Whether reciting the Torah, telling the story of Passover, simply kibitzing or recounting tales of fools and sages, Jewish oral tradition runs deep. Oral histories preserve the stories of our elders: their memories, experiences, and first-hand knowledge. Sharing our stories strengthens community, encourages intergenerational understanding, and democratizes our understanding of history. Oral history collections include experiences of many narrators and reflect the complexity of lived experience, providing a rich resource for future generations to better understand our past. The Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative (BJHI) oral history projects document immigration stories, the founding of synagogues, neighborhood life, community organizations and businesses, changing traditions, and the range of Jewish life in Brooklyn. BJHI provides a central database for Brooklyn Jewish oral history and welcomes your contributions. BJHI can help preserve your archives and share them with a wider audience, and help you create those archives by training interviewers in your community to begin collecting oral histories.
In partnership with the Brooklyn Historical Society, BJHI makes oral histories available for listening in a variety of ways, giving access to the audio/video of the interview, not just the transcript, because voice contains so much information that cannot be translated into text.
For more information about the oral history collections and how you can listen, visit the online catalog:
RABBI HARA PERSON (born 1964) -
Bio:Rabbi Hara Person grew up in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn and currently lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn with her husband, Yigal Rechtman, and their two children. She has been a member of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue since the 1970s. Rabbi Person was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1998. She attended Amherst College, where she graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and has an M.A. in Fine Arts from New York University/International Center of Photography. Rabbi Person is editor-in-chief of the CCAR Press. She recently published The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, while she formerly served as editor-in-chief of the URJ Press. She is the co-editor of That You May Live Long: Caring for Our Aging Parents: Caring for Ourselves and Stories of Heaven and Earth co-authored with her mother, Dr. Diane Person. Rabbi Person first taught at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue from 1979-1981, and then again from 1988-1990. From 1990-1995, Rabbi Person was BHS Educator.
Citation: Rabbi Hara Person, Oral history interview, 2010, Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn Heights Synagogue
RITA SCHWARTZ (born 1937)
Bio:Rita Schwartz was born in Brooklyn in 1937. Her father was born in Latvia and came to the United States as a young child with his mother and brothers. Her mother came to the United States as a young child from a small town in Poland. Rita’s maternal grandmother only spoke Yiddish. Rita grew up in Brooklyn until after WWII when the family moved to Forest Hills, Queens. Rita became very dedicated to music at a young age and attended the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam and she has most recently learned to play the harpsichord. She studied music and dance therapy at NYU. She has worked as a music therapist, community organizer and political lobbyist. She currently lives in Brooklyn Heights and was one of the founders of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue’s homeless shelter and she accompanies the choir on piano.
Citation:Rita Schwartz, Oral history interview, 2010, Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn Heights Synagogue