thiscangobacktothearchives

August 29, 2014

Office Life in the 1980s, with Joseph Harris

Filed under: Federation people, found in the archives — susanwoodland @ 11:41 am

We are continuing to process the Community Services Division files from Federation, which are still turning up in storage under various descriptions.  One subseries in work right now are the remaining files of Joseph Harris, from the 2nd half of his 12-year tenure with Federation.  Harris was hired in 1975, probably as the Consultant for Jewish Education and Community Centers.  Titles and responsibilities evolved through the early and mid-1980s, when all of the Community Service [staff] “Consultants” were renamed “Social Planning Consultants”.  By 1984 he had become the Associate Executive Director of Community Services (“with prime responsibility for Jewish Education and Culture, Community Centers and Camps”), and assumed the position of Executive Director of Group Services and Jewish Education in September 1985.  Many of the files now in work date from his roughly two years in this last position.  Harris remained at Federation through the transitions of the 1986 merger with UJA, and his files end in 1987.

Two brief memoranda surfaced this week in Harris’s files, insignificant in content of his actual “work”, but telling about the time period and the people involved.  For us, these clues and traces in the files serve to humanize the people whose correspondence and reports and memos we gain such familiarity with, in the absence of ever having actually met the person.  Both memoranda are from Harris’ “William Kahn” file; long-time readers of this blog may remember Kahn as one of the Federation Executive Vice-Presidents Harris would have worked under, 1981-1986.

1. Dated July 25, 1983, from Joseph Harris to Elaine Morris in the Executive Office: “I called Dr. Sonabend at the 665-6363 number on July 21, 1983.  He was not in and I left a message on his tape recorder asking him to return my call.”

tape recorder memo, 1983

Tape recorder memo, 1983

For those of us in charge of our own phone calls by 1983, you may remember that time as the early days of home answering machines, and answering machines in offices.  And how it took a long time to even adopt a consistent name for what this machine really was.  The fact that Harris referred to it as a tape recorder nicely dates the memo.  Please note the discoloration from a rubber band diagonally across the blank part of the page.

2. Dated February 7, 1984, from William Kahn to Jack Ukeles and Joseph Harris: “It is important that you see me posthaste with reference to Harold Resnik and something that he wants to do in relation to Abba Eban.”

Posthaste Memo from William Kahn, 1984

Posthaste Memo from William Kahn, 1984

When is the last time you received a note with the word “posthaste” in it?  Handwritten below the memo, no doubt from the resulting meeting with Kahn, is “20 videotapes and large screens for Abba Eban Jewish Ed Teaching tools for centers”; one can only assume that the hurried meeting led to the results Kahn was hoping to achieve.  For Merriam-Webster’s definition, see: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/posthaste.

Elsewhere in the Harris files an “aide memoire” was glimpsed, something that we saw more of in the financial files from the 1950s and 1960s earlier in the project (and posted about on this blog), but Harris’ appears to be the most recent citing within Federation’s files.

Prior to his arrival at Federation in 1975 Harris had been the Executive Director of the Staten Island JCC; after Federation his career continued at the Jewish Community Center Association and other Jewish communal organizations.  Please let us know if you have additional information about Joseph Harris’s career as it relates to the Jewish Education and Community Center work he did at Federation.

According to this 2011 article:

http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/06/jcc_honors_two_during_black-ti.html,

Harris received the Allan Weissglass award from the Jewish Community Center in Seaview (Staten Island); other biographical information and a photograph are included in the article.

 

August 25, 2014

The Role of the Consultant

While working on this collection over the past three years one thing we initially found confusing was the label “consultant” applied to the professional staff who headed Federation’s Community Services Department, particularly in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  Various staff members, experienced professionals all and at the top of the their respective subject fields in New York’s social services realm, included Martha Selig, Donald Feldstein, Graenum Berger, Joseph Harris and Al Schwarz.  The work and papers of a number of these consultants have been discussed in previous blog posts.

The Role of the Consultant, by Al Schwarz, circa 1982 [duplicate copy with archivists notes included]

“The Role of the Consultant”, by Al Schwarz, circa 1982 [duplicate copy with archivists notes included]

Eric recently located a thought piece by Al Schwarz from circa 1982; Schwarz was then the Director of Community Services for Medicine in that subseries of Federation’s Community Services material. In this informal report, entitled “The Role of the Consultant,” presumably written for discussion in a department meeting, Schwarz teases out the role of the consultant and ponders a change in title.  He describes the report as “tongue in cheek,” announces that he wanted by writing it to “provoke some serious discussion” and that “some of what is said is absolutely true.”  The manner is very breezy and irreverent, no doubt reflecting Schwarz’s familiarity and exasperation with the subject and, perhaps, with Federation’s existing organizational structure.

The consultants ran departments, supervised Federation support staff and served as links between Federation and the agency executives in the consultant’s specific functional field (medical, childcare, education, etc.)  In his paper, Schwarz notes that they are not in fact consultants to the agencies, because “our agencies don’t think so terribly well of us” and because they are not on the agencies’ payrolls.  He thinks they are not consultants to “management” at Federation either – “they know how to take care of themselves.”  Schwarz continues, “then the only thing that’s left is that we’re Consultant to Lay Leadership at Federation.  Although that can’t be true, because as we all know, the Lay Leaders are all experts. The crux of the problem, appears to me, to be the term itself.  I don’t think we’re Consultants all.”

After a brief discussion of what Schwarz actually sees as their role, he comes to the conclusion that “the role of the Consultant, then, is one of a facilitator; one who brings people together to facilitate problem solving”, and he speculates that Federation would be better served if consultants were more generalists than field specialists: “the role of the specialist is downplayed and … the relative success of our work is very often dependent upon the personality of the Consultant and his or her ability to interact in a meaningful way with fellow professionals and lay people.”

Schwarz believes that the consultants are “teachers and facilitators, moderators and arbitrators”, and that a healthy ego is “perhaps the most important single trait by which a Consultant is measured,” because there is very little ego gratification to the job.  By page 5, he concludes with the thought that “Consultant is a misnomer, and leads to misunderstandings both internally and externally to Federation.”

Eventually the term “consultant” was retired, having evolved into the more usual titles of Director and Executive Director. By the time of the merger with UJA in 1986 most departments and divisions had also changed names.  As our project moves more completely into the post-merger portion of the collection, we find ourselves attempting to correlate the functions of the professionals and their departments that have become familiar to us, with what those same people and functions eventually became.

August 14, 2014

Neighborhood Preservation Program

Filed under: Uncategorized — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 4:21 pm

NPP Letterhead, 1985

Letterhead for the Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP), 1985

In the early 1980s, Federation adopted a new strategy for assisting the Jews of metropolitan New York. In a survey of the program, Joseph Langer, director of the program, explains that the

“Neighborhood Preservation Program reflects a significant departure from the traditional approaches to serving Jewish communal needs. Rather than allocating our dollars … by type of service, [Federation has] made a decision to allocate a substantial portion of resources on an explicitly geographical basis…and for non-traditional purposes.”

With the assumption that neighborhoods are the basic building block of vibrant Jewish communal life in the metropolitan area, the Federation provided aid, both technical and financial, to specific neighborhoods and Jewish Community Councils within those neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. The Federation worked proactively with “neighborhoods that are at risk of decline, yet are still basically healthy” to ensure that the Jewish population in that respective neighborhood would continue to thrive, commercially and communally.

Target neighborhoods, at the time, included: Co-op City (Bronx), Kingsbridge-Moshulu (Bronx), Pelham Parkway (Bronx), Bensonhurst (Brooklyn), Boro Park (Brooklyn), Canarsie-Starrett City (Brooklyn), Crown Heights (Brooklyn), Flatbush (Brooklyn), Kensington (Brooklyn), Williamsburg (Brooklyn), Lower East Side (Manhattan), Washington Heights-Inwood (Manhattan), Forest Hills-Kew Gardens-Rego Park (Queens), Flushing (Queens), Jackson Heights (Queens), and Far Rockaways (Queens).

The program was funded, in part, through the Project Renewal program that was part of the UJA-Federation Joint Campaign. The program’s funds were limited, but Langer’s survey contends that the Federation’s “contribution supplies seed money, enabling local communities to attract private investment and government funding that would not other have been forthcoming.”

One such relationship that developed between Federation and the local community happened in the Bronx with the Jewish Community Council of Pelham Parkway. In 1984, Federation and the Jewish Community Council of Pelham Parkway coordinated the “Bronx is Blooming” tours to showcase some of the program’s achievements in Pelham Parkway. Achievements that included new housing for the elderly at Beth Abraham Hospital, coordinating renovations and co-op conversions, assisting with the revitalization of the shopping district near Lydig Avenue and White Plains Road.

Front exterior of "Bronx is Blooming" invitation, 1984

Front exterior of “Bronx is Blooming” invitation, 1984

We are processing the files of Joseph Langer, Director of the Neighborhood Preservation Program and Project Renewal, and expect to receive another large shipment of materials related to Langer and the program later next week. Neighborhood Preservation Programs and their associated activities, including Federation’s own program, are not without controversy, but we aim to provide description and access to the archival material that document Federation’s efforts to re-invigorate specific neighborhoods in Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

There was no mention of Staten Island neighborhoods in the folder titled “Neighborhood Preservation — Target Neighborhoods, 1982-1983”. If there is an inference to made based on the exclusion of Staten Island from the list of target neighborhoods, it is unclear what that inference might be.  

August 7, 2014

Correspondence between Solomon Lowenstein and I.M.Rubinow

On December 29, 1926, Federation’s Executive Director Solomon Lowenstein received a letter from I.M. Rubinow, the Executive Director of he Jewish Welfare Society of Philadelphia. Rubinow’s name caught my eye, as the first Director of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem from 1919 to 1922.  In his role at the Jewish Welfare Society, he wrote to Lowenstein, “I am writing this letter after considerable deliberation because it deals with an unpleasant subject, but I have come to the conclusion that it is my professional duty because the interests of Jewish social service are involved.”

The issue that so upset Rubinow concerned a young man who Rubinow had known as a youngster from “an excellent Jewish family”.  More recently, however, Rubinow explained, “I have … heard so many unfortunate things about him that I have come to the conclusion that he has no right to assume any Jewish social work.”

Rubinow proceeded, “I am informed that he divorced his first wife, deserted his second wife with a child and without any means of support about three years ago … I am further informed that this desertion was accompanied by the forging of checks of some commercial firm with which he was connected …”  He continues,

I.M.Rubinow informs Solomon Lowenstein of an unscrupulous social worker, 1926

I.M.Rubinow informs Solomon Lowenstein of an unscrupulous social worker, 1926

 

During Harry’s short stay in Philadelphia at the Jewish Welfare Society he became engaged to another young woman, a graduate of the Jewish Foster Home who “now is heart-broken … there are other similar stories of his experiences in New York”.  Apparently Harry had since then taken a job at a Federation agency in New York, and Rubinow felt it his duty to alert Lowenstein to the matter.  “The reason I am writing to you is because I know how diplomatically you can handle any situation.  I don’t have any intention of interfering with Mr. Fenton’s private life or his opportunity of making a living but I am sure you will agree with me that Jewish social service and particularly a child-caring institution, is not the proper field.  Perhaps a suggestion to him to resign at once would be all that is necessary.”

Further conversation shows that by December 31, the Executive Director of the agency in question had received Harry’s resignation.

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