Pittsburgh's Jewish archives complete

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More than 100 years of documented Jewish life in Pittsburgh can now be accessed by a push of a button.

After six years spent digitizing 8,700 issues representing 230,000 pages of three weekly newspapers and a newsletter, Carnegie Mellon University announced that the Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project is complete.

The project, which cost about $200,000, was funded through donations the university received in memory of Henry Posner Jr., as well as from the United Jewish Federation, the Philip Chosky Charitable & Educational Foundation through the Heinz History Center, and from online archive users.

Posner was an influential Pittsburgh businessman who died at age 92 in March 2011. He ran dozens of companies, contributed handsomely to local political campaigns and donated millions of dollars to Jewish causes.

The high-end scanner used to digitize the material was a gift from the Posner family, which originally donated it so that the university could digitize his rare books collection.

The idea for the project came from Posner's daughter-in-law, Anne Molloy, librarian at Rodef Shalom Congregation, executive director of the Posner Fine Arts Foundation and CMU board trustee. She noticed high demand for The Jewish Criterion, a weekly newspaper that was published from 1895-1962.

"Rodef Shalom Congregation holds the largest run of The Jewish Criterion," Ms. Molloy said. "We would get lots of requests for searches. ... It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

"Some of them are over 100 years old, and they are very fragile, so you couldn't be paging through them all the time. And not that many people were willing to come in and page through them."

Gabrielle Michalek, head of archives and digital library initiatives for the CMU libraries, oversaw the project.

In addition to The Jewish Criterion, the digitized archives include two other weekly newspapers: issues of The American Jewish Outlook (published 1934-1962), and The Jewish Chronicle (1962-present), as well as a weekly Jewish newsletter, the Y-JCC newsletter series published by the Young Men's and Women's Hebrew Association, the Y-IKC, and the Jewish Community Center (1926-1976).

While they are primarily mined by genealogists, the archives also are used by historians, librarians and other researchers.

"So much of the Jewish community is tied to the history of Pittsburgh ... for example, the growth and development of Giant Eagle," Ms. Michalek said. The supermarket chain had its beginnings in 1918 when three families -- Goldstein, Porter and Chait -- built a small grocery company called Eagle Grocery.

"Because Einstein was Jewish, the Criterion was following his movements pretty closely. You can almost track Einstein's movements, and who he was in contact with -- things like that I don't know how else you would get that information."

The project's usefulness extends beyond the Jewish and Pittsburgh communities.

"When we first released these newspapers, we did a soft release, and within 24 hours I received an email from someone in New Zealand," she said. "Isn't it amazing that someone sitting in New Zealand can access this material that is in Pittsburgh? We've made this collection more important, because more people can use it."

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Maggie Neil: mneil@post-gazette.com


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