Legacy of Legendary Jewish Georgians

Legacy of Legendary Jewish Georgians

An innovative online catalog system now brings the voices and faces of The Breman Museum’s vast oral history collection directly onto your computer.

Ann Schoenberg interviewed Sherry Frank in 1993. (Courtesy of Sherry Frank)
Ann Schoenberg interviewed Sherry Frank in 1993. (Courtesy of Sherry Frank)

Sitting in front of a computer or laptop from the comfort of your home, you can now search on The Breman Museum’s website a long list of well-known local Georgia women and men who speak directly to you about their historical contribution to the community.

“I treasure the oral history collection and the important insight it gives us about the lives and times of people in which they lived,” said Sherry Frank, who shared her own story for the collection.

Vida Goldgar is interviewed by Dr. Roberta “Bobbie” Golden in 1985. (Courtesy of Sherry Frank)

A new innovative oral history catalogue system called Aviary is currently up and running at The Breman Museum. This revolutionary platform makes it easy to learn about the local Georgia scene by seeing familiar faces and hearing voices from the past and present such as those of William Breman, himself, or Rabbi Alvin Sugarman of The Temple.

The AJT spoke to the archivist at The Breman, a few interviewees and those who have supported the project to learn more about the oral history collection and its 21st century makeover.

History Comes Home
The Breman’s archivist Jeremy Katz explained in an AJT interview how Jewish local history reaches audiences beyond the museum’s walls. “Oral history interviews are now digitized from analog (physical tapes) to a digital format that can be preserved and accessed on a computer. These digital files are now being uploaded and inputted directly to The Breman’s page in Aviary so that they can be viewed and dynamically searched online,” Katz said.

Dr. Mark Bauman interviews Rabbi Alvin Sugarman in 2014.

Soon after joining the American Jewish Committee staff, Frank saw the AJC Atlanta Chapter in 1982 create its Women of Achievement Oral History Project. Few women were in that collection at the time. In 1985, the National Council of Jewish Women Atlanta Section joined as a co-sponsor of the Women of Achievement Project. As the project grew, Atlanta’s Jewish Federation joined as a co-sponsor in 1989. And on May 16, 1990, the collection, which then included 50 women, was given to The Breman.

In a recent Zoom conversation, Katz explained how those initial interviews “developed into The Esther and Herbert Taylor Oral History Collection that currently totals over 1,000 recorded interviews.” Roughly 25 percent of the collection documents Holocaust survivors who settled in Georgia and Alabama. The collection is housed in the Ida Pearle and Joseph Cuba Archives for Southern Jewish History at The Breman. Typical ages to be interviewed today range from 60 to 90 years old, just as when earlier oral history efforts began 50 years ago.

Jeremy Katz checks out a recorded oral history tape to be catalogued.

Judith and Mark Taylor have followed in the footsteps of Mark’s parents, funding this Oral History Collection for decades. “Everything we have accomplished to expand the collection and make it available to the public would not have been possible without their support,” Katz said of the Taylors. The Breman also just received a Propel Grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta to support the new oral history catalog system.

Voices from the Past
AJC Women of Achievement interviews saved on cassette tapes included women such as Vida Goldgar, former editor of The Southern Israelite, today’s Atlanta Jewish Times. Judith Taylor remembered her mother-in-law Esther Taylor, who started Planned Parenthood in Georgia, being interviewed as one of those 50 selected women. In the Aviary catalog, you can hear how Esther explained her role in creating the first affiliate in the South. “I wrote to national Planned Parenthood and asked if they expected to send a representative or director for the South, which was still completely undeveloped with regard to family planning. When and if they did, I told them I would initiate the program and I would have the seed money and get the volunteers.”

By the mid-1990s, video cameras replaced cassette tapes to document interviews. In 2013, The Breman began the effort to professionally transcribe the oral histories to industry leading standards, a time-consuming and expensive effort that includes detailed annotations as well as short biographies to provide historical context.

Jeremy Katz is the archivist at The Breman.

Joyce Kane, an academic advisor and graduate student in religious studies at Georgia State University, has been a part-time oral history transcriptionist at The Breman since 2015.” Working to make the oral history collection accessible to a mass audience has been a very exciting project and has furthered my interest in local Jewish history. I’ve also greatly enjoyed learning about the rich Jewish histories prior to arriving in Atlanta.”

In addition to Kane, The Breman employs several part-time transcriptionists and cataloguers that have made one-third of the collection accessible to industry leading standards in Aviary.

Interviews On a Rolling Basis
New oral history interviews are conducted on a rolling basis thanks to a team of trained volunteer interviewers. Recent oral histories include interviews with Elaine Alexander, a political and feminist activist, and Janice Rothschild Blumberg, a historian, author and wife of the famed civil rights icon Rabbi Jacob Rothschild of The Temple.

During the pandemic last year, several interviews took place virtually. As of May, in-person interviews on camera have resumed including with Josh Lesser, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Bet Haverim, and past president of the NCJW: Lila Hertz and longtime members Barbara Sugarman and Michal Hilman.

In early July, there was an inteview with Henry Bauer, legal counsel to Atlanta’s Mayor Maynard Jackson during his first term in office. When asked how people are chosen to be interviewed, Katz said that a committee led by Susan Feinberg suggests names and helps organize the interviews. Feinberg also was recently interviewed for the project.

Panelists with the 1982 Women of Achievement oral history project were Dr. Nanette Wenger, Janice Rothschild Blumberg, Phyllis Kravitz and Josephine Heyman. (Courtesy of Sherry Frank)

History Networks
The Breman and Yale University are reportedly the only archives in the industry to have integrated Aviary and ArchivesSpace, the leading collection catalog system in the archives field. Johns Hopkins University will soon be the third with Emory University not far behind, Katz said. The Breman and Yale’s Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies recently launched a collective in Aviary alongside the Illinois Institute of Technology. The collective makes the Holocaust survivor testimonies housed in each institution’s holdings more accessible than ever before. To view the collective, https://testimonies.aviaryplatform.com.

Screenshot displays Bill Breman’s page on The Breman’s website.

“Aviary makes the stories of our community more accessible and discoverable than ever before to students, teachers, genealogists, filmmakers, and researchers of all backgrounds,” said Leslie Gordon, The Breman’s executive director.

Judith Taylor asked, “Just think of what it would be like if we could hear the voices of those who came before us and actually see them talking?”

For those whose family members, friends, colleagues or community leaders are part of The Breman’s Esther and Herbert Taylor Oral History Collection, with a click of a few computer keys Aviary makes it easy to access their stories. To learn more, visit https://thebreman.aviaryplatform.com

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