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University at Buffalo Libraries

Jewish Buffalo Archives Project

The Oral History Program

Telling your own story provides a first-hand experience for future generations to learn about the development of the Jewish community and family life in the Buffalo and Western New York region. If you are interested in participating in the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project's Oral History Program.

We've tried to answer some questions here:

Questions regarding oral histories in general: Questions regarding the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project's Oral History Program

What are oral histories?

Oral history has a wide variety of meanings and applications. It can range from informal conversations about "the old days" among family and friends, or it can be a systematic program of capturing a group or communities collective history. An oral history usually involves a sound recording of a formal interview and the creation of a written record of this account.

Historical documents and books cannot tell us everything about our past. Oral history fills in those gaps and gives us history that is much broader and more inclusive, and often more intimate and accessible. It is especially useful in expanding our understanding of social, religious cultural and family history.

Why are oral histories vital to recording history?

Oral history interviews document the personal life stories of the people who collectively make up the history of the 20th and 21st centuries. Individual recollections and stories explore our lives from personal, family, social, cultural, religious, and professional perspectives. They also provide essential information where no record is available and reveal first-hand experiences of greater historical events. Our Oral History Program will record the history of the Jewish communities of Greater Buffalo and more generally, ethnic life in America.

What do oral histories provide for researchers?

Oral history may be used in research:

  • to bring a new dimension to local and family history.
  • by young people in schools to explore their own community.
  • by museums, galleries and heritage displays to inform and bring displays to life.
  • to serve as an important new source for all those interested in history.

What is the scope of this Oral History Program?

We plan to collect over 100 oral history interviews from individuals that can talk about their recollections or involvement in seven major areas:

  1. Remembering the old neighborhoods, businesses and Jewish institutions before suburban movement from the city of Buffalo to the suburbs. We are also collecting stories from Jewish community members within Niagara and Erie Counties, outside of the city or suburb.
  2. Long standing synagogue members and clergy of closed and current synagogues or temples.
  3. Community builders and/ or philanthropists, and those who have made an impact in the Jewish community or the wider Buffalo community through community service.
  4. Jewish artists, cultural figures, musicians and academicians who have been active within Greater Buffalo and Erie and Niagara counties.
  5. Those involved in Jewish education in all its forms within Greater Buffalo and Erie and Niagara counties.
  6. Those who have worked for a Greater Buffalo based Jewish agency, Jewish organization, Jewish group or initiative within Erie and Niagara counties.
  7. Recent immigrants (ex-Soviet and post Soviet, Israeli and others).

Who will conduct my interview?

The interviews are conducted by Chana Kotzin, Archivist and Historian to the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project, at the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project office in downtown Buffalo. Interviews can also be recorded in your own home or office, wherever you are most comfortable. Any quiet room away from the sound of a telephone and free from interruptions is the best space. If you have any questions or would like more information contact Chana Kotzin directly.

What questions might I be asked during an oral history interview?

This varies from person to person. Interview questions are generally developed by Chana Kotzin, Archvist and Historian of the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project, to specifically match the life experiences of the person being interviewed.

There are some questions that are asked in every interview. These include basic questions about date and place of birth and a little family history.

The rest of an interview will focus on Jewish cultural and religious life, working experiences, neighborhoods, community involvement (Jewish and other) and the interviewee's experience living within the Jewish and wider Buffalo communities. You do not need to have been born in Buffalo in order to take part in an oral history interview!

Here are some examples of typical questions that might be asked during an interview:

  • What Jewish related activities were you and your family involved in?
  • What you feel you brought to a particular Jewish event, organization, club, group, idea, or initiative?
  • What changes have you seen over the years in the Jewish community?
  • What specific changes have occurred in the area that you grew up in?
  • What were your feelings on the creation of the state of Israel?
  • What was it like to live in Buffalo during the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, etc.
  • Can you describe your experience at school?
  • Were you part of any Jewish youth group?
  • How has your synagogue/temple changed over the years?
  • What do you most remember about Jewish holidays in Buffalo?
  • How has your work in the Jewish community impacted you?
  • What has particularly struck you about life here over the last 10, 20 or more years? What has most surprised you?
  • What are your hopes for the future of the Jewish community in Buffalo?
  • What, in your opinion, is the essence of Jewish life in Greater Buffalo?

How will my oral history interview be preserved?

Each oral history is recorded in digital format and then saved onto a master CD that will be deposited and preserved in the University Archives at the University of Buffalo.