JHSSA: Preserving local history and looking to the future

Trudy Cowan presents her book Quarantine: Keep Out at Heritage Park for Historic Calgary Week July 2021. (Photo supplied).

by JHSSA Staff and Board Members

(AJNews) – As Rosh Hashana approaches, Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta is preparing for a new year, and looking back on a busy and strange time, with all of the varied impacts of the pandemic.

JHSSA Zoom programming continues to be well received and attended, and over the past year, we expanded our ‘reach’ to include a mini-series co-hosted with Calgary Hadassah-WIZO. We were also pleased to be invited to present Attestations:  a military mosaic of unexpected stories, for JCC Chicago last April. The American process for accessing military records is different from the Canadian one, so there was substantial interest in the range and amount of information we have been able to include in our Southern Alberta Jewish Veterans of World War I & II database. This presentation, a slight revision of our 2017 Remembrance Day program, can be viewed on our website, jhssa.org, under the Publications / Videos tab.

We were very excited by the local community’s response to our Canadian Jewish Heritage Month project last May, the History Mystery Box. Interested parties signed up to receive a free box containing 11 mystery history items, copies of documents or photos – including photos of artifacts — from the JHSSA archives. Each box included questions and open-ended prompts for examining and responding to the material, along with a sealed envelope containing factual information about each item. Participants received their box, spent some time engaging with it either individually or in a group (respecting all relevant Covid restrictions), and then sent their response back to JHSSA. We’ve included one of the responses in the Fall 2021 issue of our journal, Discovery, and are hoping to use many others as the basis of a JHSSA program in the spring of 2022. A copy of the History Mystery Box is still available for loan from the JHSSA office.

JHSSA was proud to again participate in Historic Calgary Week, this year’s timely theme being “Zooming Back:  Unmasking the Past,” with a reading by local author and JHSSA member Trudy Cowan. Cowan’s children’s book Quarantine: Keep Out, is based on the use of the Montefiore homesteader’s synagogue building as a hospital, during the 1918 Influenza pandemic. Covid pandemic considerations prompted an outdoor event, and JHSSA was fortunate to be able to partner with Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary, where the building was donated after its restoration in 20xx through the work of The Little Synagogue on the Prairie Project, and hold the presentation on the lawn beside the building. Also during Historic Calgary Week, JHSSA Board member Harry Sanders gave a Zoom presentation with Calgary Public Library, about the only street in Calgary to ever be named for a Jewish person, Reinach Avenue. Both programs were enthusiastically received. Many thanks to Heritage Park, Calgary Public Library and Chinook County Historical Society, and especially Trudy and Harry for their efforts toward the programs.

As much as we focus on our past, JHSSA is always moving forward. We are pleased to announce that our Voices of Experience oral history project has received additional funding through a Heritage Preservation Partnership Program grant from the Government of Alberta. We are delighted that Judy Shapiro is back to helm the project, and are grateful to our intrepid volunteers, who have been working steadily since we received notification mid-summer. Our target for Part 2 is an ambitious 50 interviews recorded and transcribed over nine months. We would welcome additional volunteer transcribers to help us reach this goal.

Our programming committee has been hard at work, and we invite everyone to keep an eye on our website for information about several upcoming events. The program for our AGM on October 25 will feature a look at the Calgary Jewish community’s commitment to the situation in the Soviet Union through the early 1970’s, and on November 16, Saundra Lipton will present on her research for the “She Also Served” art exhibit at The Military Museums in Calgary, highlighting the little-known stories of the southern Alberta Jewish servicewomen (including Cecilia Feingold, Esther Raber, Tanya Volvnick) as well as the experiences of the Jewish servicewomen who moved to southern Alberta in the postwar period.

Volunteers are also hard at work gathering material for a winter program in honour of our late board member and resident history buff, Manny Cohen. The program will touch on areas of local Jewish history that Manny held close to his heart, interspersed with stories from people who knew him in the many different facets of his life. Please contact the JHSSA office if you can share any memories, photos or video of Manny.

We are looking forward to the coming year, to our planned projects and programs, and to working together to preserve our local history with our resilient community, as we all make the most of our ever-evolving circumstances.



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