The 47th Annual Jewish Community Book & Arts Fair will begin with a unique lecture at 5:30 PM on Sunday, November 3, at the JCC's Benderson Building.
“Jewish Community Memories” will highlight the program, slated for the Main Lobby and the Maxine & Robert Seller Theatre. A reception and book signing for Dr. Chana Revell Kotzin’s pictorial account of Buffalo’s Jewish community will follow the lecture. Kotzin is the Archives Coordinator at Jewish Buffalo Archives Project, Bureau of Jewish Education, a prolific and successful grants writer, and a meticulous editor.
Buffalo Books sat down with Dr. Kotzin this week to talk about how she became interested in the history of the Buffalo Jewish community.
Linda: Tell us a little about why Jewish history and not some other aspect of history became your specialty.
Chana: When I was growing up in the UK, we were a very unafiliated, assimilated family. My father was in the Forces and we moved around all the time. I also grew up in Australia, so we were always on the move.
Linda: Do you mean the Armed Forces?
Chana: Yes, my father was a pilot, a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force. He was from the north of England—his family had been French Jews. There is very little known about them. So we also went to Israel, which is where my mother was born, in pre-State Israel, Palestine at the time. After my father died when I was eleven, we weren’t in the Forces anymore, so my mother decided to go back to her roots. It was an extended trip, over the summer.
Linda: How old were you then?
Chana: Eleven, a very impressionable age for going there and really getting a feel for the country—and then I went back repeatedly there after that, after studying at university. I spent a year in Israel after finishing my undergraduate work, and I took an army training course called Marva. It’s where you go for training if you are considering Aliyah—moving there permanently and becoming a citizen.
Even though I was old enough by that time that I wouldn’t have had to go into the army, the army is very much a part of Israeli life, and so I really wanted to have a sense of it as part of the cultural language. I had a lot of family in various places in Israel. But my mother became very ill and so I went back to England.
When I was considering staying in Israel, it was to use my original career training, which was geology--and to specialize in hydrogeology. British education is very much more focused than it is here. You do exams when you are sixteen that enable you to study to do more exams to let you get into university! At that time, also, girls were being pushed to go into science.
Linda: It’s interesting that geology has some things in common with what you do now as a historian.
Chana: Yes, well, geology is the history of the earth! I realized it was an aesthetic for me, not just a science. It was a love of the landscape; it was how that landscape was transformed. So I wasn’t just a geologist at core. You really have to train quite significantly in the UK. I had had to take all kinds of geology for three years, and there wasn’t the one year of liberal arts.
Linda: That sounds almost like doing graduate work.
Chana: Yes, perhaps a master’s. It’s a very focused undergraduate degree. But I took all kinds of education at City Lit in the evening, many of them by Ronnie Landau. He was teaching there, but also taught at Spiro, a Jewish institution. So I was trying to get a liberal arts education also!
Linda: So where would we find you on an ordinary day now?
Chana: The range is huge-- for instance, researching a question from anyone with an interest in Buffalo/Niagara Falls Jewish life. I have had inquiries from Israel to Hawaii! Not all the inquiries are from the Jewish community. Their families may have married out many decades ago and they are trying to find a relative.
Many inquiries are from local Jewish residents. Research questions can be from genealogy to photographs of a favorite synagogue to a confirmation picture. Some can be researchers interested in local architecture, or the cold war, for instance.
The bulk of my work is surveying primary collections of materials from organizations, such as photographs, minutes, flyers, recordings, and commemorative materials: anything that tells the history of an institution. I then organize this and place at the university so everyone has access to it for research.
Besides this, I advise institutions on how to look after their materials, give lectures and talks, and oversee volunteers and interns. I do all of this according to national professional standards that I continually check, so there is a lot of administration too, as well as reading in my field of Jewish studies, maintaining a clippings filing cabinet, and doing ongoing training.
And I contribute to the professional life of the community archives through various activities, on committees and through conference presentations.
Linda: I know your husband is an historian also and a professor.
Chana: While I was studying at Hebrew University, I met my husband, Daniel Kotzin, and of course, he is an American, so we are here. And at some point in all those years of study and moving, I decided to focus on Jewish history.
Please note: The lecture and reception are free and open to the community, but reservations are a must. To save your place, call Mindy Ponivas at 716-204-5380 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The program is sponsored also by the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, The People of the Book Endowment, and the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Buffalo.
Linda Chalmer Zemel teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College.
Linda's articles on the human condition are in her archives as the Buffalo Alternative Medicine Examiner.
Find Linda’s other columns about the Western New York literary scene in the Buffalo Books Examiner.
Contact Linda at email@example.com