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Thursday, December 25, 2014

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Jewish Archives launches upgraded website

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Dara Solomon, Ontario Jewish Archives director

TORONTO — UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre has launched a new mobile-friendly website. The site includes an interactive map feature called Jewish Landmarks of Ontario, and more than 25,000 entries describing OJA holdings.

Ontariojewisharchives.org went live March 24, and was designed to be accessible to everyone – “our grandparents, our school-aged children, and of course, the scholars of Ontario’s Jewish history and heritage,” the centre’s director Dara Solomon said in a news release.

An Ontario government grant of $49,050 provided about half the funding for the upgrade. The remainder came from community donors and the federation.

Redesigning the site was one of the first things Solomon wanted to do when she became director of the archives in May 2012, OJA archivist Donna Bernardo-Ceriz told The CJN.

The website’s “Landmarks” feature focuses on Toronto’s Kensington Market/Spadina area, and other places will be added in the future, Bernardo-Ceriz said. The feature consists of “an interactive map where you can click on points of interest on the map, and a pop-up box appears with a brief history of that site, and then scanned media from our holdings – photographs, audio-visual clips, and documents,” she explained.

Other online content includes documents, photos, videos and exhibitions on topics including artists, community leaders, Jewish organizations, anti-Semitism, small Jewish communities, early synagogues, and the Jewish Canadian military experience.

The centre’s previous site, designed in the early 2000s, “was good for what it was, and [for] the time,” Bernardo-Ceriz said. However, it lacked some “key features,” like the new data base and its descriptions of the archives’ holdings, almost 4,000 of which can be seen online – enabling users to research, or just browse, from home.

“In the past, when people had a research inquiry, they would call or email us, and we would do the search ourselves to find records that were appropriate for their research. We would be making decisions in many ways on their behalf about what types of records they should be looking at.”

Researchers who use the archives include genealogists, academics, students, television production companies, and donors to the centre. Genealogists in particular may be interested in 1925 and 1931 Toronto Jewish city directories with business and residential listings. The directories were on the old website, but “hidden,” said Bernardo-Ceriz. “Nobody knew they were there.

“We have such wonderful treasures… about 5,000 cubic feet of records, about 60,000 photographs, and none of it was really being presented to the community,” she added.

“We’re really excited to have it up there. I hope people really take advantage of what’s on offer. The whole idea is to get it out there to the community so that they know we’re mandated with safeguarding the Jewish community’s heritage and their history. We want to make sure they have access to it as well.”

Solomon stated in the press release, “We hope to make the diversity of the Ontario Jewish experience relevant for a 21st century audience, and to encourage visitors to the website to consider their own pasts and to contribute their voices to this ongoing story.”

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