Dr. Beth Goldstein and Dr. Janice W. Fernheimer are leading a collaborative effort to preserve the oral histories of people who have a place in the diversity and complexity of Jewish history in Kentucky. Goldstein is a professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation at the University of Kentucky College of Education. Fernheimer is associate professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies in the UK College of Arts and Sciences. She is also director of Jewish Studies, and holds the Zantker Charitable Foundation Professorship in Jewish Studies.
The Jewish Kentucky Oral History Project is a partnership between UK’s Jewish Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education, the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence (JHFE), the UK Libraries Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and the local Jewish community. UK students are making significant contributions to this innovative initiative to document and preserve Kentucky’s Jewish heritage.
The project’s goal is to establish the largest sustainable collection of Kentucky Jewish oral histories in the state. Originally conceived to collect a minimum of 55 interviews from Jewish Kentuckians, the collection currently includes 78 interviews and continues to grow. Many of the oral histories are already publicly accessible through the Nunn Center’s digital repository, the JHFE Jewish Kentucky Oral History Collection.
To celebrate, UK recently hosted a two-day Kentucky Jewish History Symposium at the Hilary J. Boone Center. The symposium featured a public keynote lecture by Professor and Rabbi Gary Zola, executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. The lecture placed Kentucky Jewish history in its national and transnational contexts.
Additional sessions featured national scholars, UK faculty, and students as presenters.
“We are absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to make Kentucky’s rich Jewish history more visible by hosting this symposium right here on UK’s campus. The invited speakers’ and student researchers’ presentations will highlight the long history and important contributions of Jewish Kentuckians throughout the Commonwealth,” Fernheimer said prior to the event. “We are especially proud of the many UK students who helped make the growth and digital indexes for the collection possible.”
At a keynote lunch, attendees heard from Louisville politician Jerry Abramson. He talked about the influence of Jewish values on his public service career. Abramson was the 55th lieutenant governor of Kentucky. He is also the first person of Jewish faith to have served as mayor of Louisville. Abramson held the role of longest-serving mayor of Louisville with 21 years of service. The full program can be found at https://jewishstudies.as.uky.edu/kjhs.
So far, twenty-one students have had the opportunity to publicly present their work on the project at national conferences, including the Southern Jewish Historical Society and Rhetoric Society of America. Of those students, 19 were scheduled to participate during the symposium on campus. Several of their podcasts can be accessed at: https://jewishstudies.as.uky.edu/kjhs-podcasts
“I recently used an excerpt from one of the interviews in my field studies course,” Goldstein said. “The speaker is Leon Cooper, who lived in Lexington for 60 years until his death this February at age 90. He worked at IBM and was one of the inventors of word processing. He just tells these wonderful stories in the interview, such as working to create a typewriter that could handle Japanese. I have loved getting to know people through these interviews, and the interesting lives they have lived.”