October 2, 2015

UJA-Federation project is complete

Filed under: Uncategorized — susanwoodland @ 4:47 pm

We posted the finding aid today and linked it to the container list that lists every folder in the collection.  The finding aid can be accessed from a link on the project webpage.  It can also be found when searching in the Center for Jewish History catalog at or

We’ve enjoyed working on this wonderful collection and look forward to blogging on collections in the future.

Regards from Eric, Leah, Marvin and Susan



September 30, 2015

Wrapping up the project

Filed under: Uncategorized — Leah Edelman @ 3:57 pm

It’s difficult to write summarily about a project that we’ve worked on for four years. As mentioned in Susan’s post, through working with these materials, we’ve lived with and thought about this organization and the people that built it for a long time now. Below find an unofficial timeline of some of the highlights of the project, as we wrap up our work with the UJA-Federation of New York collection.

Fall 2011: Project begins. The UJA-Federation of New York collection at this time contains over 3,200 bankers boxes of records from approximately 1909 to 2000 — in varying preservation condition– stored in the Citistorage warehouse in Brooklyn. Project staff includes Senior Archivist Susan Woodland, and AJHS Archivists Eric Fritzler, Marvin Rusinek, and Vital Zajka.

What does it mean to “process” a collection? In short, it means to arrange and describe a set of records. Archivists arrange the records in a clear order (this could be chronological, alphabetical, according to the order the records were received, or in some other way that makes sense for the particular records), and then describe this order and the content of the records in a finding aid to make the collection accessible for researchers.

The first step of an archival processing project is, usually, to survey the collection (archivists look through boxes and any existing documentation about the boxes—such as folder lists). This helps archivists to get a sense of the records and the ways in which they might be arranged, and develop a processing plan.  Due to the nature of this unusually large collection, the archival team had to develop a processing plan without looking through all the boxes, and instead familiarized themselves with UJA-Federation of New York organizational history through reading secondary sources (see our Selected Bibliography) to inform their processing decisions, and to utilize material found within the collection itself to better understand people’s roles within the organization and the structure of the organization itself.

Processing initially began with the Oral History Project records, which we packed up at the UJA-Federation offices and worked with first, as this was a relatively small and distinct part of the collection.

December 2011: The first boxes arrive from the Citistorage warehouse, and processing begins on the rest of the collection. These boxes include some of the oldest records of the organization. The collection is split into four chronological subgroups: Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (FJP) 1909-1986, United Jewish Appeal (UJA) 1938-1986, UJA-Federation Joint Campaign (UFJC) 1973-1986, and UJA-Federation of New York (UJF) 1986-2000. The fifth subgroup, composed of UJA-Federation’s Oral History Project, has already been processed.

April 2013: Digitization of the Oral History Project is completed.

May 2013: Heather Halliday, former Photograph and Reference Archivist at the American Jewish Historical Society, joins the project.

December 2013: Processing of budget files from the Office of Management and Budget, the largest chunk of records in the collection (over 500 linear feet, or 5 football fields!), is completed. These files contain annual agency files, Budget Department subject files, financial reports, agency financial reports, audited agency reports, Distribution Committee reports, functional committee reports, Greater New York Fund files, and Financial Experience of Affiliated Societies files.

April 2014: Processing of UJF Executive Vice President files is completed. Over 167 linear feet, these files span UJF’s existence, from 1986-2000.

May 2014: Processing and digitization of Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities material, a precursor organization to FJP, is completed.

June 2014: A large selection of Board minutes from 1916-1992 are digitized.

Sept 2014: A preliminary finding aid for the FJP subgroup is completed, and the over 500 boxes described in this section are now available to researchers. With the completion of the project, this finding aid will be replaced with the full collection finding aid.

Oct 2014: Leah Edelman, newly minted archivist from the Simmons SLIS program, joins the project.

Jan 2015: A fire in the Citistorage warehouse destroys 123 out of 305 boxes remaining in storage. Fortunately, over 90% of the collection had already been removed from the warehouse, and processed.

June 2015: Nearly 500 images from the collection are digitized, dating from the 1910s through the 2000s.

July 2015: An online interactive map of Federation agencies goes live.

August 2015: With the completion of processing of oversize, artifact, and audiovisual materials (including the digitization of numerous sound recordings and films), processing of the UJA-Federation of New York collection is completed! The final box count is 2,021.

September 2015: During this final month, project staff is wrapping up last (but not small!) tasks, such as the completion of the finding aid and container list. We say goodbye on October 2!

September 25, 2015

Paper Clips and Other Glimpses of an Earlier Time

Filed under: found in the archives — susanwoodland @ 4:37 pm

Our blog has been quiet for the past few weeks as we focused simply on completing the project, which ends officially on October 2nd. The container list is nearly complete.  It is a huge spreadsheet that lists ever folder in the collection, arranged hierarchically by subgroup, series, subseries, and so on.  The collection is huge.  It has ended up being contained in 2021 bankers boxes (each bankers box is 1.2 cubic feet for those of you who can visualize in three dimensions), 24 oversize boxes and 4 oversize folders too large for our shelves and  housed in a flat file with very, very wide drawers.

Also nearly complete is the finding aid to the collection, that will link out at every level to the container list.  The finding aid explains the arrangement of the collection at every level, and gives historical information as well as content information on each section.  This 184 page WORD document is being encoded over the next few days in order to be able to place it online where it will be accessible to researchers everywhere. The easiest way to take a look at it, after October 2nd, will be from the collection webpage.  The first link on this page will be to the finding aid. (Currently linked as the finding aid are three sections of a partial finding aid we’ve had up for the past year. The finding aid to the complete collection will replace these links.)

While finishing up the documentation for this project and cleaning up our work spaces, I found a box full of metal fasteners that were pulled from various levels of the excavation that was a big part of the work we’ve done over the past four years.  We knew these metal bits were destined for the trash; we removed them so they wouldn’t further damage the paper with rust or simply because of their thickness in a folder. We didn’t keep track of what years they were in use or which subseries they came from.  But for some of us, they summon a sense of the people who wrote the memos and the reports, who slipped on a paper clip or added files to a binder before closing up a folder for the last time.

paper clips

Metal fasteners found in the collection

I think that the nail fell into the box by mistake, but everything else was used in one or more of the decades that we’ve lived through in the past four years.

Many things can summon up a moment from the past, even one you didn’t live through yourself.  Of course many things about this collection, or any collection that spans the better part of a century, make you vividly aware that the people who created the documents lived very different lives than we do today.

We’ll write at least one final post next week before we depart for our next projects.

August 28, 2015

Audiovisual Material

We are happy to report that our entire audiovisual (AV) collection is processed! We have nine boxes of AV materials, including audio reels, cassettes, records, 16mm films, floppy disks, VHS tapes, CDs, wire recordings, and microfilm.

Here’s a breakdown of how we process AV material:

  1. We find AV items mixed in with the regular collection, or acquire larger items (such as the 16mm film reels) in their own containers that are usually not preservation-friendly.
  2. We remove the AV item and place one copy of a transfer form in its original location, and keep the other copy with the item. This way, we can note the intellectual location of the item, even though it will not physically be housed in its correct subgroup and series.
  3. We try to deduce the content of the AV item, and make some decisions regarding the importance of keeping and also digitizing the item. Some items are labeled (though labels aren’t always correct) and some are not. Based on labeling and original location in the collection, if an item seems important — such as Board minutes — we listen to it or view it and, if necessary, create a digital version. Some items may not have content on them at all (blank cassettes, for example), or may have degraded so much that they are unable to be viewed or listened to. These items are weeded from the collection.
  4. In order to be efficient and cost effective when digitizing, we group materials by format and determine the best vendor for the process. We are lucky enough to have much equipment to play and digitize various media here at the Center for Jewish History, including cassette players, record players, disk drives, etc, though we did (and many other repositories do) send out certain formats for digitization. For our films and audio reels, we used MediaPreserve. Once a digital file has been created, we ingest the file into our digital asset management system and gather metadata about the digital version. This digital file has now become its own item in our collection, and is publicly available through the Center for Jewish History’s Digital Collections.
  5. When the digitization process is complete, we carefully rehouse the AV item with its transfer form, usually with materials of the same format, in preservation friendly containers. Some materials (like cassettes and diskettes) can be stored together, while other materials (like 16mm film) are prone to decay and should be housed individually. We also try to keep digitized items in separate boxes for easier retrieval.
  6. We then create a separate AV folder list to keep track of the AV boxes and their contents and location, and connect all digital versions to their physical counterparts through links in our regular folder lists. In addition to our digitized films, below are some links to other digitized AV items of interest in the collection, and in case you forgot what some of these old AV formats look like, at the very bottom are photographs!

FJP Executive Committee Special Meeting on Merger, 1985

UJA Stars for Israel fundraising event at Madison Square Garden (featuring Robert Kennedy and Jacob Javits), 1967

UJA Campaign Radio Spots, 1974

UJA Council of Organizations Yiddish Radio Programs, 1976

UJF Taskforce on the Jewish Woman: Conference on Women and Leadership, 1987

UJF Taskforce on Mixed Marriage, Speaker Egon Mayer, 1986

Audio reel

Audio reel

16mm film

16mm film

Wire recording

Wire recording

Video Umatic

Video Umatic

August 17, 2015

Processing Complete!

Filed under: Uncategorized — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 3:24 pm

Finally, after 3 years and 10 months, the mammoth UJA-Federation of New York collection is completely processed. A photograph taken below shows the last box prior to being processed. The second photo depicts the refoldered folders in an acid-free bankers box.

Last box prior to processing

Last box prior to processing

After processing

After processing

The last box contained the Government Relations files of Anita Altman, Director of Resource Management and Resource Development at Federation. The files in the box were a mixture of agency files, foundations, and issues pertaining to Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC).

Having processed the collection for almost four years, I am immensely relieved and satisfied that the entire collection is now processed. By the end of September a finding aid to the entire collection will be posted online, easily accessible from the project’s webpage. Researchers will be able to view the searchable container list to the collection along with the online finding aid in order to request materials to view in the Center for Jewish History’s Reading Room. Links to materials and collections will be available through the container list and from the project webpage. We hope that researchers will find the collection of great value and easily accessible. We welcome and value your feedback.

August 12, 2015

Federation films digitized and available online

Filed under: audio-visual material, found in the archives, interesting or noteworthy archival material — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 3:29 pm

After our success with MediaPreserve digitizing a number of sound recordings earlier in the year, we returned back to the vendor to digitize five short films. These films have been reviewed, described, ingested into a digital repository, and are now available through the Center’s Digital Collections.

Five films were selected for digitization:


Screen capture, Dial-a-thon

Screen capture, Dial-a-thon, 1973

Williamsburg Y and Long Island Jewish Hospital

Screen capture, Williamsburg Y and Long Island Jewish Hospital, undated

Screen capture, Williamsburg Y and Long Island Jewish Hospital, undated

UJA-Federation News Release

Screen capture, UJA-Federation News Release, 1974

Screen capture, UJA-Federation News Release, 1974

A Journey into Life

Screen capture, Journey into Life, 1960

Screen capture, Journey into Life, 1960

At Any Given Moment

Screen capture, At Any Given Moment, 1972

Screen capture, At Any Given Moment, 1972

Two of the films, “A Journey into Life” and “At Any Given Moment,” have celebrity narrators, Sid Caesar and Alan King, respectively, to guide and appeal to viewers as part of the Federation’s educational, fundraising, and outreach efforts within the metropolitan New York area.

However, perhaps the greatest find is, among these newly digitized and available resources, the Dial-a-thon footage that captures the exuberance and excitement of a themed fundraising event with hand drawn tigers, ringing telephones, and circus music.

Screen capture, Dial-a-thon, 1973

Screen capture, Dial-a-thon, 1973

We have been able to positively identify Federation President Lawrence B. Buttenweiser, Martha K. Selig, comptroller and soon-to-be Mayor Abraham Beame, and Bess Myerson in Dial-a-thon. If you are able to identify any persons in the five films, please contact us and we can add this valuable information to the description of the footage.

July 28, 2015

Publicity Program and Record for 1929 of Federation

Filed under: audio-visual material, early history, Federation people — Tags: , — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 12:03 pm

Isidore Sobeloff, the Director of Public Affairs for the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York, compiled a scrapbook of material that his department created in 1929. The scrapbook was held by the Sobeloff family and was recently donated by Susan Sobeloff to the UJA-Federation of New York Archives Project in March. Since March, the scrapbook underwent preservation treatment and has been digitized and made available online.

Available along with many other digitized minutes, oral histories and photographs ingested within the Center for Jewish History Digital Collections, the digitized version of the scrapbook captures the order and feel of the original material. Before digitization, the scrapbook underwent a series of preservation actions in the Werner J. and Gisella Levi Cahnman Preservation Laboratory, including unbinding the book and separating fragile, deteriorating newspaper clippings from acidic pages and one another. The Preservation Lab took photographs of the scrapbook before digitization and these photographs can be viewed as part of the digitized version of the scrapbook under the label, “Scrapbook before preservation treatment.”

The scrapbook, in many ways, reads both like the history of a tumultuous campaign year and, also, like an artist’s portfolio, highlights his decisions as the director. Clippings mention Federation agencies and fundraising effort and publications illustrate how the department was the ambassador or mouthpiece for the philanthropic organization.

Front cover, 1929

Front cover of Publicity Program and Record for 1929 of Federation

The scrapbook documents the activities of Sobeloff and the Public Affair Department during a time period for which we have very little archival material, both before the Public Affairs Department started to be called the Public Relations Department and before the Federation merged with the Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities to become the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.

Mailing from Federation

1929 Mailing to Pledgers, “When you said that…”

In addition to the wonderful campaign information related to outreach to new members and a significant effort to further democratize Federation, the scrapbook is filled with allusions to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the difficulties associated with fundraising in the midst of the largest economic downturn in United States history. For instance, he offers that:

As we look back at 1929, we must divide the planned program into the period referred to until now and the period from immediately after the market collapse until the end of the year. Out of all the confusion came the decision that our public had to be convinced that giving to Federation was a constant all-year-round problem unaffected by outside factors; that regardless of business conditions, the work of healing and mercy must go on.

The scrapbook details some of the decisions made to prompt campaign pledgers and workers to give and meet their commitments both in spite of the crash and, ironically, to help deal with even greater need because of the crash.

Mailing from Federation, 1929

Mailing to Pledgers, “Federation’s Deficit has been Decreased to 900,000!”

Later, Mr. Sobeloff relocated to Detroit to become the executive director of the Detroit Federation. His oral history is digitized and available. In his oral history interview, Sobeloff recounts his training in Jewish communal service, time as Director of Public Relations for Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York, and his experience as a communal leader in Detroit from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Special thanks to Susan Sobeloff for her donation of the scrapbook to the American Jewish Historical Society on behalf of the Sobeloff Family.

July 24, 2015

Oversized Material

Filed under: Uncategorized — Leah Edelman @ 9:30 am

As we approach the end of our project, we are starting to tie up some odds and ends regarding the arrangement and housing of the collection, before we move into finishing the description of the collection in the finding aid. Although we have almost 2000 bankers boxes, there are still some items that just don’t fit, and these items are deemed “oversized material.” We now have 18 oversized boxes holding maps, charts, blueprints, newspapers, photographs, scrapbooks, plaques, and other items that need to lie flat for optimal preservation. These 18 boxes are different sizes themselves, and range from OS (oversized) 1 to 3, with the largest items in a flat file cabinet.

Here’s a breakdown of how we process oversized material:

  1. We find oversized items folded up in regular boxes, or acquire them in their own containers that are usually not preservation-friendly
  2. We remove the oversized item and place one copy of a transfer form in its original location, and keep the other copy with the item. This way, we can note the intellectual location of the item, even though it will not physically be housed in its correct subgroup and series
  3. We carefully rehouse the oversized item with its transfer form in an appropriately sized box. Within the box, some items are fragile and need their own folders, some (such as newspapers) are acidic and need to be interleaved, and some can be carefully grouped together with other like items in a folder
  4. We create a separate oversized folder list to keep track of the OS boxes and their contents and location, and once again make sure each item links back to a folder in the regular collection
  5. We are then able to digitize some especially interesting material. We have digitized many of the maps (including the one that inspired our interactive map of Federation agencies), and are currently working on Isidore Sobeloff’s scrapbook. Sobeloff was Director of Public Relations for Federation in the 1920s, and his scrapbook from 1929 contains clippings of his work, as well as information about the crash of 1929 and how it affected Federation. (See next week’s blog post for more on Sobeloff and links to his scrapbook!)

Here are some other oversized items of interest in the collection:

Publications from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including “Federation Campaigner,” “Campaign World,” “Jewish Week,” and “Appeal”


Car cards from the Jewish Vacation Association, from the 1960s


Blueprints and maps for many early agency sites, including Educational Alliance, Montefiore Hospital, Washington Heights-Inwood and Boro Park YM-YWHA’s, and Camps Rainbow, Ella Fohs, and Forrestburgh


Charts and statistics regarding the 1981 Jewish population study, including a “Distinctive Jewish Names Analysis”


July 17, 2015

“IDEAS & SUGGESTIONS” – Favorite Folder Titles

Filed under: found in the archives — susanwoodland @ 10:59 am
Folders - Ideas and Suggestions

Favorite Folders – Ideas and Suggestions

Processing is for the most part complete on the UJA-Federation of New York collection and we have moved on to everything else that has to be finished before the finding aid is completed, with just Marvin left to complete the last reboxing, refoldering, and folder listing.

In cleaning up my processing area I am finding things I stashed away during processing, not to integrate into the collection but because they represent a very ephemeral part of what archivists do, and I had a hard time throwing them out.  Perhaps a later blog post will illustrate some of the beautiful and weird paper clips that Federation used at different times between 1917 and whenever paperclips became more standardized.

But first I scanned a few of the empty folders and tabs I couldn’t bear to throw out without noting them in some way.  The contents of these folders were transferred a couple of years ago to new acid-free folders and probably relabeled. Or possibly the titles were retained. Once all the folder lists are combined into a  single final container list, I’ll be able to search for “CRANKS” and see if that folder title merited permanent retention. In fact at that point, with the finding aid and container list online, anyone will be able to search for any folder title or strange word they like and see if it exists among the tens of thousands of folder titles in this collection.

Favorite folders - CRANKS

Favorite Folders – CRANKS

I know that we came across a number of folders over the past four years that made reference to mail that had been received that was either troubling, or from a troubled soul not seeking help from Federation but on an opposite side of some philosophical or political issue, real or otherwise.  These other folders would have been called “White Mail” or “Unsolicited Correspondence” or hidden within a series of correspondence folders, making a title like “CRANKS” really stand out. Being handwritten, probably the only handwritten folder title in a box of folders with neatly typed titles also made it stand out. I assume it was handwritten because it was not a formal folder title; the executive who was dealing with its contents just scribbled a title himself and left it on his desk to work on, rather than handing it to his secretary to integrate into the departmental files.

Favorite folders - Eliminated Societies

Favorite folders – Eliminated Societies

This next image is a folder tab from a very brittle and dusty folder from about 1920. “VI Eliminated Societies” is also handwritten, but one of an entire years’ worth of handwritten folder titles, definitely a formal folder title and labeled very formally and neatly.  It is also numbered as if it were an official category, which at that time in the ‘teens or 1920s it must have been, until Federation settled into a more stable and comfortable relationship with their affiliated agencies.

As the project slowly winds down, we have been discussing the things we’ve learned from and noticed about this collection.  One of the most ephemeral things is simply how folders are labeled, what that says about the institution, and what it says about the time and place a particular person wrote a particular title on a folder in a particular way. One thing I’ve been very aware of is how the documents and other materials in this collection reflect that time and that person and that institution, and how all of that affects the content itself.  Our hope is that we are presenting the collection so it is easily accessible, but also as an intriguing series of snapshots of an ordinary office over time, vanished except for the records a lot of people so carefully kept.

July 1, 2015

“The Federation City”

Filed under: found in the archives — Tags: — susanwoodland @ 2:57 pm

Mrs. Louis Morberg with a 1961 Federation City Map

Through its history, Federation issued maps showing the range of their affiliated agencies across the New York metropolitan area. Some iterations were closely based on earlier maps and were simple updates. In 1961 a stylized version of the New York City map became the basis of a design overhaul; this version was updated a few times in the 1970s, with further updates probably through the 1980s.  The different versions of these maps that have turned up in the collection during processing have been digitized and made available online.

Federation City map, circa 1970s

Federation City map, circa 1970s

The map above, undated but clearly from the 1970s, was selected as the starting point for an interactive map of Federation agencies. We chose to maintain the stylized look of this map, which is not to scale, and have therefore not used strict global positioning of the pins on the map. Instead, the pins, each representing one location of a specific agency, are located generally in the correct part of a borough or in the general vicinity of its location in an outlying county around New York City.  Federation’s reach eventually extended to Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey, particularly for summer camps and other facilities responding to a community need, and this is reflected in the map.

We extracted a large amount of data from the collection itself, primarily addresses of the agencies and the dates of their affiliation with Federation – this information was readily available in the voluminous annual agency budget files processed early in the project and which you may remember from earlier posts.  We have also included histories of many of the agencies, with information pulled from various publications and files in the collection, which appear in pop-ups when you click on a specific agency.  Where photographs of the agency buildings exist, they have been added to the histories. Before the end of the project we plan to add more histories and photos as they are available. Until an agency has a linked history, just the name of the agency will appear when you click on the pin or when you click on the name on the sidebar.

Working with our website developers, A+R Media Studio, LLC, has been an exciting experience, not least because of the enhancements they suggested that have made the map even more interactive than originally planned.

When you play around with the map, make sure to adjust the timeline across the bottom.  If you set it on the shortest date range and start it all the way to the left, press the arrow to start an animated picture of Federation’s growth and reach during the 20th century. If you set the timeline for the longest date range, and filter the categories on the sidebar on the left to “select all”, you will see all of the agencies through all of Federation’s history. Click on an agency name on the sidebar to see where it is on the map.  Or click on a pin on the map to see the name of the agency.

We hope you will agree that this map works as a visual reminder of how large an impact Federation has had in the field of social services throughout New York City, and how that impact grew over time.

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