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!
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • 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.