April 4, 2014

UJF EVP files complete!

Filed under: UJF people — Tags: , , , — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 1:28 pm

The processing of the files of the UJA-Federation (UJF) Executive Vice Presidents (EVP) is now complete! Ernest W. Michel (1986-1989), Stephen D. Solender (1986-1999), and Dr. John S. Ruskay (1999-2014) will soon be accessible and open to use by researchers, spanning the years of UJA-Federation’s existence, from 1986 through 2000.

The completed UJF EVP files constitute 167 linear feet. The files of Stephen D. Solender (SDS) and John Ruskay include chronological correspondence, general correspondence, and subject files. The alphabetical subject files of SDS alone are voluminous (over 100 linear feet in material). They arrived from storage in three separate shipments which were arranged separately and integrated intellectually.

Both Solender and Ruskay were visionaries in Jewish communal service. Upon his retirement from UJA-Federation in 1999, SDS became President and CEO of the United Jewish Communities (UJC), and the archive includes documentation of Solender’s early involvement with UJC. The United Jewish Communities was an organization incorporated in 1999 as a result of merger discussions held between representatives of the Council of Jewish Federations, (CJF), United Israel Appeal (UIA), and United Jewish Appeal (UJA). Pictured below is Solender at a public affairs event in 2000 (see also


Solender’s files cover a myriad of topics that UJF was involved with in its earliest years. Among them was the Capital Campaign, a campaign focused on earning funds for building and rebuilding the facilities of its beneficiary organizations. His files also document his involvement in UJA-Federation’s many committees. The files include his correspondence with international agencies such as the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), continuing UJA’s work overseas. Solender’s files contain discussion topics with other UJA-Federation leadership, and the first evidence appears of substantial, permanent correspondence by e-mail. It is clear from the contents of the files that the best way to archive e-mail in the late 1990s was by printing it out and filing it in subject folders. There is some material concern the year 2000 and the future vision of UJA-Federation. A significant amount of topical overlap exists between the UJF EVP Subject Files and the UJF Budget Department Subject Files.

John Ruskay’s files were also recently processed, comprising 7 linear feet of material, representing his files up to the year 2000. His later files are not part of this project as they are still current and in active use. His files include his involvement with UJF’s Program Services Department prior to his becoming EVP of UJA-Federation, as well as his correspondence with outside organizations affiliated with UJF such as the Taglit-Birthright Israel program. In his fifteen years as EVP and CEO, Ruskay helped raise $2.7 billion for UJA-Federation and increased its endowment from $330 million to $880 million. In his weekly newsletter “From the CEO,” Ruskay touches upon many important issues to the Jewish community, ranging from Jewish poverty, aging, disaster relief from Hurricane Sandy and government relations. Pictured below is an image of John Ruskay announcing his resignation (


A complete finding aid to the EVP files (both FJP and UJF) is currently in progress and we will post a link to it in a future blog post as soon as it is completed.

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.


August 19, 2013

Mrs. Who?

Recently, in the course of processing some boxes containing correspondence from the late 1960s through the early 1980s within the Ernest W. Michel papers series, I was faced with a style and consistency dilemma. These files hold letters between high-level UJA-Federation Joint Campaign supporters and Michel, who was Executive Vice President and Campaign Director of UJA and UFJC for many years, and the correspondence mostly concerns the subject of fundraising. The folders were filed by the last name of the correspondent, arranged alphabetically.

The problem arose in the case of married women. Sometimes the labels on these supporters’ files read something such as “Mrs. Harry Etra.” Other times they would be labeled “Mrs. Blanche Etra.” In some cases, the woman’s name was simply listed by her own first name followed by a last name, whether or not she was married. In the specific case of Mrs. Etra, there were actually two separate folders, each labeled differently, each holding similar contents. In another married woman’s file there was a short note from Mr. Michel’s administrative assistant, Libby Peppersberg, summarizing a phone call in which the woman had asked to be called by her own first name followed by her married last name only; no husband’s first name and no “Mrs.” Some subsequent correspondence referred to her, nonetheless, as Mrs. Husband’sFirstName MarriedLastName.

When processing files labeled with people’s names arranged alphabetically, as this group is, our practice on this project has been to list the name as LastName, FirstName on the folder title. This is how it will also appear within the finding aid for the full collection when it is eventually completed. We strive for consistency and occasionally make minor adjustments to file folder titles towards that end.

As a modern person living in the 21st Century, the idea of referring to an adult woman, particularly one who is responsible for her family’s charitable giving, by her husband’s first name, strikes me as a bit odd. It could almost go without saying that men’s names appearing in this subseries were listed on these files without the “Mr.” prefix. I realize, however, that until fairly recently “Mrs. Husband’sFirstName MarriedLastName” was universally considered the most appropriate and, indeed, the most polite form of formal address for a married woman. As archivists, we are often bound to relay language of the time period of the records we are working with, even if it does not completely jibe with modern parlance, since the antiquated terminology itself can convey important information to researchers.

My main problem here was how to handle the variety of forms of married women’s names that cropped up in the Michel papers. I needed to determine one “correct” form – the one that reflected best archival practices and was consistent with how we have previously handled it in the collection – if at all possible. Once I had determined that, I would then record all married women’s names in the same way.

After some discussion with the rest of the UJA-Fed archival team, it became clear that this problem had not previously come up. We sought outside guidance. The first place I looked was Describing Archives, A Content Standard, 2nd Edition, a.k.a. DACS, the official standards document put out by the Society of American Archivists, which addresses how to describe archival materials. Though DACS does address the issue in the context of creators and the biographical outlines that come at the beginnings of finding aids (sections 2.7.13 and 2.7.14), it does not specify how folder titles for married women ought to appear.  Next, I consulted AACR2, the preeminent library cataloging standards document in North America. Similar to DACS, AACR2 does not address this precise situation. AACR2’s chapter 22 concerns “headings for persons,” but goes only so far as to say “terms of address” or titles such as “Mrs.” may be used. In Resource Description and Access, a.k.a.  RDA, which is widely regarded to be the next wave of library and archives metadata standards, section grants the option for the ”fuller form of the name,” which could include “Mrs.” And again, RDA pertains to authority records rather than folder titles. The trusty old Strunk & White’s Elements of Style has a short section on names of people, but does not specify how a married woman must be called. I was tempted to consult Emily Post or Miss Manners, but these advice purveyors concern themselves much more with party invitations than with historical documents.

In the end, we settled on the moderately liberated and modern form of “MarriedLastName, HerOwnFirstName” with the “Mrs.Husband’sFirst NameMarriedLastName” form following in parentheses, if this form of her name was used at all in the records. In this way, I was able to be consistent throughout all the records, while at the same time, affording the researcher an additional access point.


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.

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