A Century of Our History

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Detroit Jewish News Foundation begins digitizing Detroit Jewish Chronicle.

Have you ever wondered how Jews were being treated in the war zone during World War I? (In case of need, “force may be used to drive the Jews back in the direction of the enemy,” according to a directive from the commander-in-chief of the Commissariat Army of Britain.)

How did your ancestors send money from Detroit to their friends and relatives overseas during that time? (They used Herman Eichner’s Foreign Exchange and Steamship Ticket Agency on Hastings Street.)

These interesting facts might have been lost to time and history, but no more.

The Detroit Jewish News Foundation is currently digitizing every issue of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle, which was published from March 1916 until July 1951.

Come this fall, those pages will be added to the more than 270,000 pages of Detroit Jewish history from the Detroit Jewish News already contained in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, online at www.djnfoundation.org. Once the Chronicle is digitized, the public will have an entire century of Detroit Jewish history, completely searchable, at its fingertips.

Microfiche copies of the Chronicle could be found in only a few places nationally, including the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University.

Smith
Mike Smith

Former director Mike Smith said that he did not know that the Reuther Library held a microfilm copy of the Chronicle among its more than 2,000 archival collections. “It is filed under the broad heading of ‘JCA Detroit Jewish Newspapers,’” says Smith, who is now the archivist for the DJN Foundation.

No one at the Reuther knows who the benefactor was that originally paid to have the Chronicle stored on microfilm and given to the library. “Whoever it was,” Smith says, “they made a big investment in preserving Detroit Jewish history.  We’re benefitting from it today.”

Detroit’s Jewish Press

According to the Reuther Library, Detroit’s first English-language Jewish newspaper began with the Oct. 5, 1900, issue of the Jewish American, published weekly. Emanuel T. Berger was the editor and it was published by the Jewish Review and Observer of Cleveland, Ohio.

On Oct. 18, 1901, after being purchased by Soloman Goldsmith, the Jewish American became the official organ of Detroit’s Temple Beth El, whose Rabbi Leo M. Franklin served as editor, with Goldsmith as publisher. As of 1904, Franklin relinquished the role of editor, but the paper continued as the voice of the temple. Goldsmith died in 1908 and, in 1910, the paper was no longer the official voice of Temple Beth El. The last issue of the paper appeared on May 12, 1911.

There were several short-lived attempts at other Detroit Jewish papers, but the most successful did not begin until March 16, 1916, according to the Reuther, with the publication of the Jewish Chronicle. The paper’s first editor was Samuel J. Rhodes, but its best-known was Philip Slomovitz.

The Chronicle (and, as it was known from 1932-1947, the Detroit Jewish Chronicle and the Legal Chronicle) was published until July 20, 1951, when it was acquired by the Detroit Jewish News, where Slomovitz was the founding and longtime editor. The Detroit Jewish News, which began in 1942, was a competitor to the Chronicle before it took over.

The Reuther Library

The Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs, housed in a glass-fronted building on Cass Avenue on the WSU campus, is the preeminent labor archive in North America. The collection also includes urban affairs, with emphasis on the history of Metropolitan Detroit.

It also serves as a storehouse of Jewish history. The library not only holds the collections of the Chronicle, it also houses the papers of Philip Slomovitz and philanthropist/businessman Max Fisher, as well as the Leonard N. Simons Jewish Community Archives, also available through the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, which placed the bulk of its archival holdings in the Reuther Library in 1991.

The collection dates back to the beginning of the United Jewish charities in 1899 and has expanded to include more than 2 million documents chronicling the growth and development of the Federation and its member agencies.

“A lot of that history is still on paper, waiting to be digitized in the future,” Smith says. “In the meantime, these records are very difficult to search and access unless one travels to the archives to personally see the collections.”

erik_nordberg
Erik Nordberg

When the DJN Foundation contacted the Reuther Library and asked to utilize the Chronicle collection for digitizing, “we were happy to do it,” says Reuther archivist Erik Nordberg. “We like the open-access philosophy of the Foundation, which means anyone anywhere will be able to search the records for free.”

Nordberg, a Wayne State-trained archivist who has been practicing for 25 years, has a personal interest in how historical public records are used. “Records are a critical part of understanding identity,” Nordberg says.

A Public Boon

By digitizing the 50,000 or so pages of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle, “we’re doing the whole world of research a good turn,” says Smith, who so far has only had the chance to read through the first few issues. “Once digitized, it will be word-searchable — an open source for everyone, whether a scholar, student or community member, no matter where in the world they might live.”

The Jewish ChroniclesDJN March 3 1916-Dec 6 1918_003
The first issue of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle

While the pages chronicle the local history of Jewish Detroit, “there is much to learn in those pages about the global status of Jews as well as the history of the greater Detroit community,” Smith adds.

When the DJN Foundation was founded in 2011, its initial focus was to preserve, digitize and make available to the public all 270,000 pages of the Detroit Jewish News.

“In the course of digitizing the JN, we also thought about the Chronicle, which began in 1916, and was absorbed by the Jewish News in 1951,” said DJN Foundation president Arthur Horwitz, also publisher and executive editor of the Jewish News.

“Because we owned the Chronicle content, we thought it was only natural to eventually digitize it as well.”

Since the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History was made public in November 2013, more than 40,000 unique viewers have logged in to search the database.

“Over the years, as I’ve visited Jewish cemeteries in Metro Detroit,” Horwitz says, “I sometimes wonder who these people were. What kind of lives did they live? What were their families like? What were there joys and sorrows?

“With the addition of the Chronicle to the DJN Archive, we’ll preserve the memories of thousands of those who are no longer with us as well as future generations,” he adds. “Their accumulated knowledge and wisdom will continue to shape this community and its families.”

Digitizing the collection took a lot of time and resources to get off the ground.

“Through the generous support of hundreds of people inside and outside the Detroit Jewish community, we’re pleased the digitization of the Chronicle is under way,” Horwitz says.

Once the digitization of the Chronicle is completed in late fall, the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History will hold 320,000 pages of searchable content — a full 100 years. “No other Jewish newspaper in America can match this resource and accomplishment” Smith says.

And with each new edition of the Jewish News, additional history is being captured.

By: Jackie Headapohl, Managing Editor

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