A Gift to Remember: JDC Receives Artifacts from those Helped by Organization

January 11, 2016

If a picture is worth a thousand words, as the expression goes, how many words is an object worth? An ordinary item can be elevated to historical heights by where it has been and what it has seen. When curating JDC’s centennial exhibit at the New York Historical Society in 2014, it became evident that the presence of artifacts and ephemera in the exhibition could illustrate the efforts and impact of the JDC throughout the years. In recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the organization, the JDC Archives initiated an effort to collect objects from its storied past. With the passage of time, items of distribution and aid have morphed into relics imprinted with the JDC legacy. In recent months, the archives has been gifted with two exciting artifacts from its past.

“Nearly every artifact has a story connected to it, whether it be a hole in a helmet or a belt that a medic carried around with him as he treated the wounded on the beach.”

Stephen Ambrose

American Historian 1936-2002

For the devout, a tallit or Jewish prayer shawl is a daily object used historically by Jewish men while praying. However, the tallit that Steven Friedman of Plainview, NY gifted to the JDC Archives embodied much more than the item’s ritual meaning. The tallit says “Gift from Joint,” referring to the nickname of the organization. It had been distributed by JDC to Steven’s father Josef Friedman, a Holocaust survivor, while he was living in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp near Kassel, Germany. JDC brought in tens of thousands of prayers books and shawls to see to the religious needs of the survivors.

“There were over 250,000 Jewish DPs at the time,” explains JDC archivist Abra Cohen.  “An item like this tallit-threadbare, stained, and showing sign of heavy usage-helps tell the individual story of Josef Friedman.  It also tells the story of an organization that cared for its clients, both body and soul.” Josef treasured this tallit for the rest of his life.

Letter urging attendance at important 1939 meeting sent on behalf of JDC and other organizations.

A piece of ephemera, an historic letter, was recently donated by sisters Laura Gail (Vainstein) Kirk and Ellen Deen (Vainstein) Shapiro. After Ellen contacted the JDC Archives with a genealogy request about a relative in Slovakia helped by the Joint in 1941, they donated to the JDC Archives this special letter, that had been saved by their grandfather, Rabbi Nathan Vainstein of Bellaire, Ohio and by the family for over 70 years.  The purpose of the letter was to encourage attendance at a meeting of “representative Jews of the Tri-State area” to be held on March 19, 1939, in Pittsburgh. The second paragraph of the letter discusses the “gravity of the problem (s) facing 6,000,000 Jews in Central and Eastern Europe…” including the crucial needs for relief and reconstructive help, and the need for emigration assistance.  Signed by notable Jewish leaders Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver and Rabbi Jonah B. Wise and written on behalf of the United Jewish Appeal, JDC and other institutions, the 1939 letter is a haunting harbinger of what was to come and tells the story of not only JDC but that of the larger Jewish people.

Do you have books, religious items, posters, publication, brochures, ID cards or other items distributed by JDC? Your artifacts can help bring the Archives to life for the next generation. If you think you may have an item of interest, please email archives@jdc.org.