History of Jewish philanthropy in Pittsburgh goes live on Rauh website

History of Jewish philanthropy in Pittsburgh goes live on Rauh website

The new website of the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center tells the story of philanthropy in Jewish Pittsburgh, but it doesn’t tell it in a vacuum.

The website, called “A Tradition of Giving: The History of Jewish Philanthropy in Pittsburgh,” went live last week with a wealth of photos, documents, oral histories and learning aids.

But the key feature of the website is an interactive timeline dating back to 1840, when the first Jews settled in Pittsburgh. The timeline offers details of Jewish philanthropic history here as well as pivotal moments in the region’s history.

For example, click on the year 1916, and the timeline shows solid dots that lead to information about the founding of the Hebrew Institute, the Young People’s Zionist League and Hadassah Pittsburgh Chapter. But there’s also an open dot, which, when clicked on, brings up information about regional labor unrest that year, including riots at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thompson Works and a massive strike at the Westinghouse Electric Co.

In other words, the website meshes the history of Jewish giving in Pittsburgh with the history of the region, providing context for the events unfolding in the Jewish community.

“We want to show the relationship with what’s happening in the Pittsburgh community and the Jewish community,” said Susan Melnick, archivist of the Rauh.

Developed with support from the J. Samuel and Rose Y. Cox and the Simon Hafner Charitable foundations, “A Tradition of Giving,” included at least 160 documents and 290 photos when it went live, according to Melnick.

But new archival material is being added all the time she added, giving visitors who have never been to the Heinz History Center a chance to sample what is preserved by the Rauh.

The website also links to online sources of news and history for the region, including Historic Pittsburgh, an online archive made possible by the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Museum of Art; Rodef Shalom Archives; “Pittsburgh and Beyond,” the oral history project of the National Council of Jewish Women Pittsburgh Section; and the Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, an online collaborative archive of Carnegie Mellon University and The Jewish Chronicle.

Education resources for schools and teachers can also be found here.

But it’s the timeline that stands out on the website, providing a new way to understand Jewish history in Pittsburgh.

Separately, any item on the timeline might appear as an interesting piece of Jewish history, according to Rachel Colker, curator for the the project. “It’s a story.”  

The timeline also tracks the population of Pittsburgh and its Jewish community throughout the years.

The chance to view familiar photos, read accounts of familiar historic figures, including relatives of Pittsburghers living today, could make the website a unique resource for Jewish Pittsburgh, according to Melnick.

“We’re hoping it will really connect with people,” she said.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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