July 29, 2013

Richard Ravitch, a link between New York City’s Fiscal Crisis in 1975 and United Jewish Appeal – Federation of New York

Filed under: Federation people, interesting or noteworthy archival material — susanwoodland @ 11:57 am

An article in Friday’s New York Times about New York City’s fiscal crisis, “When New York teetered on the brink of bankruptcy”, brought to mind the fiscal crisis as experienced by Executive Vice-President Sanford Solender at Federation (highlighted in a previous post) in the mid-1970s.

The current article mentions Richard Ravitch, and how instrumental he was in hosting a meeting between Governor Hugh L. Carey; Albert Shanker, the leader of the powerful teachers’ union; former Mayor Robert F. Wagner and others.  Ravitch was involved when appointed by the Governor to “rescue the state’s overextended Urban Development Corporation“.

Our interest in Ravitch is because his name appears in the Joint Campaign (UFJC) subgroup files in connection with a 1979 report he wrote with Sanford Solender after a trip to Israel, scouting new projects to fund as part of the United Israel Appeal’s “Project Renewal” campaign.

Most recently I have been processing the files of Henry C. Bernstein and have found one box (so far) of UFJC files of potential Project Renewal projects of interest to the Joint Campaign fundraisers like Bernstein.  Under the Project Renewal umbrella, UJA-Federation of New York committed to find donors for specific projects within specific Israeli towns.  The same Ravitch/Solender report is again mentioned in Bernstein’s files.

The hard copy of the report itself can be found within Solender’s UFJC files and will be available for research by the end of this project in 2015.

On another note, the same New York Times article mentions a line from Woody Allen’s movie “Sleeper”, in which he “attributed the end of civilization to the fact that ‘a man named Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear device'”.  Which brings to mind (thank you, Eric) another memorable Woody Allen movie quote, from Bananas, which is included in the Wikipedia article for United Jewish Appeal (see section on “cultural allusions”.)

July 19, 2013

Found: Colonel Pomrenze’s Marker


While at work processing the Ernest W. Michel papers series, I happened upon this black permanent marker inside one of the cartons. Based on some UJA-Fed administrative records, I knew this series of boxes had all been packed up and sent to storage in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Based on box lists found in these cartons, I also knew that archivist / records manager Colonel Seymour J. Pomrenze and his team had been the people responsible for sending this material to storage for UJA-Fed.

“The Colonel” as he was affectionately known, is famous in Jewish Archival circles for his prolific archives and records management consulting work at various Jewish non-profit organizations in the United States from the 1970s through the early 2000s. AJHS actually holds the personal papers of Seymour Pomrenze in its archives. The finding aid for the Pomrenze papers is very informative about the Colonel’s interesting life. As a young man in 1939, Pomrenze happened to take a job at the National Archives in Washington D.C. A few years later, after joining the army to fight in WWII, Pomrenze remained in the army and was sent with a team to Europe to recover library, archival and art materials looted by the Nazis. The Monuments Men, written in 2009 by Robert Edsel, tells the story of this team. There is currently a major motion picture on the Monuments Men in the works, as well, in which George Clooney is both director and star in the role of Pomrenze’s colleague, George Stout. The Monuments Men Foundation website  has much more information on this.  The Colonel served in the army until the 1970s, when he began consulting for UJA-Fed, the American Jewish Committee, FEGS (Federation Employment and Guidance Service) and other Jewish agencies. The consulting phase of his career lasted until the early 2000s, when the Colonel was in his late 80s. He died in 2011 and AJHS recognized him posthumously with a Legacy Award earlier this year.

The marker, which is about twenty years old, wrote just as if it were brand new the recent day I discovered it. Its ink color and line quality seem to mirror closely the writing in the Colonel’s hand on the outside of the carton it was found in, leading me to conclude this marker had once belonged to Colonel Seymour Pomrenze.

July 15, 2013

Mr. Jacob Bonnist pledges funds to UJA, 1941

Filed under: Uncategorized — susanwoodland @ 2:26 pm

We received a donation of a few documents recently, from Carla Schein, the granddaughter of a very early donor to UJA’s New York office.  Carla and I e-mailed a few times, revealing an unusual immigrant story with some unexpected role reversals.

United Jewish Appeal (UJA) was created in 1939 by United Palestine Appeal (later, United Israel Appeal) and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) (and later, the National Refugee Service) to address the worsening situation for European Jews by coordinating fund-raising campaigns in the United States on their behalf.  A mere 2 years after the formation of UJA, as we learned from the donated correspondence, Jacob Bonnist pledged $100.

Below is a letter dated June 27th, 1941 from Samuel Leidesdorf, treasurer of UJA in New York City and the Metropolitan Area, acknowledging the pledge.  On unusually wide letterhead, this document was scanned in 2 parts in order to capture all of the names in both the left and right margins:

Pledge acknowledgement, 1941 (top)

Pledge acknowledgement, 1941 (top)

Pledge acknowledgement letter 1941 (bottom)

Pledge acknowledgement letter 1941 (bottom)

Most of the posts to this blog over the last year and a half have dealt with Federation, not UJA, material.  This is because so few records survived as part of the UJA-Federation of New York archives collection.  That is why we were immediately interested in this donation of a few documents.  Just the long list of names on the letterhead in 1941 are of great interest – many of the names are familiar to us from Federation’s archives, and many may be familiar to you because of their involvement in many other aspects of New York City Jewish communal life in the middle of the 20th century.  Mr. Bonnist’s story has only enhanced the research value of these papers.

In Carla’s words:

“Jacob Bonnist was my grandfather …  my mother’s father.  His wife (Carla) died before the war and he and my mother [Else] arrived in America on May 28, 1940.   They were born in and lived in Amsterdam where he had a warehouse for jute bags (what people used before plastic), and for many years had been making deposits to an account in First National City Bank (now Citibank) in Paris.  So when they got here they did have money waiting for them … ”

Jacob and Else lived at the Salisbury Hotel on 57th Street, the address in the letter, when they came to New York.  Jacob died in February 1943, and Else was married in June 1944.   “I guess it was what was called a ‘residential hotel’.  When one of my daughters was in high school she ‘interviewed’ my mother about her arrival.  Obviously this was not the typical Holocaust immigrant story …  This cannot be compared to what most people went through, but the thought of picking up and leaving everything you have (the warehouse, a home, an almost-finished law degree) behind, not because you want a change, but to flee for your life, is still not easy.  It’s why so many Jews in countries like Germany and Holland, where they felt accepted, did not leave.  Sometimes it’s easier to flee if you know you are not a part of your country’s every-day life and you are leaving nothing behind!”

A year later, Jacob appears to have made at least one additional donation to UJA, this time to the War Emergency Campaign:

Mr. J. D. Bonnist pledges $100 to United Jewish Appeal, 1941

Mr. Jacob Bonnist pays pledge of $100 to United Jewish Appeal, 1942

Thanks very much to Carla Schein and her family for this donation to the archives.

July 1, 2013

Greater New York Fund files – Typing Practice

Filed under: found in the archives — susanwoodland @ 6:08 pm

The Federation of Jewish Philanthropies maintained a financial relationship with the Greater New York Fund (GNYF) for many decades, with budget files in the collection beginning in 1941 and continuing up to the fiscal year of the merger with UJA.  Information in the files as well as online sources reveal a fund that predated both FJP and GNYF, the United Hospital Fund (UHF).

“The United Hospital Fund was founded by hospital trustees and other concerned New Yorkers in 1879 as an innovative approach to organizing charitable support for voluntary, non-profit hospitals in New York City and to help solve shared problems”, such as the escalating cost of health care.  (for more information about the origins of the United Hospital Fund, see:

From the 1941 publication, “A Handbook of Information”, issued by GNYF:  “In 1938, the Fund joined with other major fundraising groups to form the Greater New York Fund, now United Way of New York City.  “… the Fund has become the largest single contributor to practically all of its participating agencies, including the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies in New York City (the previous name of FJP, before its merger with Brooklyn Federation in 1944), the Catholic Charities of New York, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies and the Community Service Society …”

Every year, FJP and each of its agencies applied to the GNYF for funding in a lengthy and laborious procedure.  These agency files form a large part of the GNYF subseries within the Budget Department files.  In 1947 FJP received $85,305, according to the GNYF annual report for that year; in the 1950s about 40 Federation agencies applied for GNYF funding, including Louise Wise Services, Altro Health and Rehabilitation Services, Hebrew Home for the Aged and Camp Louemma.

When the director of the UHF Grant Adams died in 1971, his obituary in the New York Times quoted him as having said in 1962, “the UHF, the Greater New York Fund and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies produce ‘the essential ‘gap-bridging’ 8 per cent’ ” of  the budgets of then 56 agencies to whom funding was distributed by GNYF.

Today UHF is a funded agency of the GNYF (United Way).

We have retained these files because of the extraordinary level of detail about agency budgets.  In future blog posts we will explore some of this detail and how important this 8% funding was to hospitals and other agencies.

Because of minimal processing we’ve retained many drafts, notes and worksheets filed with the financial reports.  Today we’ll leave you with this meeting note on lined paper, from the 1978 file on the Lexington school for the Deaf,

Handwritten notes in 1978 file of the Lexington School for the Deaf

Handwritten notes in 1978 file of the Lexington School for the Deaf

memorable mostly for the typing practice on the back:

Now is the Time ...

Now is the Time …

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