Hearing Pittsburgh's Jewish voices online

In 1968, the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Council for Jewish Women embarked on an oral history project to record the experiences of Jewish Eastern European immigrants, who came to the U.S. between 1890 and 1924.  In 1973, the project was expanded to collect the stories of Pittsburgh Jewish men and women who made contributions on local, national, and international levels.  Today, this project is the longest running and largest oral Jewish history project known to exist in the world.  Now the 500 plus interviews have been digitized and made accessible to the world, creating a "treasure trove" of primary source materials.

Pittsburgh and Beyond is near and dear to us at the Jewish Women's Archive.  I have spent a little time exploring the website, and was excited to see that the oral histories are searchable and browseable by names, locations, and subjects. I chose to browse by subject, and saw "Abortion" near the top of the alphabetical list.  From there, I discovered Rose Middleman Silverblatt, a doctor who worked with Planned Parenthood and the Abortion Justice Association in the 1960s and 1970s. You can listen to her courageous story here.

Oral histories allow us to dictate our own history, a mission taken to heart by the Pittsburgh NCJW in their decision not to transcribe the interviews.  These stories may only be heard in the original voice of the teller.  For each interview, there is a brief text abstract and relevant information about the interview.  The audio begins to play automatically is in its original, raw form.  These interviews are not edited for listening quality or content, and there are no contextural narrations or sound effects.  The experience is very different from listening to a produced NPR podcast.  These are simply the unedited, full interviews, broken up into a few audio files. While they may not function well as entertainment or "easy listening," they do provide a critical resource for researchers and otherwise committed listeners.

We at JWA have worked for many years to collect the stories of Jewish women.  Some of our projects include Women Who Dared, Weaving Women's Words in Baltimore and Seattle, and Katrina's Jewish Voices.  We currently use pieces of these interviews to create engaging content, podcasts, and videos, but the interviews are not available online in their entirety. Pittsburgh and Beyond shows us what is possible with technology and enough funding.  

We admire the dedication of the team at the Pittsburgh NCJW and the Archives Service Center of the University of Pittsburgh for putting so many stories online, and we hope to make our oral history archives similarly accessible in the future.

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "Hearing Pittsburgh's Jewish voices online." 7 December 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/pittsburgh-and-beyond>.

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