Capturing Jewish Louisville’s Memories

Oral histories provide a fuller, more accurate picture of the past with eyewitnesses and various viewpoints and perspectives that fill in the gaps in documented history.  Interviewers can ask questions left out of other records and to interview people whose stories have been untold or forgotten. At times, an interview may serve as the only source of information available about a particular place, event, or person.

“Over the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to collect more than 30 new entries for the JFCS Oral History Project,” shares JFCS Oral History Project Manager, Irvin Goldstein. The project was the result of work by Ann and Robert Friedman in 2000. The couple realized that there were so many untold amazing stories in the Jewish Louisville community being gradually lost forever. Since the project began over 150 stories, have been gathered and are archived at JFCS. Family members are often surprised to learn the answers to questions asked by interviewers. “Wow, I never knew that about my dad!” said one surprised son upon reading an interview.

Irvin Goldstein, JFCS Oral History Project Manager

Over the past few months, Irvin has been working with U of L graduate student, Ian Stamper, to interview Jewish seniors to capture their fascinating and often heart-wrenching stories for posterity.  “It can be said that I stumbled into the JFCS Oral History Project,” says Ian, “I was starting the second half of my graduate program and needed another course for enrollment. My advisor suggested I speak with Dr. Omer-Sherman about the Jewish Service Learning independent study that he oversaw.”

“I am not from Louisville originally, in fact, I only moved here a little under two years ago, so I didn’t know much of the city’s history. Through our interviews, however, I’ve been able to construct a much clearer perspective on what the city was like in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and on. There is a unifying event among individuals who lived in Louisville in 1937 no matter where they are today, and that is what most of them call “The Flood.” No matter whom you speak to, they refer to it in the same manner; it’s been engraved in their minds. However, even though they all experienced the same event, their stories are still unique. Stories such as living in a part of downtown that became an island during the flood, trading liquor for meat, or accidentally washing diapers in the drinking water. Each of these instances is unique to different people all sharing the same life-changing experience. There’s a sense of excitement that they have when telling their history, where they were, and how far they’ve come,” recounts Ian.

Irvin adds, “Each story represents what it was like to grow up Jewish in the mid-20th century in Louisville, KY.”

If you would like to be interviewed or want to fill out a questionnaire yourself, please contact Kim Toebbe at [email protected] or call (502) 452-6341, ext. 103, she will send you a packet with everything you need to make sure your stories or those of loved ones are not lost forever. Stories archived at JFCS and are available to view by appointment.

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