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Travels in American Jewish History

Travels in American Jewish History

Dr. Gary P. Zola, executive director of the American Jewish Archives (AJA), organized a trip in 2000 to Charleston, S.C., for a group of adults interested in the firsthand study of American Jewish history. Under Dr. Zola's leadership and in partnership with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism), they traveled to explore and study the rich Jewish history of Charleston and its impact on the American Jewish experience.

That trip marked the first of what would become a biennial travel program that has taken learners from different locales and backgrounds on significant and vibrant journeys of Jewish discovery.

For the American Jewish Archives, the presentation of its now highly anticipated Travels in American Jewish History program is, rooted in its founding and is a natural extension of its primary mission: to document and preserve the history of the North American Jew. The answer to why this program is so essential to the goals of the AJA can be revealed in its establishment and evolution.

Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus (1896-1995) founded the AJA in 1947  to preserve the continuity of Jewish life and learning in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Since that time, the AJA has become the world's largest free-standing archival research center dedicated exclusively to the study of the American Jewish experience. Its expansive collections now include more than 15,000 linear feet of catalogued collections, containing robust documentary evidence on the history of the Jews of North America. Important, iconic holdings rest in its repositories - all precious and essential to the world's teaching and understanding of American history.

Now the AJA stands as a global learning center for rabbis, scholars, teachers, researchers, and students of innumerable academic disciplines from throughout the world. Still, the challenge remains: How can we continue to find new and compelling ways to inspire new generations of leaders in the field of American Jewish history?

The AJA is meeting that challenge in a variety of ways – including Travels in American Jewish History: A Journey of Jewish Identity and Discovery, an initiative that created an opportunity for the study of American Jewish History in different locales across North America.

Since the program's inception 15 years ago, the AJA has proudly presented eight educational missions to North American cities whose remarkable Jewish history has been little known – Albuquerque, Curacao, Richmond, Savannah, Denver, and Philadelphia. Each trip offers an intimate opportunity for participants to study interactively with renowned, preeminent scholars. Participants visit synagogues, cemeteries, restaurants, and museums, while scholarly lectures help them to understand the rich heritage of these regional communities.

This year's travels feature a trip to the historical Jewish community of New Orleans, abundant with history all its own. Participants will learn with leading scholars in American Jewish history and tour area sites and landmarks firsthand. They will visit some of the unique congregations of New Orleans and hear stories and experiences first-hand from individuals whose families have lived in the region for generations. Highlights of the trip will include a trip to the WWII Museum (one of the most popular sites in New Orleans), a tour and luncheon at the Longue Vue House and Gardens (built for the heir to the Sears fortune, Edith Stern and her husband Edgar), and the sights and sounds of the French Quarter. The trip will conclude with a lecture on the origins of Jazz with an accompanying jazz band.

The Travels Study Mission to New Orleans will take place from August 26-30, 2015. For more information on the trip and/or to explore the treasures of the American Jewish experience, please visit the American Jewish Archives.

Joyce Kamen is a marketing consultant for The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.

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