the last century, more than 2.7 million Jews arrived in America – some seeking new opportunity in a new land, many escaping poverty, anti-Semitism, Communism or Nazi persecution. Who those immigrants were, how they were able to survive and acculturate to American life, and the tremendous contributions they ultimately made to all aspects of society in New York provide one of history’s most riveting human stories – but a story whose details were in danger of being lost forever.

That will not now be the case.  Thanks to a groundbreaking three-year project being launched by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and funded by a major $225,000 grant from the the Milstein family and Howard P. Milstein Foundation. Through the Milstein Jewish Communal Archive Project, the wealth of records currently archived by five Jewish social service agencies in New York will be researched as a first step in the goal of preserving them for the benefit of scholars, historians, and future generations. The project will also serve as a model for preserving the archives of Jewish agencies nationwide, in light of the financial and administrative challenges that threaten agencies’ ability to maintain and protect historically invaluable records.

“The coming of Jews to America in the 20th century is one of the ten most important events in Jewish history,” said Bruce Slovin, chairman of the YIVO Institute. “Without the assistance of these UJA-directed social service agencies, it would have been extremely difficult for those Jews to settle in New York and start a new life in a new country. As a result, over the past century, Jewish social service agencies have amassed a vast and extraordinarily rich archive of documents, photographs, films, and other materials that, taken together, document the entire history of the organized New York Jewish community.”

“Our grandparents were among those who arrived in New York from Europe and, from humble beginnings, made great contributions to the life of  this city.  To honor those memories, my family is proud to do our part to preserve the communal memory of the Jewish people in our city,” reflected Howard Milstein.  “This gift to YIVO, through the Center for Jewish History, is consistent with the Milstein family’s long-standing commitment to documenting and preserving history and genealogy through our city’s great public institutions,” Milstein concluded.

Added YIVO executive director Dr. Carl J. Rheins, “The Milstein Project was developed in response to a growing concern for the survival of the Jewish communal archive, and we are grateful to the Milstein family and the Howard P. Milstein Foundation for providing this exceptional opportunity to organize and begin the process of preserving these priceless records.”

In undertaking the project, YIVO will draw on its six decades of archival experience as the premier repository for Jewish communal records. The Institute will work in close collaboration with the five participating agencies – the Educational Alliance, FEGS Health & Human Services, the 92nd Street Y, Surprise Lake Camp, and the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) – all of which were chosen for the importance of their contributions to New York Jewish history and for the significance of their institutional archives.

“These five agencies played an invaluable role in rescuing and settling hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants and refugees escaping hardship and persecution in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East,” said Dr. John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the UJA Federation of New York, under whose auspices the agencies fall. “Their archives provide a moving snapshot of how the agencies and their leaders welcomed new immigrants and provided them shelter, training, employment, counseling, and other services critical to starting a new life on American soil.”

Multi-Faceted Undertaking

The Milstein Jewish Communal Archive Project will launch with a survey of the five agencies’ archives, as well as Jewish agency records currently deposited in the YIVO archives, to identify the historically valuable portions. That survey will provide a springboard for additional activities and products over the project’s three-year time span, including:

·           A Web site, to be named the Milstein Jewish Communal Archive Website, which will incorporate the results of the archival survey as well as a gallery of digitized documents from each of the archives. The Web site will include historical and current information about each organization and access information for potential users of the archives.

·           A publication, the Milstein Guide to Historic Resources in New York Jewish Agency Archives, which will summarize the survey results and include an index of research topics discovered during the course of the survey.

·           Milstein Conference and Symposia on Jewish Social, Cultural and Political History, with topics drawn from the archival resources discovered during the project. Curriculum and study guides on those subjects will also be produced.

·           Howard P. Milstein Research Fellowships, which will be awarded to conference presenters.

In addition, an Academic Advisory Committee is being formed to reinforce the scholarly underpinnings of the project. The Committee will be comprised of university historians, professionals from the five participating agencies, and communal activists.

Archives Tell Broad History

The archival records that the Milstein Project will research, describe a broad scope of services offered to Jewish people from a host of countries and a variety of backgrounds. NYANA’s records, for example, span the years from 1949 to the present, during which time the agency resettled literally hundreds of thousands of people, including Jews who left Cuba during the Castro revolution, nearly half a million Jews who fled the former Soviet Union, several thousand Syrian Jews who escaped to the U.S. from Syria in 1994, and many others.

Noted Jose Valencia, president and CEO of NYANA, “Our records have tremendous historical significance, and when I became president two years ago, my number one concern was the preservation of the agency’s archives. So we feel honored to be chosen to participate in the Milstein Project, knowing that YIVO has great expertise to safeguard and organize the records that will preserve the history of this agency.”

FEGS. Health & Human Services (formerly Federation Employment and Guidance Service) began its work with finding employment for thousands of Jewish men and women during the Great Depression, when anti-Semitism and discrimination compounded the difficulties of a worldwide economic crisis. In the more than 70 years since its founding, the agency has continued to provide employment and career services to immigrants and minority groups in New York.

“The Jewish people and New York are almost synonymous, so the history of the Jewish community should be of interest to every Jewish person, and especially young people,” said Alfred Miller, FEGS’ chief executive officer. “Memory is a very sacred and important thing, and through the Milstein Project, we are trying to ensure that our shared memory is protected to pass along.”

Records held by the Educational Alliance date back even further, to the agency’s founding in 1889. One of its founders was Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy’s department store, who died on the Titanic; and included in the archives are minutes of the agency’s first board meeting after the tragedy, discussing his demise.

Said Robin Bernstein, the Educational Alliance’s president and CEO, “The archives of the Educational Alliance include a wealth of history and information on the Jewish community, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the Milstein Project in order to study and organize our archives and to preserve them for the future.”

While every individual included in the five agency archives was important in his or her own right, the records to be surveyed by the Milstein Project also include information on many people who were or who became well-known in the public sphere. For example, the 92nd Street Y, which was founded in 1874 by prominent Jews interested in helping immigrants assimilate, later became renowned for its cultural, arts education, and speaker programs. The organization’s archives include talks by world leaders such as Abba Eban, Golda Meir, and Yitzhak Rabin, as well as performance and interview tapes of artists such as Beverly Sills, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Zero Mostel. All together, the Y’s archives encompass more than 900 cubic feet of documents and photographs, and thousands of audio and video recordings of literary, lecture, and concert events.

Said Sol Adler, executive director, “The 92nd Street Y is thrilled to participate in this critical project. We share the Howard Milstein family’s commitment both to saving the bounty contained in the archives of Jewish institutions like ours and to sharing these treasures with the world. As part of the Y’s strategic-planning process, we have already begun digitizing our archives so that we can make these unique resources widely available.”

Surprise Lake Camp, the country's oldest, Jewish-sponsored summer camp that still serves its original population at its original site, counts among its alumni rolls such luminaries as Eddie Cantor, Neil Diamond, Larry King, Neil Simon, Jerry Stiller, Walter Matthau, Gene Simmons, and Joseph Heller.  Noted Jordan Dale, executive director, “Surprise Lake Camp’s archives cover nearly the entire history since the camp’s founding in 1902, and include photographs, camp newspapers, printed materials, and an array of other documentation. Our archives are a treasure trove of information and history, and we are delighted to be participating in the Milstein Project, which will tell the story of Surprise Lake Camp to a wider audience and encourage more use of its archives.”

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is dedicated to the history and culture of Ashkenazi Jewry and to its influence in the Americas. It is the world’s preeminent resource center for East European Jewish studies and the American Jewish immigrant experience, and promotes the revitalization of Yiddish language, literature and folklore through adult education, fellowships, lectures and other events. YIVO is a partner organization of the Center for Jewish History, located at 15 West 16th Street in New York Ctiy – a unique location where visitors can find an unmatched wealth of resources that not only illuminate a rich and diverse past, but also provide inspiration for a vibrant, shared future.



  Contact:  Cathy Callegari – 212-579-1370 or