B'nai B'rith Archive Returns to View

Cincinnati Jewish Archive Gets 'Indispensible' Document Trove

Treasure Trove: Correspondence from presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt, are among the millions of documents included in B’nai B’rith’s archive.
getty images
Treasure Trove: Correspondence from presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt, are among the millions of documents included in B’nai B’rith’s archive.

By Paul Berger

Published May 31, 2012, issue of June 08, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Millions of documents that together tell a huge part of the American Jewish story are about to find a new public home after almost a decade kept out of sight.

The American Jewish Archives, in Cincinnati, has acquired B’nai B’rith’s International’s extensive archive, a “treasure trove” of documents that dates back more than 150 years and covers lodges across North America and around the world.

B’nai B’rith’s archives are “indispensable” to the story of American Jewry, said the Jewish archive’s executive director, Gary Zola.

“In its activities, one finds almost all of the major cultural, social, political and… even religious activities of American Jewry,” said Zola.

Most of B’nai B’rith’s papers were placed into storage in 2002 after the Washington-based organization relocated to smaller offices from its flagship headquarters because of financial difficulties.

George Washington’s famous letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I. — widely considered one of the most important documents in American Jewish history — was similarly locked away until a deal was reached in May for the letter to be loaned to the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Although the B’nai B’rith archives have remained accessible during the past decade, Zola said B’nai B’rith “hasn’t had the proper facilities or resources to be an archive.” Access for researchers has been “difficult,” especially as much of the material has been in storage away from B’nai Brith’s offices.

B’nai B’rith International President Allan Jacobs said in a statement that “it was regrettable this treasure trove of material was not as accessible as we would have liked” following the relocation.

Jacobs added that B’nai B’rith was “delighted” that the documents would once again be accessible to “serve as a valuable historical resource.”

Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said: “When we thought of the possibilities for scholars… It became crystal clear that the interests of everyone were really best served if we have this kind of arrangement.”

Zola said the boxloads of B’nai B’rith documents constitute one of the largest acquisitions in the archives’ history. If lined up side by side, the boxes would stretch for about 800 feet.

Founded in 1843 in New York City, B’nai B’rith spawned thousands of lodges across North America. It also gave birth to the Anti-Defamation League, the Hillel Foundation and the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.

Its archives include information about these institutions, as well as B’nai B’rith lodge minutes, charters, newsletters and books, including essays published in Austrian B’nai B’rith journals by Sigmund Freud.

“None of us knows really all of the treasures in that archive, because they haven’t really been accessible… and haven’t seriously been processed,” American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna said.

Sarna spent one day at the B’nai B’rith archives while researching his recent book “When General Grant Expelled the Jews.” There, he found evidence that some Jews were aware of Jewish smuggling during the Civil War in the form of a private communication from B’nai B’rith’s Cincinnati’s Mount Carmel Lodge.

Sarna said it can take years to store documents in acid-free paper and put papers in order. He added that once the process is complete, the archive will be invaluable for the next generation of Jewish historians.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.