(New York Jewish Week) – A Catholic university may be the unlikeliest place for what may be the largest depository dedicated to the Jewish history of the Bronx.
But at Fordham University — the private, Jesuit institution in the Bronx — decades worth of archival documents and artifacts from the local Jewish community have found a home, thanks to its Jewish studies department.
For the last three years, Fordham has been collecting and cataloging items that detail a once-thriving Jewish community in the Bronx: yearbooks full of Jewish last names, Bar Mitzvah invitations, phonebooks full of Jewish-owned businesses — all the simple transactions that define an era in history.
The archive at Fordham is one of the only physical collections of everyday material from Jewish residents of the borough, according to Magda Teter, the chair of the Center for Jewish Studies at the university, who spearheaded the project.
“It’s not only preserving a piece of New York Jewish history, but also a way of life,” Teter told the New York Jewish Week. “Bringing this voice to the dominant Christian identity of Fordham and teaching about Jews [as a minority] within the dominant cultures is very important.”
During the first half of the twentieth century, Jewish life thrived in the Bronx. There were 260 registered synagogues in 1940, and the borough produced some of the biggest Jewish names in show business, fashion, literature and more: designer Ralph Lauren, politician Bella Abzug, novelist E.L. Doctorow, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, Miss America Bess Myerson, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Robert Lefkowitz.
At the community’s peak in 1930, the Bronx was approximately 49% Jewish, according to the borough’s official historian, Lloyd Ultan. South of Tremont Avenue, the number reached 80%. Most of the Jewish Bronx was of Eastern European descent; many were first generation Americans whose parents had immigrated and lived on the Lower East Side, but who could now afford to live in less cramped neighborhoods with more trees and wider streets.
Though there is a strong Jewish community in the neighborhood of Riverdale, most of the Jewish community moved out of the Bronx for the suburbs after World War II when mortgages for white would-be homeowners were being subsidized by the government and Blacks and Latinos were steered to Bronx neighborhoods they couldn’t afford or that the city had chosen to neglect. The Jewish population of the Bronx dropped from 650,000 in 1948 to 45,000 in 2003. Many of the synagogues have been converted for other uses, and the physical legacy of the Jewish community there has begun to erode over time, making an archive all the more necessary.
While Teter was always interested in collecting items from the Jewish Bronx, the archive got an unexpected boost from a member of the public. In the spring of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Fordham hosted a virtual event, “Remnants: Photographs of the Jewish Bronx,” which featured evidence of the area’s faded Jewish history gathered by writer and photographer Julian Voloj. (Voloj is the husband of the New York Jewish Week’s managing editor, Lisa Keys.)
In the audience was Ellen Meshnick, who had grown up in New York and now lives in Georgia. Inspired, she offered Fordham a trove of material her parents, Frank and Martha Meshnick, had kept throughout their lives in the Bronx. The boxes included donated yearbooks from Morris High School and Walton High School, songbooks, bar mitzvah invitations, a marriage certificate, receipts for a flower delivery — even a document from the hospital from when she was born — mostly from the 1930s through the 1960s.
The donation significantly bolstered what materials Fordham already had on hand, which included less personal but still unique items like matchbooks from kosher restaurants. Now, Teter is growing the archive through other private donations and occasionally by purchasing materials online — personal family archives, books about Bronx Jewish history, songsheets and the like.
“They may not be the most beautiful things, but we are interested in what people actually used and lived with,” Teter said.
Teter said that while the American Jewish Historical Society in Manhattan does collect the types of quotidian and personal items that American Jews kept with them in the last few centuries, they don’t have much that uniquely focuses on Jewish life in the Bronx.
The entire collection is part of a greater effort by Teter, the Jewish studies department and the librarians at Fordham to increase awareness about Judaism and Jewish people. “I will not hide that I think it’s an important way to fight antisemitism — to teach Jewish history and Jewish culture in all its colors and in all its experiences,” she said. “It enriches the students’ appreciation and understanding of Jewish life beyond how Jews are usually portrayed.”
The Jewish studies department at Fordham is relatively new: The college began offering a Jewish studies minor in 2016, and opened the department in 2017. At the time, the highlight of the library’s archives was the Rosenblatt Holocaust collection, which was funded by an alumnus. Since 1992, the library has amassed over 11,000 titles, videos and artifacts on the Holocaust, according to librarian Linda Loschiavo.
When Teter arrived, Loschiavo worked with her to bring in historical Passover haggadahs from all over the world. Fordham now possesses two Italian haggadahs from the 1660s, as well as Jewish artifacts from unexpected places, like playbills from Jewish Bollywood.
Last month the university opened the Henry S. Miller Judaica Research Room on the fourth floor of the campus’ main library — named for Fordham’s first Jewish student, who graduated in 1968. Miller, a leader of a financial restructuring firm, is now a trustee of the college.
Fordham President Tania Tetlow described herself jokingly as “a wannabe Jew” at the room’s unveiling. “I’ve understood how deeply intertwined Judaism and Catholicism are,” she said, “and the connections we have of the deep intellectualism of both faiths, of the desire to study text and the interpretation of text going back for thousands of years, of the love of ritual — and the central place of food and guilt!”
“At the moment, we envision that the research room will be a space for exhibitions that would foster the curatorial skills of our students and that will bring Jewish art and artists to campus,” Teter said. “We would now be able to display their art and combine the exhibitions with some items from the Judaica collection.”
The research room is currently displaying Voloj’s Bronx photographs, along with some of the recently acquired local archival materials, curated by sophomore Reyna Stovall, who is interning in Fordham’s Jewish studies department this semester.
“It is really, really rewarding,” said Stovall, who is Jewish. Stovall became involved in the Jewish studies department because of her interest in Holocaust studies, but as she began her internship, she was excited to work on the archives cataloging the once thriving Jewish history of the Bronx.
“It’s pretty amazing that they have the collection to begin with,” she added. “It really shows Fordham’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity that they’re willing to take on this massive collection of Judaica, even though that’s not the religion that the school was founded on.”
Teter estimates there are about 300 Jews among the school’s 15,000 undergrads. As a result, the Center for Jewish Studies and the research room offers students from all backgrounds the opportunity to learn more about Judaism — as well as marginalized communities in general, and connect their stories to their own lives.
“Our identity grew to showcase Jewish studies at the intersection and in conversation with other fields and areas of study,” Teter explained.
The Center’s goal, she added, is “to make students, faculty and the public realize that studying Jews is not just for Jews, and that they can learn so much about the areas of their own concern and interest by studying Jews.”
“Something magical happens when you give students the opportunity to work with historical artifacts, and really touch history,” Teter said. “That’s what I think inspired the director of the library to devote that space to that kind of research and to that kind of student experience.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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