Cultural History | History | United States History
Fordham’s Bronx Jewish History Project: An Introduction Since 2015, Fordham has been building a Judaica collection. While the university already had an outstanding Holocaust collection—the Sydney Rosenblatt Holocaust Collection, which boasts over 10,000 items, including books, ephemera and material objects, and a teaching collection in Jewish history, with standard scholarly literature. It did not have a Judaica collection that would spotlight the historical and geographic breadth of Jewish culture. When I arrived in 2015, with a passion to teach with historical artifacts, with the support of the late Provost Stephen Freedman and Director of Fordham Libraries Linda Loschiavo, I began to acquire Judaica for the Special Collections and archives. The first items were some sixteenth-century works, including an expurgated copy of the 1546/7 Daniel Bomberg’s edition of Sefer Mitsvot Gadol, known as the SeMaG, by Moses of Coucy and Moses Isserless’s Zot Torat Hatat, published in Cracow in 1591. Over the years, we collected hundreds of Judaica, from early Hebrew prints, including an incunabula edition of the SeMaG, through centuries of examples of haggadot (our oldest original haggadah is from 1663, but we also have magnificent facsimile editions of several medieval haggadot, donated by Dr. James Leach; our newest from 2023). The collection now represents various aspects of Jewish life on all permanently inhabited continents. A few years ago, I realized that while we were collecting Judaica from all over north America, India, Argentina, Europe, Africa, and now even Australia, we did not have anything from the Bronx. Our first Bronx item was the invitation to a bar mitzvah from 1951. Then came a few other ephemera. In April 2022, Julian Voloj presented his photographs of the remnants of the vibrant Jewish life in the Bronx in a webinar. After the talk, Ellen Meshnick, whose parents grew up in the Bronx sent us a small family archive—a treasure trove giving us a glimpse of Jewish life in the Bronx in the 1930s and 1940s.
So, when we dedicated the Henry S. Miller Judaica Research Room to honor the Fordham trustee’s decades of service and support of the university, we opened an exhibit of Julian Voloj’s photographs curated by Ray Felix and accompanied it with an exhibit curated by Reyna Stovall FCLC ’25 spotlighting our growing Bronx Judaica collection. A few weeks later, when Julia Gergely published a story about the collection in The Jewish Week, we began to receive many inquiries about the project from people who grew up, or whose parents grew up in the Bronx wanting to share their documents, photographs, and stories. Fordham had already had the Bronx African American History Project directed by Professor Mark Naison, and had recently established sister projects on Bronx Italian History and Bronx Irish History, all collecting oral histories through interviews. One of the students involved in the Bronx African American History Project was Sophia Maier FCRH ’23. She worked with Mark Naison on interviews and then wrote a thesis “A New-ish Jewish Diaspora: Rethinking Perspectives on Bronx White Flight, 1960s to 1990s,” which studied how Jews began to leave the Bronx. We thus decided to launch Bronx Jewish History Project, which would begin to collect oral histories and continue to collect personal archives, focusing on the daily life of Jews in the Bronx. I want to thank Professor Daniel Soyer, an expert in American and American Jewish history, for taking a lead on this project. In this volume, we publish Julian Voloj’s photographs along with highlights from our Bronx Jewish collection curated by Reyna Stovall, Sophia Maier’s essay, and some personal stories. This project would not have been possible without the staunch support from the University and especially from Linda Loschiavo, Director of Fordham University Libraries, or without the enthusiasm and patience of Vivian Shen and Gabriella DiMeglio at the O’Hare Special Collections and Archives, who have been instrumental in making the exhibits happen and in accommodating the needs of our students. The generosity of Eugene Shvidler, who provided the seed funds for the first years of the collection, and of Fordham Trustees Henry S. Miller, Eileen Sudler, Dario Wertheim, whose gifts have supported student curatorial internships, sustained the larger project of using historical objects and material culture in our classes on Jewish history and culture. Finally, and crucially, the Bronx Jewish History Project, would not have happened without the outpouring of interest from the public and without so many wanting to share their stories and family treasures. I want to thank Ellen Meshnick for sharing her mother’s and father’s memorabilia and Shoshanna Sanders for sharing her father’s written memories and photographs. This project is about a community, and it has come to life because of a community.
Professor of History
The Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies
Voloj, Julian; Stovall, Reyna; and Maier, Sophia, "Jewish Life in the Bronx" (2023). Bronx Jewish History Project. 10.