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Jewish Culture and Traditions: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, and programming related to Jewish culture and Jewish Americans as documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Image of Maxwell Street Market, Chicago, Illinois.
Jonas Dovydenas, photographer. Maxwell Street Market, Chicago, Illinois. May 1, 1977. Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection (AFC 1981/004). Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to documentation of Jewish, Hebrew, and Yiddish materials and traditions in the American Folklife Center (AFC) archival collections, spanning the 20th century through the present. Featured here are a number of AFC collections that offer items in a variety of formats, including photographs, recorded interviews, artistic performance, and manuscripts, pertaining to Jewish communities from across the U.S.

The AFC has many significant collections of Jewish traditional culture. The Ruth Rubin Collection of Yiddish Folksongs and Folklore is one of the most extensive collections in existence of audio field recordings of Yiddish traditions in North America. The Henry Sapoznik Collection contains thousands of recordings, manuscripts, and photographs documenting Yiddish radio broadcasts, theater, and music in the United States. The Aaron Ziegelman Foundation Collection includes audio and video recordings of oral histories with family members of people who lived in Luboml, Poland (now in Ukraine) between World War I and World War II. The Ben Stonehill Duplication Project includes recordings of over 1000 songs of European Jewish immigrants and refugees recorded in New York City in 1948. Other AFC collections document Jewish songs, music, ritual, foodways, and oral histories from Europe, Israel, Morocco, and elsewhere.

Moreover, a number of collections highlighted in the guide have been made available online, such as the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection. The collection is based on a 1977 cultural documentation project undertaken by over a dozen AFC fieldworkers who fanned out across the city to learn about and document a wide range of cultural communities and social groups, and their cultural practices and expressions. For example, folklorist Shifra Epstein was able to interview the then president, David Weinstein, of the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning, as well as its curator of the time, Grace Grossman. Interviews such as theirs bring to light Jewish traditions and how they are kept alive for future generations. Other Jewish Americans, such as those who fought in the Civil Rights Movement, have been interviewed for other collections, such as the Civil Rights History Project Collection. Photographs from these collections and others are shown in the gallery below.

The American Folklife Center also has significant documentation of Flory Jagoda, a traditional Sephardic singer and musician who fled her native Bosnia in 1941 to escape the Nazi invasion. While living in a relocation camp in Italy, Flory met U.S. army officer Harry Jagoda. They were married in 1946 and moved to northern Virginia, where Flory stayed until her death in 2021. To honor her family, most of whom were killed by the Nazis, Flory made it her life’s mission to preserve the songs, music, and Ladino language of her Sephardic family. She was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the NEA in 2002. AFC has recordings and photos of Flory Jagoda in seven collections, including two concerts and an oral history interview that are available online as webcasts. Flory was also an author and recording artist, and her works reside in collections across many divisions of the Library, including the Music Division, the Hebraic section of the African and Middle Eastern Division, and the National Audio Visual Conservation Center. Learn more about Flory's life and our related AFC collections by reading our Folklife Today Blog post  linked on the "Related Online Resources" section of this guide.

The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.