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.

November 7, 2014

Herman Wouk’s link to Federation

Filed under: Federation people, found in the archives — susanwoodland @ 1:20 pm

Rabbi Isaac Trainin started Federation’s Commission on Synagogue Relations and Religious Affairs Committee, and remained as head of the Commission for several decades.  (To see previous blog posts on Rabbi Trainin and his work at Federation, search the blog on “Trainin”.)  While processing his papers, the names Victor Wouk and Herman Wouk turned up.

Although the records are incomplete, it appears that Victor was chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee at some point in the 1950s and 1960s.  Herman was his brother, the author whose book, “This is My God”, sat on the bookshelves of many Jewish families in those decades.  It is no doubt because of Victor’s connection to Federation, and to the Commission on Synagogue Relations, that there was an attempt to pull Herman into the Federation family as well.

Rabbi Trainin received this letter from Herman Wouk in 1959, indicating his support for Federation even in the absence of a physical presence in New York:

Letter from Herman Wouk to Rabbi Trainin, 1959

Letter from Herman Wouk to Rabbi Trainin, 1959

Victor, younger by 4 years, was successful in his own right.  His obituary in the New York Times, June 12, 2005, describes his work in developing early electric and hybrid cars.  He was born in the Bronx in 1919 and received his doctoral degree from the California Institute of Technology in electrical engineering in 1942.

His connection with Federation extended beyond the Religious Affairs Committee.  According the New York Times, Victor was an “active philanthropist”, a board member of the 92nd Street Y (a Federation agency), and a “chairman” of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies (presumably the chairman of an FJP committee).  Victor died in 2005.

In addition to “This is My God”, Herman Wouk is perhaps best known for his novels “The Caine Mutiny” (1951) and “Marjorie Morningstar” (1955).  His most recent novel, “The Lawgiver”, was published in 2012.

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:

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:,

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.


December 24, 2013

Christmas greetings

Filed under: Federation people, found in the archives — susanwoodland @ 10:02 am

A surprising message from Federation Board of Trustees member Frank A. Weil to Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin:

A pleasant Christmas season

A pleasant Christmas season

The records indicate that Frank A. Weil was a member of the Distribution Committee and Trustee at Large of Federation’s Board of Trustees from 1965-1968.  He was also Secretary of Federation in the mid-1970s.  An attorney, he was a senior partner of the Washington law firm of Ginsburg, Feldman, Weil and Bress.  He was Chairman of the Finance Committee and Chief Financial Officer of Paine Webber, Inc. from 1972 -1977, and he headed the International Trade Administration of the United States Department of Commerce from 1977-1979.

Rabbi Trainin was hired by Federation in 1954 as an adviser on Religious Affairs.  In his more than 30 years at Federation, Rabbi Trainin created the Department of Religious Affairs, the Committee on Religious Affairs and the Commission on Synagogue Relations.  This letter was found in Rabbi Trainin’s correspondence in his files from the Religious Affairs Department.  Later posts will delve into more detail on his work at Federation.

November 20, 2013

FJP Public Relations

Federation of Jewish Philanthropies had a Public Relations department, which handled all sorts of publicity and communications concerns for FJP as well as FJP’s affiliated agencies and subventions. Robert I. Smith, who was hired by FJP in 1945 and retired from UFJC in the early 1980s, was perhaps the most prominent Public Relations Director the agency ever had, both in terms of the volume of archival material he generated and in the impact of his tenure upon the organization. Over the course of his career, Mr. Smith (seen below and definitely not to be confused with this Robert Smith) gathered many materials relating to the history of Federation. These historical materials saw heavy reference use by his department and they comprise a portion of the FJP Public Relations series. Other materials in this series include: press releases, annual reports, biographies, newspaper clippings, brochures, printed materials, event invitation samples, PR directors’ papers, dramatic scripts for radio and television programs, photographs, and logo art.  This summer I processed all of the non-photographic FJP PR materials. The series is rather unlike the rest of the collection in that it documents the creative work of the PR department and includes a high percentage of visual materials. Expect more to come soon from the PR series here on This Can Go Back to the Archives. In the meantime, the images below offer just a taste of the variety found in this series.

Image  ImageFJP Division separators found in event invitation boxes

ImageFrom the Films sub-series of the FJP PR files

ImageFundraising brochure

ImageDial-A-Thon fundraising event flier

ImageRobert Smith papers

November 18, 2013

Mickey Levine’s quandary

Filed under: Federation people, found in the archives — susanwoodland @ 11:05 am

A longtime staff member in the Executive Division and Community Support Division of Federation was Milton (“Mickey”) D. Levine.  He was hired at Federation sometime around 1951 and worked there for more than 25 years in a variety of departments.  Because of his experience and ability to get things done he was pulled in a lot of directions and often was responsible for many departments and committees at one time.  At this point in our processing, there are Mickey Levine files from his years as Executive Secretary of the Board Committee on Social Legislation, c1951 to 1977; as manager or director of the Legacy program in the Community Support Department, 1972-to at least 1973; and in a file of correspondence 1969-1972, with Martha Selig in Community Services no doubt as one of her liaisons to the Executive office.

By the early 1970s, Levine was working with Edward R. Vajda, then Executive Director of Community Support.  In the spring of 1972, in attempting to put together a budget for the Board’s Administration Committee on the Legacy Department, he wrote instead a memo to Vajda lamenting his lack of time for all he was responsible for and his inability to do actual work on Legacies.  The primary problem was the time it took for clerical administrative responsibilities and to manage Board committees and members, and how much time that took away from his more important work with the Legacy Department.

April 1972 memo from Mickey Levine to Ed Vajda about his lack of time for important work

April 7, 1972 memo from Mickey Levine to Ed Vajda about his lack of time for important work

“My time is monopolized in being an administrative clerk, a room booking agent and a sort of clerical assistant to Mr. Sokol and others.  Legacy perforce receives last attention.”

November 9, 2013

“Federation Follies”

Filed under: Federation people, found in the archives — susanwoodland @ 8:32 am

The Federation of Jewish Philanthropies subgroup contains the files from the Community Services division, and as part of the division, a number of staff members known as Associates from approximately 1977-1982.   Linda Feigenbaum (she became Linda Storfer in the summer of 1979) was the Government and Community Relations Associate during many or all of those years, and 6 bankers’ boxes of her files are being processed this month.  They fall into 2 sub-subseries: Jewish Community Centers and General Subjects.

Within the subject files, she has the usual subject headings of other staff members’ names, committee names and associations that she communicated with in the course of her work with Government and Community Relations matters but most files relate to Federation’s Community Relations issues.

One of the folders within the subject files, the only one labeled in red marker, is titled, “Federation Follies.” Just the “Federation” portion of the folder label showed while it was in the box. When I pulled the folder out, I gave it more attention than I might otherwise have, had it not included the word “Follies.”

On May 21, 1979 at 4:30 pm in the Warburg Room of Federation headquarters, a room usually associated with serious Distribution Committee meetings, about 20 staff members participated in the Federation Follies.

Federation Folies program

Front cover of “Federation Follies” program, 1979

Conceived and written by Paul Kushner, Joyce Levi, Al Schwarz and Barbara Tasch, the participants sang original words set to familiar songs.  We don’t have the words or the melodies to all of the songs, but the titles in the program give an idea of the fun this group had satirizing what they apparently loved about working at Federation: “Joint Purchasing to the Rescue,” “I Got the Pledge Right Here,” “Sandy’s [aka: Sandord Solender, EVP] Lament,” “Copy Center, We Love You,” “Songs We Didn’t Finish,” and the wonderful “If I Were a Consultant.” ‘Consultant’ was the title for many years of division heads like Martha Selig, Joseph Harris and Graenum Berger, sung to the tune of “If I Were a Rich Man”:

…all day long I’d bitty bitty bum
if I were a consultant
I wouldn’t  have to work hard
yaddle deedle diddle deedle diddle deedle diddle dum…

And our personal favorite from this folder, “Filing System.”

Lyrics to "Filing System," 1979

Lyrics to “Filing System,” 1979

Susan Malbin, Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, immediately recognized the melody as the one from “Mother”.  With her ace detective skills she located it quickly online.  All together now

September 18, 2013

Digitized recording available of the 1957 Campaign Workshop

Filed under: audio-visual material, Federation people, interesting or noteworthy archival material — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 10:45 am

Samuel J. “Buddy” Silberman now has two sets of recordings related to his tenure as Federation President and Campaign chairman available at In 1982, Mr. Silberman contributed an oral history interview for the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York Oral History Project. But, earlier in 1957, Mr. Silberman participated in a campaign workshop conducted by the Federation recorded on a set of wire spools.

The recording being available online marks a 56th anniversary of sorts. The wire spools for the recording are labelled September 17, 1957, 7:00-7:50 PM and 8:00-8:35 PM. The session is billed as the first Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York Campaign Workshop and features the following speakers: Arthur C. Fatt, advertising executive and member of the Committee on Fund-Raising; Gustave L. Levy, Federation President; Samuel “Buddy” Silberman, Campaign Chair; Nathan W. Math, member of Committee on Fund-Raising; and Lawrence Marx, Jr., Chair of the Committee on Fund-Raising. The workshop focuses on the 1957 Campaign, “116 gifts in one to get the big job done,” telling the story of the Federation and the increased needs of Federation-affiliated agencies, media coverage of the 1957 campaign, tips on solicitation of donors and preparing for campaign events, suggestions relating to card-calling, and a brief feedback session with the lay leadership in attendance. The reference to 116 pertains to the number of Federation-affiliated institutions and agencies in 1957.

The digitized recording provides insight into the coordination of a particular campaign, but also some understanding into the growth and financial needs of Federation agencies, concerns associated with fundraising in New York City in lean times, and what public speaking entailed at the time. However, please be advised that Spool 1, from 0:35-1:30, contains a racial epithet and possibly additional inappropriate language in Arthur C. Fatt’s opening to the workshop.

August 23, 2013

Ernest W. Michel

Filed under: Federation people, Uncategorized — Tags: — Heather Halliday @ 11:31 am


In our last post and also in a post on July 19, 2013, we mentioned Ernest W. Michel, who served as Executive Vice President and Campaign Director of UJA and UFJC for many years. This week we noticed this thoughtful piece in The Jewish Week on his life and work. In the article, Mr. Michel, who turned 90 last month, talks to reporter Gary Rosenblatt about his fading memory. Ironically, having spoken out bravely about his experience as a holocaust survivor again and again, Michel’s life has been dedicated to not forgetting. This is the reason for any archives to exist: so that the memory of one individual or the history of one institution can continue to benefit people long into the future.

You can listen to Mr. Michel’s expansive conversation about his work at UJA in this oral history that was recorded in 1986. Mr. Michel also donated a collection of his personal papers to the American Jewish Historical Society. This collection can be viewed in person in the reading room of the Center for Jewish History anytime and you can view the finding aid for the collection online here.


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”.)

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