Local Jewish history buffs, or anyone seeking a compelling listen for their daily commute, might want to download the new podcast produced by the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives, “The Cornerstone.”
The podcast, which will be launching imminently, connects Jewish historical sites in Western Pennsylvania to historic materials in the Rauh Archives. Each episode investigates one spot in the region, which could be a synagogue, a schoolhouse, a work of public art, or even a gravestone.
The story of each locale is told through documents, photographs and oral histories, and is narrated by Eric Lidji, director of the Rauh Archives. Each story can then be studied in greater depth with interactive StoryMaps, found on “The Cornerstone” website: heinzhistorycenter.org/collections/rauh-jewish-history-program-and-archives/the-cornerstone-podcast.
Lidji was inspired to create the podcast while he was working on putting together the Rauh’s Generation to Generation website, which tells the stories of families who have donated papers to the Rauh Archives.
“When we were doing the families website, I was having this experience every week where I would spend a week at the Archives learning all about these families, and that included not only the names of everybody in the families and all their accomplishments, but where they had lived and where they had offices and things like that,” said Lidji. “Then during the week I would have this experience of walking around my normal routine around the city and all these stories would be attached to these locations. So, houses in Squirrel Hill that I had passed 100 times before, I suddenly knew that’s where the Aarons lived, or that’s where the Franks lived.”
Lidji wanted to share this experience with others, he said.
In Pittsburgh, “a lot of the city has not been demolished and there are neighborhoods where these buildings still exist,” he said. “The potential is really great, especially in Jewish neighborhoods where every single house on a block might have a story like that about Jewish history.”
A podcast, Lidji noted, adds to the Archives’ efforts to broaden its accessibility to a wider audience.
“There is a younger group of people who may not have the time or the interest in coming down here to come to a program or to come do research unless they are doing it for a class project, and we have this technology now that allows you to have things be on demand,” he said. “And there is not really much that is on demand in the Jewish community. There are a lot of wonderful programs that are tied to a place or a time, but not something you can enjoy wherever or whenever.”
“The Cornerstone” is made possible through a grant from the SteelTree Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. The Rauh Archives is committed to producing 15 episodes, arranged into three five-episode seasons.
Each episode will focus on one address, although sometimes the initial address will lead to other locales.
“Part of the idea was that if you had enough of these episodes, you could create tours for people, where you could say, listen to episode 3, 8, 12 and 34, and you are getting a walk down Fifth Avenue or something like that,” Lidji said.
“This first season is thematically about the Hill District,” he noted. “And it sort of looks at the Hill District in a way that people really haven’t before, which is the way that different stories intersect. So, the five stories are loosely: politics, work or economics, education, religion and social life.
“What you start to see as you listen to all five episodes is that these stories connect to each other,” Lidji continued. “So, it is just like opening the door to have people understand that this world of the Hill District was a real interesting web of stories that intersect with each other and that the Archives really can help you tell that story.”
The high professional quality of “The Cornerstone” can be attributed not only to Lidji, but also to Avigail Oren, who helps create the StoryMaps, and musician Ross Reilly, who created and performs original compositions for the series.
More information on “The Cornerstone” can be found on its website. pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at