Exhibit, Nov. 17 lecture to profile Jewish history in Harrisburg

November 03, 2008

 A photographic exhibit and a lecture focusing on the history of the Jewish community in greater Harrisburg are coming to Penn State Harrisburg's Center for Holocaust and Jewish Studies.

The lecture on the history of the Harrisburg Jewish community by Bruce S. Bazelon of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is free to the public at 6:15 p.m. Nov. 17 in the Morrison Gallery of the campus library. The unveiling of the exhibit in the Schwab Family Holocaust Reading Room in the library, which will be on display through spring, also is free to the public.

Thanks to generous community support and involvement, Penn State Harrisburg has taken the lead in preserving the legacy of Jewish experience and Holocaust survivor generations in central Pennsylvania. The Schwab Family Holocaust Reading Room, made possible through a gift to the campus from Linda and the late Morris Schwab, serves as the center's focal point.

"No other institution locally can provide the library resources and campus involvement coupled with community engagement that we are able to in Holocaust and Jewish studies," said Simon Bronner, distinguished professor of American studies and folklore and the center's lead faculty member.

"These donations, as well as past support for resources such as the Holocaust and Genocide Collection of books and other media, allow us to extend the college's expertise and facilities to bring Holocaust and Jewish studies to audiences ranging from school students and their teachers to our students to researchers and to the community at large."

Bazelon's Nov. 17 illustrated presentation is titled "Kovno Comes to Harrisburg: Lithuanian Judaism in Central Pennsylvania, 1883-1945." He is the author of "The Jews in Pennsylvania" and "Chisuk Emuna: Strength of Faith."

The photos in the exhibit titled "A Considerable People: The Jewish Community of Greater Harrisburg," offer glimpses of the community's history from the early 20th century to the present. They are drawn primarily from the collections of the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg with loans of private materials from Bronner, Susan Silver Cohen and Joseph Woolf. The photos were scanned and printed in the campus' communications studios. The title of the exhibit refers to a national Jewish newspaper's observation in the 19th century that the Harrisburg community had accomplished a great deal considering its size. It is a tradition of community activity that has continued into the 21st century, according to the exhibit's curator, Bronner.

Harrisburg's Jewish community counted fewer than 600 residents as late as 1905, but increased in size tenfold in the next decade when it received immigrants escaping pogroms, poverty and oppression from the Russian Empire. Beginning in the 1950s, a second wave of immigrants arrived from war-torn Europe and could attend a range of synagogues designated as Reform, Conservative and Orthodox.

An organization designed to bridge divisions and also represent communal interests was launched as the United Jewish Community in 1933. Before then, a Y.M.H.A had been formed to provide Jews with cultural and recreational activities and a Jewish community newspaper had been established in 1926. The “Y” changed its name to the Jewish Community Center in 1941 and moved into a new facility uptown in 1958 as the Jewish neighborhood moved north.

It also was during this period that the community dispersed in numerous directions beyond its ethnic enclave between Division Street and Linglestown Road -- toward the West Shore, northeast into Susquehanna and Lower Paxton townships, and east in Hershey. If no longer situated exclusively in a neighborhood, the diverse community comes together culturally at holidays and socially in a number of causes and pursuits. The Jewish Community Center, renovated in the 1990s, has collaborated with Penn State Harrisburg by donating its oral history collection to the library for research and remembrance.

The Nov. 17 event is sponsored by the campus’ Center for Holocaust and Jewish Studies. A Kosher food reception will follow Bazelon's presentation. For information, contact Bronner at sbronner@psu.edu or phone (717) 948-6039.

Last Updated May 06, 2010