Oral Histories

Our oral history collection includes tapes and transcripts of more than 100 oral histories. This irreplaceable resource documents the history of the community through personal recollections and reminiscences, providing researchers with an intimate understanding of the Jewish experience in the Washington area.

Giant Food, 2008-2010

Memories of Giant Food and its founders, Samuel Lehrman and Nehemiah Cohen, from community leaders, former employees of Giant Food, family, and friends. Produced by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and the Naomi & Nehemiah Cohen Foundation, part of the Giant Food Archival Project. Learn more about Giant Food and the archival project here and here.

Highlights video:

Sheldon S. Cohen, 2010-2011

In his oral history, Sheldon S. Cohen told stories of growing up in Jewish Washington, his career in the federal government, and his leadership in the local Jewish community. This project was generously funded by the Kovler Fund.

Highlights video:

Soviet Jewry Movement, 2008-2009

Recollections of community members and diplomats of their involvement in the local movement to free Soviet Jews. These recordings as well as written memoirs are available in our Voices of the Vigil online exhibition.

Here's an excerpt from Ambassador Max Kampelman recounting how a former refusenik approached him after he finished a speech in New York City:

Other Major Collections 

Twentieth Century Life, 1982

Offering insight into early 20th century life of the Jewish community in the Washington area, 30 local leaders discuss businesses, family life, war time, and congregations. Additional copies are housed at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Public Library. Funded by the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C.

JSSA Centennial, 1993

Jewish Social Service Agency’s 100th Anniversary, 1893–1993, testimonies of how JSSA helped community members weather turbulent social changes in the Washington area. Interviews with past JSSA presidents.

Suburban Maryland Congregations, 1988

Transcripts of 1988 interviews with members of the following suburban Maryland congregations: Bethesda/Chevy Chase Community Group, Beth El, Beth Tikva, Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim, Nevey Shalom, Oseh Shalom, B'nai Shalom, Temple Emanuel, Temple Sinai, Temple Solel, Har Shalom, Ohr Kodesh, Kehilat Shalom, Temple Shalom.

Hebrew Home, 1976

Recollections about life before immigrating to America; arriving at Ellis Island; life in New York City; survival of the Triangle Shirt Factory fire; and, local Jewish neighborhoods and businesses.

Ties that Bind: Washington Jews and the Birth of Israel, 1997

Interviews recounting Washington’s unique role in the birth of a new nation. Discussions of the May 14, 1948 recognition of the Jewish state, fundraising, collection of supplies, and political lobbying involved with the creation of the State of Israel.

Tzedakah: Jewish Women Creating a Capital Community (1895-1948), 1996

Interviews with local Jewish women about the ways they engaged in tzedakah (the righteous obligation to care for others). Interviews illustrate the communal responsibilities of women in the creation of Hebrew schools, orphanages, and other benevolent societies.

Want to learn more about oral history and interview techniques? Try these links: