Students, public collaborate on book about area's Jewish community

READING, Pa. -- With the help of the Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy at Penn State Berks, more than 25 students from the Berks campus have partnered with the Jewish Cultural Center/Jewish Federation of Reading and with hundreds of members of the local Jewish community to document and preserve some of the community’s Jewish history. The collaboration between classes and the public has resulted in a printed book titled "A History of the Jewish Community in Reading and Berks County."

Two classes of students wrote articles and other feature articles for the book. Students enrolled in the campus’ American studies, communication arts and sciences, global studies, and professional writing baccalaureate degree programs took an interdisciplinary upper-level course that focused on the writing of local Jewish histories. These students wrote chapters on such topics as anti-Semitism, synagogues, businesses and military service. They referenced a variety of sources, including interviews with hundreds of community members.

In addition, six students in the campus' honors writing in the humanities course wrote biographies of Holocaust survivors with connections to Berks County by watching several videotapes of survivors housed at the Albright College Library in Reading. This course helped students understand the context and meaning of testimonies by examining the Holocaust through the perspectives of several different humanities including history, oral history, museum studies, literature and film.

This project is what is known in higher education as community-based undergraduate research, a form of instruction that links students, faculty and community organizations to fill a community need. While these students are not professional historians, their work as historians is a significant foundation upon which to build as the Jewish community preserves its history.

The book was funded by the Howard O. and Jean Beaver Endowment for Community Service at Penn State Berks with some support from the Jewish Federation of Reading.

"A History of the Jewish Community in Reading and Berks County" is available at the Jewish Cultural Center of Reading. For more information, contact Laurie Grobman, coordinator for the Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy at Penn State Berks and professor of English, at leg8@psu.edu.

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Last Updated August 11, 2011