Braunstein to focus on oral history as new director of Holocaust Center

Braunstein to focus on oral history as new director of Holocaust Center

The Holocaust Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has named Joy Braunstein as its new director.

Braunstein, who has already started her new job, plans to focus on finding ways to keep the Holocaust Center relevant for years to come, as the numbers of survivors are dwindling.

Although there are between 120 and 140 survivors living in the greater Pittsburgh area, many are in their 90s, and are unable to share their experiences in a formal way.

“The Holocaust Center relies heavily on first-person accounts,” Braunstein said. “But our speakers’ bureau only has four or five survivors now that can go out and tell their stories. We will need to find another way to get their stories told.”

Braunstein, who has been an environmental blogger for the Chronicle, comes to the Holocaust Center from The Rachel Carson Homestead Association, where she served as its executive director since March. Prior to her work at Rachel Carson, she was the senior manager of planning and fund distribution at the federation from 2006 to 2008.

Although she has no formal training in Holocaust studies, she is working to become educated in the field.

“The Holocaust Center has expertise in Holocaust education, and I intend to avail myself of internal resources,” Braunstein said. She also plans to audit a university class on the Holocaust, as well as participate in a weeklong intensive course off-site, possibly at either Columbia University or Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

This year, the Holocaust Center’s programming will continue as usual, highlighted by its annual Arts and Writing Seminar for middle and high school students, and its community Yom HaShoa event.

“Nothing will change this year,” Braunstein said. “But next year, we will be evaluating all these programs to find ways to make them relevant to our audiences without having to rely on the resources of first-hand speakers.”

Possible alternatives to first-hand stories may be the accounts of the children and grandchildren of survivors, she said, or the showing of a documentary the Holocaust Center is producing with the help of WQED.

“Joy has a lot of energy and desire to move the Holocaust Center forward,” said David Sufrin, chair of the Holocaust Center Commission. “It was important to hire a leader who could generate interest and bring younger people into the Holocaust Center.”

According to Braunstein, it is imperative to keep the work of the Holocaust Center relevant to both the Jewish community and the community at large.

“There are some amazing survivors in the community,” she said. “We have an obligation to make sure we never forget their stories, and the lessons the Holocaust can teach us about what it means to be Jewish in the world today, what it means to be tolerant and to not turn a blind eye, and to not hate. And I think that we celebrate life.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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