AMHERST, Mass. – The Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project is celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month with a special video series that looks at the culture and customs of Jewish communities across the United States.
Throughout the month of May, the project is featuring excerpts from oral history interviews highlighting the history, culture, and personal stories of those communities. The Jewish Neighborhood series began with a look at Philadelphia, including memories of the city’s rag shops and Jewish groceries, a Yiddish radio station in West Philadelphia, and the shuls that were housed in the distinctive row houses of South Philadelphia.
The series will also look at Jewish communities in Boston and Washington, D.C., as well as Jewish farms around the country. Among those interviewed are klezmer musician and ethnomusicologist Hankus Netsky, who discussed Jewish culture in his native Philadelphia; the late actor Leonard Nimoy, who recalled growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Boston; and poet Helena Lipstadt, who remembered the difficult transition her urban parents faced when they immigrated to a rural farming community in the U.S.
“When people think of American Jewish communities, they often think of New York first. We love New York, but we were excited about the chance to highlight some of the stories from other Jewish communities we’ve collected over the years,” said Christa Whitney, director of the Wexler Oral History Project. “We hope this series will help people find something a little different or new about Jewish and Yiddish-speaking communities around the United States.”
The series can be viewed on the Yiddish Book Center’s website (yiddishbookcenter.org). A full collection of interview excerpts about Jewish neighborhoods can be viewed on the Center’s YouTube channel.
The Wexler Oral History Project is a growing collection of interviews with more than 700 people – writers and musicians, scholars and students, native Yiddish speakers and cultural activists – about their family histories, involvement with Yiddish language and culture, Jewish identity, and the transmission of culture and values across generations and communities. The project was recently awarded a $170,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.