By Chana Revell Kotzin, Ph.D.
May is Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), a national month-long celebration of Jewish contributions to American culture and society that spans more than 360 years. For the Jewish Buffalo History Center (JBHC) it is another opportunity to highlight the diversity of Jewish American lives. Each profile found on the JBHC website explores Buffalo Jewish history through the stories of individuals, families and Jewish organizations combined with research drawn from Jewish and non-Jewish cultural spaces and institutions. A year-round, 24/7 online resource for Jewish American heritage in Buffalo, the JBHC also holds occasional in person events, including this month, with an opportunity to view our traveling exhibition. Our thanks to Temple Beth Tzedek for being host to An East Side Story: Harold Arlen’s Buffalo Roots, celebrating internationally acclaimed composer and Buffalo Jewish boy, once known as Hyman Arluck. To find out when to visit this exhibition or to sample over twenty other profiles, click here for our new flyer created for Jewish American Heritage Month.
This week’s Torah reading is a double portion: Parashat Behar-Bechukotai. Behar, from the Hebrew “On the Mountain” in the Book of Leviticus highlights the laws of the sabbatical year (shemitah), when working the land is prohibited, and debts are forgiven. It includes the verse from Leviticus 25:10, later inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. It also describes how in the Jubilee year, observed every fifty years, property reverts to its original ownership. The second Torah portion is Bechukotai, translated as “In My Laws”, includes warnings about the penalties for straying from the laws as the Israelites entered the Promised Land. This parshah concludes with a series of valuations relating to various types of donations made at the Temple.
For the last fifteen years in several roles, I have been struck by the “double portion” that local Jewish history returns to our communities. It connects us to significant national and international stories as well as to our own personal memories and identities. Sharing histories and making primary resources available, however, is only possible through the acts of individuals, families, synagogues and organizations. Their loan of materials temporarily suspends their own “property” rights allowing us to learn more about our collective past, providing a powerful form of perpetuity. Individual action and communal support illustrate how communities build together and thrive. Just a brief tour of our latest online exhibition, Sokolivka: Once Home and the selected stories here, illustrates the power of generosity to remind us of our past, and ignite possibilities in our future.
Chana Revell Kotzin, Ph.D., is the coordinator of the Jewish Buffalo History Center and Curator of the Cofeld Judaic Museum at Temple Beth Zion. She is currently writing a history of the post-WWII Jewish community of Greater Buffalo commissioned by the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies.