Rediscovering history, preserving family ties, via social media

Miami Valley Jewish Genealogy & History launches with Facebook site

By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

It was Elie Wiesel who said, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”

An opportunity came to Dayton’s Jewish Federation last year to expand our memory work. I’m thrilled to let you know that we have officially launched Miami Valley Jewish Genealogy & History.

Along with my work as editor and publisher of The Dayton Jewish Observer, I’ve also taken on the role of project director of JG&H.

Efforts to preserve and expand knowledge of our local Jewish genealogy and history are not new. Here, we bring them together to strengthen both.

The late Dr. Leonard Spialter founded the Jewish Genealogical Society of Dayton as a non-profit in 1987. He and several stalwart volunteers conducted meticulous, extensive research to collect Jewish genealogical information that will serve us well into the future.

In advance of the Jewish Federation’s 2010 centennial celebrations, archivist Pamela Schwartz led the effort to preserve, catalog, and properly archive the Jewish Federation’s collection, which is now part of Wright State University’s Special Collections and Archives.

With that project as a springboard, I published a book about the history of the Dayton area’s Jewish community last year.

Near the end of 2018, Jewish Genealogical Society President Molly Blumer began a conversation about the genealogical society’s future with Jewish Federation CEO Cathy Gardner. Faced with dwindling memberships and volunteers to put events together, Molly asked Cathy if the Federation could help in some way.


Cathy proposed bringing the society under the auspices of the Federation and expanding it to include our history projects. Members of the society’s board voted yes.

To interest people with connections to our Jewish community, at the end of April, we launched our Facebook group, Growing Up Jewish in Miami Valley, Ohio with the photo at the top of this page and its very Brady outfits. The teens in that 1973 BJE graduation photo are now about 60.

We encourage group members to share memories, memorabilia, and photos at the page.

Now, only four weeks later, we have nearly 800 members — many of whom are expatriates from the Miami Valley — who have already shared hundreds of images and memories.

Every few days, I read comments at our site about people who have met cousins there they had never met. About memories people forgot they even had. About images bringing tears to people’s eyes.

Popular posts include confirmation photos, photos from dances, and synagogue events. Group members have particular fun identifying people in those group shots, almost like filling in a crossword puzzle. The photos have ranged from the 1920s to the early 2000s.

Someone even posted converted film footage of Jewish Boy Scout Troop 65 on an outing to Englewood Dam in 1941 and a Bar Mitzvah celebration in the basement of the old Temple Israel on Salem Avenue in 1958.

In many ways, the site is a living, interactive extension of my book. Here, we can continue to share, learn, preserve, and celebrate the history of our Jewish community. Everyone can share their memories.

“For those who have grown up in this amazing Jewish community, retelling and remembering the history of our community are critically important for both preserving our stories and understanding our history,” Sam Dorf, chair of our JG&H Advisory Committee, says. Sam is associate professor of musicology at the University of Dayton. He’s the author of the 2018 book, Performing Antiquity: Ancient Greek Music and Dance in Paris, 1890-1935 (Oxford University Press). “For those like me who are new to Dayton’s Jewish community,” Sam adds, “it is equally important to chronicle and build an archive of our current impact.”

Also on our advisory committee are Molly Blumer, president of the former society; Sandy Schoemann, an active member of the previous society and one of the most skillful experts in the Miami Valley on Jewish genealogy; and Garst Museum and The National Annie Oakley Center Records Management Consultant Pamela Schwartz.

JG&H is a member of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies
JG&H is a member of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies

As with the previous society, JG&H is a member of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. And by happy coincidence, IAJGS will hold its International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Cleveland, July 28 through Aug. 2. We’ll have a small but stalwart contingent up there representing the Dayton area.

JG&H is now the clearinghouse for queries about the Miami Valley’s Jewish community of the past. We are the repository for Dr. Leonard Spialter’s data, along with the former society’s reference library, which includes several titles from the collection of the late Marcia Jaffe, a longtime society member.

JG&H will hold its first community event Oct. 27, when we host Dr. Ken Bravo, president of IAJGS for the talk, Jewish Genealogy 101: How To Get Started, at a brunch in conjunction with Beth Abraham Synagogue for its 125th anniversary.

Look for JG&H volunteers at the Jewish Federation booth at Temple Israel’s Jewish Cultural Festival, Sunday, June 2. We also hope to see everyone with connections to our Jewish community at our Facebook page, Growing Up Jewish in Miami Valley, Ohio.

For more information about Miami Valley Jewish Genealogy & History, contact Marshall Weiss at 610-1555 or

To read the complete June 2019 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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