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Jewish feminist archives donated to university

Project Kesher, a grassroots organization helping connect Jewish women in former Soviet States and Israel, has donated documents dating back from the organization’s founding in 1988 through 2015 to the Brandeis Archives & Special Collections department to expand a current archival project by the university and decrease their personal archives. 

These donations will help expand a current project that special collections is working on to build its collection on Jewish Feminism, as part of the American Jewish and Israeli Feminism Archives Collaborative, Associate University Librarian for Archives & Special Collections Sarah Shoemaker told The Brandeis Hoot in an email. 

The materials donated include “correspondence, board of director meeting files, reports, surveys, subject files, fundraising and marketing materials, press releases, and more” from 1988 to 2015, which demonstrate the grassroots organizing of Project Kesher, according to the Brandeis Archives website. Prominent files in the donation include information from the International Conference of Jewish women in 1994 and files from the Voyage on the Volga in 2004, which is an event marking the 10 year anniversary of the first international conference. If all the materials that were donated were lined up side-by-side, it would be 35 feet. 

Shoemaker added that the special collections at Brandeis has been working with Project Kesher for a number of years to go through the acquisition of materials. Project Kesher’s donations will be added to Brandeis’ primary-source research collections, which are available to all members of the Brandeis community. 

“We do not operate like a museum, with only the materials on exhibit available,” Shoemaker wrote. “All of our collections are here to be used and studied.”

Project Kesher is a Jewish feminist organization that helps to support women of the former Soviet Union rediscover their Jewish identity by building community between Jewish women, according to Project Kesher’s website. The organization grew into a larger women’s organization that focused on promoting women in leadership within their personal communities. 

Founded in 1989, two Jewish women, Sallie Gratch, a social worker from Illinois, and Svetlana Yakimenko, a teacher from Moscow, traveled throughout Russia and Ukraine speaking with Jewish women “determined to stay, despite historic oppression and the depth of need in their communities,” according to Project Kesher’s website

“The two activists discovered Jewish women living next door to one another, without knowledge about their connection and shared heritage,” reads the website

Gratch and Yakimenko brought Jewish women from these communities together “to share in their re-emergence of Jewish life post-Communism and learn about civic engagement,” according to their website

Today, the organization helps Jewish women in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia and Israel develop leadership skills to advocate for “Jewish identity and renewal, economic self-sufficiency and women’s health.”

“Brandeis is proud to be the home of these significant collections documenting work in Jewish feminism,” Shoemaker told The Hoot in the email. “Including the materials of Project Kesher in the archives of a university allows them to be preserved, studied and made available to students and scholars not just at Brandeis but around the world.”

The archives are continuously collecting research materials that relate to Jewish feminism, which include the works of prominent Jewish feminists, including E.M. Broner, Sandra Butler, Aviva Cantor and Marcia Freedman, and the archives of organizations like Project Kesher, Advancing Women Professionals, Ma’yan, and Lilith magazine.

“Our growing focus on materials to resonate generations into the future by documenting the past, and in some cases, the present as well,” Shoemaker wrote to The Hoot. “Documenting and preserving the records and history of this important work builds research collections for the future. These papers represent and illuminate the work of many hands and minds across the globe, and we are delighted to see them coming to center here at Brandeis.” 

The University Archives and Special Collections is located on the second floor of the Farber Library and are open to all members of the Brandeis community to see the archives that they house. They are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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