By Deb Silverthorn
“History happens every single day and now, for sure, we are all a part of the history-in-the-making for Dallas’ Jewish community,” said Dallas Jewish Historical Society Executive Director Debra Polsky. “Now, more than ever, we’re in great need of support. We’re a small agency with a big mission and our online Cyber Soirée is going to help us pursue that mission.”
DJHS was in the midst of promoting its VIVA SHALOM! One Story at a Time event, originally scheduled for June 4. Due to social distancing regulations, the event is being rescheduled for a date still to be determined — recognition of Dallas’ Latin American Jewish representation is only delayed, not canceled. In the meantime, with a staff to support — and grants that support them about to expire — the organization has taken much of what they provide the community online.
DJHS is giving those interested, the opportunity to record family histories through a series of short surveys. Membership is not required to participate. At the end of Cyber Soirée, DJHS staffers will be combining the answers and creating personalized stories to share with family and friends.
In addition to the online surveys, DJHS is emailing links to many of its past lectures and programs to those who register with the agency. How-to information is posted for those wanting to create their own video histories to submit. Unless otherwise requested, all materials will become part of the DJHS’ permanent collection.
Co-chairing the Cyber Soirée are Fonda Schepps Arbetter and Susan Schackman, both of whom have their hearts connected to the past of the community’s history, and its future.
“Our generation is the first to really explore our genealogy and it’s so important that we learn about and hold on to our history. The Jews of Dallas were so much, are so much, a part of the business and building of this area,” said Schackman, whose family in Dallas is scaled three generations back, and now two ahead of her. “As my grandchildren come to talk with us about our families, I couldn’t be more proud.”
Schepps Arbetter, whose family is among Dallas’ earliest settlers, says she believes “in continuity and that it’s important that we know our own family’s histories, and that of the families who built our community. It’s really important that, in person or online, we support the Dallas Jewish Historical Society and all of its work.”
Founded in 1971, by Ginger Jacobs and Ruth Brown Kahn, both of blessed memory, the mission of the DJHS is to preserve and protect collections of written, visual and audible materials that document the history of the Dallas Jewish community; to make these materials available to the public and researchers; and to keep the past as a living legacy.
A partner of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, the DJHS archives include approximately 15,000 objects, photographs, documents, recordings and publications, from the 1850s to present, shared by Jewish-owned businesses, organizations, families and individuals. Housed at the Aaron Family JCC, the climate-controlled vault, under regular circumstance, is open to the public for research and general interest.
“History begins every day and we are honored to capture and share it for now, and for all time. “We’re doing that differently than we are used to — and in this moment we are all becoming and living history in a way we aren’t used to,” said Polsky, working with her small but mighty and necessary staff to record history which doesn’t stand still for a medical crisis.
“You don’t have to have been born here, to be making a difference and be a part of Dallas’ history. We live in a time,” said Polsky, “that email and Zoom, Facetime and so much more allows us to still connect and record what our Jewish community is doing and how we are living.”
What your children’s children will know of “the spring of 2020,” will in part come from the DJHS’s archives. It is those children, your children, who will be searching for their people’s voices.
For more info, to make a donation, or to register for emails from the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, visit djhs.org/2020cybersoiree.
By Deb Silverthorn