Cornell University Library recently acquired a set of materials offering a vivid picture of continuity and change in Jewish immigrant life, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. The Jewish Institutional Ledgers Collection, given to Cornell by an anonymous donor, contains over 300 items, including accounting books, meeting minutes, memorial books, membership lists and other material from Jewish institutions primarily in New York City. Most of these are synagogues and Landsmanshaft organizations. Highlights of the collection are by turns visually striking, poignant, and directly relevant to our lives today. This talk, by the project cataloger, will be the first formal public description of this collection.
Banking, theater, divorce, the waxing and waning of Jewish self-help societies, gender roles, assimilation, status and infighting, death and memorials, economics, and the connections among Jewish people both local and distant are all here. Some organizations are represented by multiple ledgers, including synagogues or societies originating from Slonim (Belarus), Narajow (Naraïv, Ukraine), Brzezan (Berezhany, Ukraine), Slutzk, Rozvedov (Rozwadów, Poland), Warsaw and others. There are meeting minutes from well-known groups such as the Farband (National Jewish Workers Alliance) and the Hebrew Actors Union. Charitable organizations with links both to Europe and Israel are included, as are some writings of individuals, ranging from moral instruction to cantorial sheet music.
The grandson of the Yiddish author Solomon Simon, David Forman was first a calligrapher and graphic artist, then a psychology researcher and college professor, before finally returning to his early love of writing. A published poet, he began studying Yiddish in his fifties to fulfill a lifelong vow of reading his grandfather’s work. In the fall of 2021, Kinder-Loshn Publications released Forman's English translation of Simon's book, The Clever Little Tailor, in a Yiddish-English bilingual edition. David lives in Ithaca, New York, where he has taught Beginning Yiddish classes online and at Cornell University. He has also worked at Cornell's Library, first in support of an online exhibition about the Jewish People's Fraternal Order, then as Jewish Institutional Ledgers Cataloger.