September 23, 2016

Using the UJA-Federation of New York collection, and an award

Filed under: Uncategorized — susanwoodland @ 4:38 pm

It’s just one year since the end of the UJA-Federation of New York Archives project. Researchers are beginning to discover the collection, the finding aid and the digital material. Avigail Oren, a PhD candidate who began using the collection several years ago, before processing was complete, wrote about the collection recently on her own blog.

Specifically, Avigail has conducted research in the extensive budget files that Federation maintained from its founding in 1917 through the end of the 20th century. Her focus in the Federation budget files is the Washington Heights YM & YWHA, one of Federations’s long-time affiliated agencies, a Y in a neighborhood that continues to evolve and serve the different populations that live there.

In other news in 2016, MARAC, the Mid-Atlantic Region Archives Conference, gave their Finding Aid Award to AJHS for the finding aid to the UJA-Federation of New York collection. The certificate proudly hangs in the reception area of the administrative offices of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Text of the award citation

Text of the Award Citation


Finding Aid Award

Finding Aid Award

January 29, 2016

Please visit our new blog, On The Rescue Front

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — susanwoodland @ 2:07 pm

The newest processing project at the American Jewish Historical Society is the HIAS Collection Project. Over the next three years, we will be blogging at – please join us there for information on the history and personalities connected with HIAS, a refugee rescue and resettlement organization still engaged in vitally important work. And as always, we’ll be writing about the process of archival work and what we enjoy about it. See you there!

December 30, 2015

2015 in review

Filed under: Uncategorized — susanwoodland @ 9:30 am

Although the UJA-Federation of New York project was completed on October 2, 2015, we are posting the WordPress 2015 annual report for our blog. A new project is beginning in January 2016 and we’ll post a link here to our new project blog when we start opening up boxes.

Here’s the report on 2015 at This Can Go Back To The Archives:

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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!

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.

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”


June 1, 2015

Women Executives at UJA-Federation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Leah Edelman @ 1:54 pm

Coinciding with national discussions in the 1980s about women in the workplace, the topic of women in executive positions at Federation was under consideration, as seen in this excerpt of minutes from a Board of Trustees meeting in January, 1984.


Responding to “a problem in relation to the lack of women in executive positions” and the sentiment expressed by Federation leadership (including two of the women who would later become Presidents of the organization) that “everyone needs to be sensitized to this problem and something must be done about it,” in this excerpt we find a mandate for a task force. This task force, composed of Federation and agency leaders, was charged with recruiting more women to “all levels of executive positions.” Indeed, in its nearly 70 year history before the 1986 merger with UJA, Federation had only one female president who served a complete term (Wilma Tisch served from 1980-1983, while Madeline Borg served as acting President for a shortened term, from 1938-1939). We also find some opposition to the idea of more women in leadership positions, in the form of an anti-“affirmative action” argument.

Though the specific actions of the task force at this point remain unclear, perhaps this outline from the year of the merger, titled “Ratio of Women to Men in UJA-Federation Structure,” was a product of their efforts. As of 1986, all categories except one (Board of Directors, New Candidates, Domestic) show that less than half of existing positions were filled by women.


Women in leadership positions continues to be a hot topic. In the case of presidents (the highest office) at UJA-Federation, Peggy Tishman became the first President of the newly merged organization, serving from 1986-1989, and Louise B. Greilsheimer was its fourth President, serving from 1995-1998. Alisa Robbins Doctoroff was appointed President in 2013, and currently holds that office. However, this is still only three women out of ten presidents of UJA-Federation, since 1986.

April 23, 2015

Another Missing Box Appears – Martha Selig

Filed under: Uncategorized — susanwoodland @ 1:49 pm

In reconciling our records of the 3232 boxes this project began with, we have been hoping that some of the boxes that could not be located in off-site storage when originally requested (and which had apparently not been lost in the fire) would turn up.  Through the course of the project, on repeated requests for delivery, some of the missing boxes have been found and delivered.

One box arrived on April 8th, and for a moment our heads returned not just to 2013 when we originally requested it, but to the late 1960s when many of the documents in the box were created.

This is what we knew about the box:

Bar Code #: 060802

Box #: 0099

When it went into storage: pre’86

Department: Community Services

Whose files: Selig, M

Date range: 1/1/65-12/31/74

File description: JACY [Jewish Association for College Youth] files

Date box originally requested: 6/4/13


Eric described the contents when he went through the box as being half correspondence and subject files and the other half publications from outside organizations that Martha kept as part of her extensive subject files.  There are now 35 boxes of Martha Selig’s files in the collection, which will add enormously to an understanding of Federation’s work from 1946 to 1974, and primarily during the years of huge growth in the 1950s and 1960s.

Some readers of this blog may remember earlier posts that have mentioned Martha Selig and the work she did as a “consultant” at Federation:

Special Thanks to Dr. Morton Teicher

Mission Statement of the Community Services Division, 1983

Mickey Levine’s Quandary

We are the Dinosaur Bones

The Role of the Consultant

She was a committed leader in the Community Services division for several decades, and she controlled the budgeting and allocations as well as services to Federation’s agencies with a strong hand.  Together with Maurice Hexter and Joseph Willen, the co-Vice-Presidents of Federation 1942-1967, Selig was involved in every aspect of how Federation made it possible for each individual agency in their network to grow, offer expanded services to their clients, and move into new, modern facilities.

Martha Selig, approximately 1960s

Photograph of Martha Selig, circa 1960s, from her oral history transcript

Because all of Selig’s previously processed files have already been transferred to off-site storage, Eric has intellectually integrated these newly found files into the collection, and they will be housed physically in their own box.  Martha Selig’s oral history, including a few photos of her, can be found here.

Martha Selig and Jeanette Solomon

Martha Selig and Jeanette Solomon at Oral History Project celebration, circa 1990s

April 2, 2015

Happy Passover!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Leah Edelman @ 9:40 am

Have you done your Passover shopping? Was it similar to this list– and these prices– from 1977?

JPA 1977

With the beginning of Passover tomorrow night, we wanted to share some materials from the collection about the Joint Passover Association (JPA), one of Federation’s agencies.  Founded in 1927 with the purpose of coordinating Passover assistance activities and fundraising conducted by synagogues and Jewish organizations, the JPA provided Jews in need with funds to buy Passover items. By its 50th anniversary in 1977, the JPA provided aid to 4,065 applicants (11,263 individuals) and distributed $116,707 that year in relief funds.

The above food list details the “basic Passover needs for one person” in 1977, and the prices reflect the amount of aid most people received. Though it may seem bare-bones compared to some lavish Seder spreads of today, most recipients were very grateful to receive help to celebrate the holiday. Below are a few of the many thank-you notes sent to Federation in response to receiving Passover assistance. The Joint Passover Association was a Federation-affiliated agency through 2009.

Happy Passover!

caring and enjoy

Left: “This note is to thank you for the help received this passover from your passover fund. It certainly helped me to cheer up and enjoy some of the passover foods I otherwise would not have been able to enjoy.” Right: “You have helped to enrich our Passover holiday…Thank you and god bless you for caring about us. You really have no idea how you pull us through all these years.”

exodus and not been refused

Left: “Every year…I have requested your aid and haven’t been refused. It is due to your kindness and generosity that have helped make the holiday more joyous.” Right: “[There are] people like you at the J.P.A. to help us observe the memory of our Exodus.”

sweet and more money

Left: “May God bless you for being so kind, thoughtful, and friendly spirit you have shown me. It means the world to me and cheered me up a bit.” Right: “…I respectfully ask you if I can get a little more cash I should enjoy Passover.”

faith and kosher meat

Left: “…I was able to buy kosher chicken and a little meat. Keep up the good work.” Right: “…it helps to restore one’s faith that our people will not forsake us.”

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