Jewish museums, George Mason U. to document Jewish life during pandemic

As part of the initiative, The Rosenzweig Center will establish a web portal that shows digital content reflecting Jewish life during the pandemic.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn to protest against coronavirus restrictions, in October. (photo credit: YUKI IWAMURA/REUTERS)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn to protest against coronavirus restrictions, in October.
(photo credit: YUKI IWAMURA/REUTERS)
The Council of American Jewish Museums and George Mason University's Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media are teaming up to chronicle and document Jewish life in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a press release from the center on Sunday.
The move to document Jewish life came after grants were provided by the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, the Jim Joseph Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and The Russell Berrie Foundation. As part of the initiative, The Rosenzweig Center will establish a web portal that shows digital content reflecting Jewish life during the pandemic, including a section focused on the oral history of American Jewish communities amid this once-in-a-lifetime event.
“Collectors, researchers, and teachers are synergizing their efforts,” said Zev Eleff, chief academic officer of HTC.
“We all understand that this is a pivotal teaching and learning moment, freighted with so much meaning for all kinds of students,” Eleff added.
The web portal is set to be ready by March 2021, where individuals will be able to find collections of testimonies, in addition to the option of contributing material themselves if they so wish. Libraries, archivists, researchers and teachers will also be able to access the material as well, without paying any cost.
“The Jewish community’s response to this historic moment warrants careful curating and documentation in one centralized location,” said Jessica Mack of George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.
"Contrary to what many think, digital content does not last forever unless we make efforts to preserve it. With the collaborative’s generous support, we will gather materials showing how the community adapted at this time—and share it in one accessible, central platform. Future Jewish community researchers and leaders will be able to learn about the rapid transformation of Jewish life during this time,” she added.
Melissa Martens Yaverbaum, executive director of the Council of American Jewish Museums, noted the significance of recording and cataloging the Jewish experience during the pandemic, saying, “for organizations that do the work of Jewish history, this is a defining chapter.”
“The pandemic has rearranged many aspects of Jewish life—from the holidays to healthcare, mourning, milestones, the work of social justice, and the ways we create community.  Our grassroots efforts aim to reflect the breadth of the Jewish community and a myriad of Jewish experiences from the pandemic era. In sharing personal stories, we’re laying the groundwork for a more inclusive future,” she added.
The Council of American Jewish Museums and Roy Rosenzweig Center will also put effort into ensuring the documentation and cataloging will be inclusive of Jewish communities not typically represented in museums.
“Holding space for diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential to the work of both these projects,” said Aaron Dorfman of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah.
“If we want these platforms to be truly useful to researchers and institutions in the future—and if we really want the community to learn from this moment—we must capture experiences representing the breadth of the Jewish community, particularly its often marginalized members,” Dorfman added.