JDC Archives Announces Completion of New Oral History Project

JDC Archives is delighted to announce the completion of the 2021-2022 JDC Archives Oral History Project. The project includes interviews with 18 former JDC senior staff members with rich histories of service from the 1970s through the early 2000s. These interviews give voice to individuals who were tasked with responding swiftly to emergent global events and evolving situations across the decades and around the world, such as the airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, the war in former Yugoslavia, and the renewal of Jewish life in the post-communist world. These oral histories represent the diverse historical background behind JDC activities and Jewish life in every world region, and contain personal reflections, insights, and contributions of JDC staff.

Evacuation from Sarajevo to Split, Bosnia, August 1993. Photo: Doron Tashtit. JDC Archives

“Oral history fills in the blanks between the more formal text records and photo collections of JDC and brings to life the actual experience of former JDC Country Directors,” remarked Linda Levi, Executive Director of the JDC Archives. “This special project was made possible thanks to a generous gift from a group of JDC board members.”

The project was conducted over the course of a year from June 2021 to June 2022. The interviews were recorded over the Zoom platform by current and former staff who knew the interviewees’ JDC service well. Interviews ranged from one to four 2-hour sessions per person. Recordings and transcripts have been stored in the JDC Archives database for preservation and are available to interested researchers upon request.

Click here for an excerpt of Dr. Rick Hodes speaking about Operation Solomon in Ethiopia.

An online finding aid, or guide to the collection, is available on the JDC Archives website to create further awareness and promote the use of these resources to researchers. Arranged by interviewee, the finding aid details the scope of each interview along with a brief bio. The interviews portray JDC’s essential work around the world over the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, in Israel, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Morocco, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, regions covered by the former Soviet Union, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, South America, and Cuba, among others. They cover such pivotal developments as the establishment of the Israeli Ashalim youth program and Eshel program for the elderly, the creation of the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute for Research, school programs in Morocco and Tunisia, the creation of the Hesed Program to support elderly Jews in the Former Soviet Union as well as the International Development Program offering non-sectarian assistance during disasters or crises. They are replete with anecdotes from the women and men who ran the various programs and assisted in supporting those in need during a crisis. Researchers can contact us to receive a copy of a particular oral history.

A boy lighting a menorah at a JDC sponsored Chanukah celebration in Red Square, Moscow, Russia, 1992. Photo: Richard Lobell. JDC Archives

The 2021-2022 JDC Archives Oral History Project is a subcollection of the JDC Archives Oral History Collection, which already includes over 150 interviews conducted with JDC staff members and JDC leaders dating back to 1961. These testimonies from JDC staff and partners “on the front lines” worldwide detail the organization’s response to a range of situations over the past 80 years and offer users a unique perspective on Jewish history and the evolution of humanitarianism in the twentieth century and beyond.

These oral histories enrich and transcend the historic record of JDC’s rescue, relief, and renewal efforts and make accessible to users a treasure trove of primary source material from those who designed and delivered aid around the world and adapted to meet historic crises over the past century.