Come for the JDC Archives Blog, stay for Eddie Cantor on Sound Cloud

Eddie Cantor SOS Script, JDC Archives

I’m honored to be featured on the JDC Archives Blog today. I have explored the depths of their collection for many years and am thrilled that they invested so heavily in digitizing the whole of their archival materials. It’s a public assertion of the need for thoughtful engagement with digital objects and I’m thrilled that they see my work as a model for employing digital archives in the classroom and in research.

It’s rewarding for me to think about the many strings of my work – including historical research, Digital Humanities projects, and the daily work of building a DH community and Digital Scholarship center at UCSC – as interconnected. I feel very lucky to build space for Digital Jewish Studies at UC Santa Cruz – work that is made possible because Jewish communal groups and archives have recognized the value of digitization. Engaging students and the Jewish community at large in the practice of working with primary sources invites them into the process of writing history.

But, mostly, I’m excited to hear the Eddie Cantor ad for SOS from 1948 linked in the article. I vividly remember the day I found a set of ad scripts for SOS in the JDC archive. Before the collection was digitized, I sat for days with a pile of microfilm reels reading reports, memos, and newsletters from the SOS project. Supplies for Overseas Survivors (SOS) collected canned food, clothing, and other goods for three years and sent them directly to Jews in Displaced Persons camps across Europe. The project activated Jews and non-Jews around the country in direct support for the surviving Jews of Europe and the extensive public campaign supported my argument that American Jews learned about the Holocaust through their participation in American Jewish philanthropy. The scripts written for Eddie Cantor, Dick Powell, and Henry Fonda were a particularly rich find as they revealed how JDC transformed the needs of survivors in Europe into appeal narratives for American donors.

Hearing Eddie Cantor, as we can do now, is a thrill. Cantor was a passionate advocate for survivors after the war. He led campaigns for JDC, Hadassah, and UJA. He lent his name and his voice to numerous radio broadcasts and brought his famous friends along.

As I listen to this appeal, I wonder where I can send cans of milk today and how the history of refugee aid – so strongly documented in the JDC archive – should inform our response to today’s refugee crisis.


A View from McHenry

When I started documenting my first month as a CLIR Fellow at UCSC, I used the hashtag #30SantaCruzFirsts because I anticipated taking pictures of things that would be new and exciting, as well as confusing and challenging. I thought working in the library would challenge the kind of things I had learned as a graduate student and as a historian. And, to some extent, this happens everyday at work. Not only am I amazed by the amount of things that happen in one day when you’re not just writing your dissertation, but the world of the library is so extensive. I never realized how much work went on behind the scenes at academic libraries – they have secret lives behind locked doors and in collections rooms where books get rebound, manuscript collections get processed, and maps get digitized.

However, the real surprise of documenting this first 30 days has been the deer. This is not a metaphor. I see deer EVERY DAY on my way to work. I take the bus up the hill – going from the ocean to the mountains on a short 15 minute journey. And, once up the hill, I get off the bus and walk through a forest path, across a foot bridge, and under a larger wooden bridge. Along the way, I see, alternatively, a doe, a family of deers, or a male deer WITH antlers. At the end of this walk, I end up at McHenry Library, which is surrounded by Redwoods, and where, most days, an entirely different family of deer are munching the grass on the library lawn.

I think the people who have gone to school at UCSC or have worked here for a while are no longer dumb founded by the persistent presence of deer. But, I spent 7 years living in LA, where the best view on a hike is the Hollywood sign and the vistas are largely scanned for celebrity sightings. To me, seeing deer everyday is magical. And some mornings, the fog weighs down on the hill, covers the library, and I really feel like I might wander into a fantasy land.

If you’ve been following my #30SantaCruzFirsts, you’ll know that I have not posted a picture of deer everyday. Mostly, because I thought it would be excessive. And, it would also be unfair – because most people do not get to go to work in the redwood forests. They do not get to watch deer chew grass as they walk to a job that is challenging and exciting in all the best ways. Nonetheless, these 30 days have not been all deer. They have also not been as contemplative or emotional as my last 30 days in LA. I no longer feel like I’m dwelling in multiple past lives or crafting a memory of my life. Rather, I feel like I’m celebrating the unbelievable setting that I get to work in everyday.