Covid-19 – Building a Jewish Archive
In January, when Hidden Treasures was rapidly taking shape, we thought that live events would be the best way to help visitors engage with archives. We wanted to organise lectures and hands on events with our partner archives. Then March rolled round, the Coronavirus crisis began, and plans had to change. Hidden Treasures went fully digital – our launch was livestreamed, and our planned events are all online. This shift was mirrored around the world, with most forms of social interaction, from teaching to birthday parties suddenly shifting onto the internet. ‘Zooming’ stopped being about cameras and instead became a near universal feature of home and office life. And the Jewish community was no different.
One of the most striking elements of the Jewish response to COVID-19 has been this rapid digital evolution of British Jewish communal life. Some Synagogue activities moved online, working within religious rules to create a continuity of communal life, and new types of social engagement have entered the popular understanding. Disruptions to religious festivals, Pesach, Shavuot, and Lag Ba Omer, have required modifications to adapt traditional celebrations into digitally appropriate forms. All these changes have generated a vast number of documents and a huge quantity of data that will be of great interest to social historians going forwards.
At Hidden Treasures we saw this happening, and realised that we had a perfect opportunity to use this opportunity to start the Board of Deputies’ COVID-19 Jewish Community Response Archive. It aims to gather a representative sample of the digital ephemera as it relates to the ongoing pandemic – announcements, newsletters, and advertisements – being produced by various Jewish communities across Britain.
The Board’s communications networks, especially its links with synagogues and community organisations, have been the main method by which the archive has been gathering material. Calls for material have been put out through the Board’s regular announcements resulting in a steady inflow of material from a large number of sources. The majority of the material is from synagogues and community organisations, with synagogue newsletters being a particular way of observing the weekly change in community reactions to the crisis. However, more material generated by non-Jewish organisations, like city councils aimed at their local Jewish populations, is being submitted to the archive as time goes on.
Emerging out of crisis, the Jewish Community Response archive is a small and ad-hoc initiative, but we’re eager to grow and develop the project. We’re part of the international archiving effort, spearheaded by the National Library of Israel, and hope to turn the archive into a valuable resource for the community in the future. You can find some of the archive’s highlights on our COVID-19 Archive page, as well as a link to send your own material to us. We collect digital material and are excited to grow the archive even further.
— Daniel Cesarani
Hidden Treasures: Celebrating the documents, photos and artefacts in British archives that tell the story of Jews in Britain