Jewish Women’s Archive Looks Through the Lens of Jewish Women of Color

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Participants of the Jewish Women’s Archive oral history training workshop teamed with Jews in ALL Hues to learn how to conduct interviews. | Photo by Rachel Kurland

Everyone has a voice and a story to share.

And with the help of the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA), more influential Jewish women of color are contributing.

About a dozen people, mainly women, participated in an oral history training workshop led by JWA on July 16 to learn how to conduct an interview for its Story Aperture project.

The training, which took place at Repair the World in University City, paired up with Jews in ALL Hues to focus on sharing the stories of Jewish women of color.

Participants intend to interview women in their communities — spanning from Baltimore to New York — for the archive.

Attendees had a lively discussion on the importance of interviewing Jewish women of color, something Larisa Klebe, the archive’s program manager, admitted is lacking, as the organization is mainly comprised of white Jewish women.

She said the workshop was an opportunity for people to think deeply about what oral history is and why it is important to their lives.

“Our main goal is really for people to engage with the material and have the opportunity to strengthen personal relationships and strengthen their communities by participating in this project,” she added.

The Story Aperture project intends to collect stories from influential Jewish women within different communities across the country to give all women a voice in historical narratives, creating “a larger picture of what it means to be a Jewish woman.”

The name Story Aperture, meaning a hole or gap, refers to the gaps in these historical narratives, which goes back to the reason the archive was founded in 1995.

“A goal with this project is really continuing our work of raising those marginalized voices, and for this project specifically, focusing in particular on the everyday Jewish woman and making a statement that those stories are just as important as the stories of Ruth Bader Ginsburg or famous Jewish women that you’ve heard of before,” Klebe said.

As this class had more of a focus on race and ethnicity, Jared Jackson, founder and executive director of Jews in ALL Hues, said the workshop gave participants an opportunity to change the paradigm within the process.

“They’re given the opportunity to broaden the scope, broaden the pool of interviewers, to be more intersectional than we’ve experienced,” he said, “using a much bigger lens.”

Participants varied in religious and ethnic backgrounds, too, and spanned several generations. Jackson said it’s important to note that not all Jews come from the same stereotypical Ashkenazi background.

“Just about every Jew of color you saw in that [workshop], myself included, were also Ashkenazi,” he added. “We all want the same thing: a Jewish community that reflects the community.”

Jackson grew up with four sisters and now has four nieces, so for something like the Story Aperture project that features women, he’s happy to take a backseat.

“I grew up seeing how a lot of people of my own gender treated my sisters, whether that was amazing with a ton of respect for their mind, a ton of respect for their entire person — or not,” he said. “Even though I personally can’t be interviewed for this thing … maybe my contribution is just taking less space so that people can have a space that they deserve.”

As a minority who comes from several histories of oppression — some of Jackson’s ancestors escaped the pogroms and survived slavery in the Americas — he said he wants to ensure that there are “enough leaders behind the scenes who may not get the entire picture but get something.”

“There’s a paradigm shift that needs to happen, and this is one of the ways that I see it changing,” he added.

Klebe was first introduced to conducting oral history interviews in high school, but her most meaningful one was interviewing her grandfather in college for a project on World War II.

His family emigrated from Nazi-occupied Europe to the U.S. in the late 1930s, where he later joined the Army and fought in the Pacific.

She said that experience deepened their relationship.

“I’m just really grateful that I have [the interview],” she said, as he has since passed away. “Knowing that I have that and can pass it on to future generations is really impactful.”

She added that interviews like that one are a significant part of maintaining oral history.

Others interested in adding to the Story Aperture project can contact JWA (jwa.org) — based just outside Boston — for more information.

“Ordinary people do extraordinary things every day,” Klebe noted. “Just because nobody knows about it or just because you’re not famous, it doesn’t mean that your work isn’t important.

“These stories matter.”

Contact: [email protected]215-832-0737

1 COMMENT

  1. This sounds like an opportune time to have these workshops. Word of mouth and sharing validates whatever we have done.

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