Interview: Jeremy Katz of The Breman MuseumStuff You Missed in History Class
- 1,045 views
- 7 Apr 2021
Holly sits down with Jeremy Katz, the director of archives at The Breman Museum to talk about his new book "The Jewish Community of Atlanta," his career in history, and the expansive archives at The Breman.
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Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast. I'm Holly Frind. And I'm Tracy B. Wilson. Tracy, I had a very fun conversation recently because I had the opportunity to chat with Jeremy Katz, who is the director of archives at the Brevin Museum here in Atlanta. And he recently wrote a book which is out now that's titled The Jewish Community of Atlanta. And it's part of the Images of America series.
In our chat, we talked about the book, but also how he made history, his life's work and the long history of Atlanta's Jewish community.
There are two events that come up in the discussion that you've probably heard us talk about on the podcast before, especially if you're a long time listener. One of the trial of Leo Frank, which was covered by previous hosts, Sara in Dublin in 2011, and we ran that as a classic episode in April of Twenty Eighteen. The other is the 1958 bombing of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple. We did an episode on that in twenty seventeen and we're going to run that as an upcoming Saturday classic.
So now let's jump into my talk with Jeremy because there is a lot of great ground to cover, including a recent acquisition which ties the past to the present.
We're here with Jeremy Katz, the director of archives at the Breneman Museum.
So first of all, because particularly for people that don't live in Atlanta and even a lot of people that do well, you just tell us about the Brevin Museum and what it is and what its mission is.
Yeah, well, first of all, thank you so much for having me on. And I'm excited to talk about this community's history and and the Jewish community of Atlanta. The museum is Georgia's Jewish Museum. It is our mission to connect people to Jewish history, culture and arts. Our physical space includes three exhibition galleries, an auditorium and an archive that holds the largest repository for Jewish history in Georgia. So we're a very unique institution. Our archive is one of the most incredible collections in the country.
We have material dating back to colonial America, says Jewish community in Savannah that arrived at 1733 up until present day. We've been doing some collecting during the pandemic to document the Jewish response to the health crisis. And what's also unique about our collection is that we collect history in all formats. So we have media artifacts, textiles, documents, photographs. We do not discriminate against history. And so we have this really eclectic collection that we use for exhibition purposes, for research purposes.
We get hundreds of research requests from around the country, folks, filmmakers, genealogists, students, teachers that want to access our primary sources. And in addition to that, we also do a lot of secondary source interpretation, like this book project that are going to be talking about. But we also have a Google Arts and Culture page. We do tons of programming that reach tens of thousands of people. So we our mission is broad and it's a lot of fun to work at the British Museum because every day I get to do a little something a little different.
I will also just say from my own perspective that museum has had some of the most spectacular exhibits I could ever imagine that Maurice Sendak exhibit. There may have been awkward tears on my part. That was a really, really good one.
Yeah, we've had some really fun exhibitions we had with Dr. Seuss. We have one that we brought in that was about Whodini. A lot of people don't realize his Jewish heritage. And so it allows us to be a little flexible because our mission is broad. But we do focus on local Jewish history, but we can kind of dial it in and out. We have an exhibition space that's just for special exhibition so we can bring in exhibitions from around the country or explore topics about Jewish contribution to American Jewish history.
I love it.
So I mentioned already that you're the director of archives at the museum, and I know it's always fascinating for our listeners to hear how people ended up in history, jobs that are particularly when they're not just like standing at a lectern and teaching. Will you talk about your journey to having a career in history? Was this always your path?
Yeah, exactly. Like many other history nerds, I didn't really want to go into teaching history. I wanted to work hands on with history. And I also fell into this career path. I was an undeclared major entering college. I only took a history class because my friends on my dorm floor were also taking a history class. And I was like, Sure, I'll join you all. And I ended up absolutely loving it. And I got the highest grade of all my friends.
I was like, OK, I guess I have a knack for this. And I decided to declare a history major and my senior year I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. Like I said, I didn't want to teach. I wanted to work more hands on it. So I applied for an internship with the local Jewish community that was putting together an exhibition about Jewish life in central Ohio. And my part was to. Research the artifacts and write the labels for the artifacts, and I absolutely love that that responsibility, and it led me to look into grad school for museums and archive programs.
And I actually ran into my history teacher in high school when I was home for the holidays. And he said, there's this really great program for that Wright State University in my hometown, Dayton, Ohio. And I made the appointment to meet with the director of the program, who is also the director of the Special Collections and Archives at Wright State University. And we hit it off. And at the end of the meeting, she said, Do you want to hold an original print or the first flight?
They have the largest collection of Wright Brothers papers that Wright State University. And so she took me back to the vault and she handed me an original print that was developed by Bellbird or the famous print that you see when you look up the Kitty Hawk flights. And as soon as that photograph hit my hands, I was like, yep, this is it. This is definitely what I want to do. And I work with these primary sources. I want to go out and grow, preserve and increase access to these collections.
And I wound up getting a graduate assistantship that Wright state. So not only was I in the program and learning, I was also working in their special collections, working with my teachers to get hands on experience, which was a fantastic way to receive an education. And then after graduation, I got a postgraduate internship at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, which is an incredible institution that's been collecting Jewish history in America since World War Two, since the Holocaust.
They have an incredible collection that spans across the entire country and to colonial America to the present day as well. And then I got the job in Atlanta in 2013. I've been here the last I just celebrated my eight year anniversary at the Breneman and it's hard to believe it, but it's been an absolutely incredible experience. When I first moved here, I knew nothing really next to nothing about Atlanta's Jewish history and and Jewish life in the South. And so I've just been a sponge and fascinated by this topic, trying to absorb everything I can.
And working with this collection has been just the opportunity of a lifetime and no shortage of things to sort through and look at and absorb.
If that's the case where our archive is vast and there's good job security because there is a whole lot to do, but a lot of fun, too.
So that brings us to your book, which is part of the Images of America series, and it is titled The Jewish Community of Atlanta. And I was wondering, how did this book happen?
Was this something where they came to you or did you go to them? How did it all come together?
Yeah. So as you all may know, the Images of America series is massive. They've published, I think, close to 10000 of these books in a production line by Arcadia Publishing. And so Atlanta was a little late to the game that they you know, there's been the Jewish community of Savannah, the Jewish community of Chattanooga, all these different Jewish communities from around the country have published images of America series books. And so Arcadia has been approaching us for years to write this.
And in the past, we weren't really quite ready. Yet we have this extensive photograph collection, but we there was so much backlog that it would have been really hard to write this book. We would have had to sift through some really rough inventory is to try to find the images that we were looking for to tell this story. But in twenty seventeen, we received grant funding to hire a photo archivist who over the course of the next three years, catalog 10000 images.
So along the way we were kind of had this project in the back of our minds like, oh, look, you know, keep an eye out for really unique pictures that document the Jewish community and its contributions to Atlanta. And so last in two thousand nineteen, we realized we were really ready to to take on this project and tell this story. And it really since day one, since I started the dream and I kind of knew that there was a book in the archives that there was this as I was going along and finding having all these aha.
Moments of like, wow, the Jewish community has contributed disproportionately in so many ways to the city of Atlanta. So many icons, when you think of this city, have to pay homage to the Jewish community. And so along the way, I was kind of had a running list of like, oh, like Coca-Cola was first order that Jewish owned pharmacy and Georgia Tech was started by a Jewish entrepreneur like Emory University, like everything that you think of Atlanta as those connections.
And so I kind of had a running list. And so when we finally signed the contract, I basically I have like a first draft and. Yeah, and so we formed like a book review committee made up of board members and lay leaders. It was a very kind of committee, judicious process that we went through to. And select images, but it was one of the most it's been one of the most rewarding projects that I've worked on and in the archives to see it come to fruition and shine light on this little known subject of Jewish life in Atlanta.
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I'm glad you mentioned how little known it is, because I don't think people realize that the Jewish community has been part of Illiana from literally day one.
And you mentioned in the introduction to the book, there's a great line where you say Atlanta's Jewish community is a microcosm of Jewish life in America. And will you talk a little bit about you've already touched on some, but about how, you know, Jewish life in Atlanta began and also how it has become that kind of microcosm that mirrors the rest of the country?
Just like you said, it was day one and Lanta was incorporated in 1845. There are already two members of the Jewish community there, Henry Levy and Jacob Haas, that had a business, a dry goods store in the city. And like so many other frontier towns, it's hard to it's very easy to forget that Atlanta was once this frontier railroad town, you know, knowing what it is today. But it was this kind of backwoods place for its early life.
And like so many other frontier towns, the Jewish community began with pedlars that were immigrants that settled in port cities, were given a pack of goods lent to pack of goods by a supplier. And they would then take those those goods door to door. Eventually, they would save up enough money to get a bike or a horse and buggy and spread further out into the countryside. And once they saved up enough money and found enough, found a place that was hospitable enough for them, they would then settle down and open a physical store.
And that's how the Jewish community got started in Atlanta and how it got started throughout the rest of the country. And throughout that entire process there were they disproportionately contributed to the community that there's this misconception that the Jewish community is homogenous. That's not true at all. There's a lot of diversity within the Jewish community. And that was true in Atlanta and so many other cities throughout the country. You have the you know, the Eastern European Jews, the Central European Jews, the Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews that came to Atlanta and made a very diverse tapestry of Jewish life in Atlanta.
And oftentimes those communities didn't really get along. So there were kind of oil in the water in Atlanta, just like other cities around the country. And also this microcosm in Atlanta. There's some major instances of anti-Semitism, like so many other places around the country have experienced. And that was true in Atlanta as well. There are three major instances of anti-Semitism, the lynching of businessman Leo Frank, the temple bombing during the civil rights movement and the deliberate expulsion of Jewish students from Emory's dental school in the 1940s and 1950s.
But another really significant point of this microcosm is that the charity and the benevolence of the Jewish community, the first nonprofit in the state of Georgia, was the Hebrew Orphans Home, which still exists today as a Jewish educational loan fund. But when it was founded, it was an orphanage to care for those less fortunate in the community. And that's true not just for taking care of the Jewish community, but beyond. You know, there were members of the Jewish community that set up free health clinics and all sorts of different services, not only for the Jewish community, but for the general community as well.
So talking about charity, anti-Semitism, the diversity, how Jews wound up in these small towns to begin with, that's a story that can be told really throughout the entire country as well as in Atlanta.
Yeah, our listeners may recall we did an episode actually on the temple bombing a while back and talked about, you know, that strange just the way it played out with the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Yeah.
And it really some people call it the bomb that healed because it helped heal some of those old wounds that were created by the Leo Frank case, which was a very traumatic experience for the Jewish community. Really, up until Leo Frank, the Jewish community had succeeded in ways that other Jewish communities had it, because in the south, social lines are drawn by color of skin rather than religion. And so they weren't really the ostracized community. And so the first time maybe in their lives, especially if they were fleeing persecution in Europe, they were first treated as first class citizens and given this opportunity to succeed.
But by the turn of the 20th century, there's these massive waves of immigration from Europe and other places around the world. You have a rapid change in terms in terms of the industrialization of the south. That led to a lot of nativism, a lot of prejudice against minority communities, particularly communities like the members of the Jewish community that were very successful business owners, a lot of animosity towards them, especially with child. Labor, you know, had young boys and girls working in factories that were owned by Jewish entrepreneurs, and that stirred up a lot of anti-Semitism.
And Leo Frank, who was a Jewish businessman, a superintendent of the national pencil factory, really became kind of the brunt of this powder keg that exploded when this little girl named Mary Fagan was found dead in the basement of the factory and he was convicted of the crime, sentenced to death by hanging, went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where the verdict was upheld, seven to two. The two dissenters argued that he didn't get a fair trial because of all the anti-Semitism surrounding it.
Actually, those two dissenting arguments are now common law. So if Leo Frank was tried today, I think there would have been a mistrial. And so that had a lasting repercussions in terms of the legal landscape of the United States. But even though that verdict was upheld in the Supreme Court, the governor of Georgia, John Slayton, looked at all the evidence and decided to commute Lefranc sentence of death by hanging to life in prison. But unfortunately, Lynch law was very much so in force at that time.
And a group of very powerful members of the Marietta, which is a suburb of Atlanta where Mary Fagan was from, and other members of the Atlanta community, including a former governor, including a judge, organized this mob to abduct him from prison and lynch him outside of town. And so that was a very traumatic experience for the Jewish community. And a lot of people book and that with the temple bombing, because it was an outpouring of support for the Jewish community following the bombing, you are obviously a font of information, right?
You just I mean, I didn't tell you that I was going to ask you about any of that beforehand, and you just have it. So I'm wondering, I know you said you turned in a essentially a first draft was ready when you had signed this book deal. But I'm wondering what your research process was like, because I imagine the hard part, as we all know, is editing and taking out the things that just there's not room for. What is that process of building up and paring back like for you on something like this when it is a subject that's so important and obviously that you're passionate about?
Yeah, it was a difficult process because there's so much that we could have included in this book and the images of America stories, they're very strict about how many images you can include and how many pages it can be and if you've noticed. But our books are exactly the same length. And so I had to work very hard with our committee. We put together a book review committee made up of very passionate and knowledgeable people that helped guide me on this journey as we code information or added information that was incredibly important to make this book as well rounded as it is.
Really the goal of this book was really it was three fold was first and foremost to showcase the remarkable photograph collections at the Bremer Museum, which measured tens of thousands of images. So that was obviously why it was very hard to to select the right images. Even today. I'm like, do we select the right ones? I could come across things, other ones that are better. A second reason was to to really make this community's history highly accessible and a low barrier fashion.
You know, this book is available wherever books are sold and is written for audiences of all ages. There wasn't really something like that exist that existed. When I first came here. I was trying to be a sponge and absorb all this community's history so that I could do my job. And I was having trouble finding something like this. It was either like really highly academic literature on it that was, you know, a little beyond what the layperson would be interested in reading or it was not.
It was like maybe self published and so was really hard to find. It wasn't highly accessible. And so that was another reason why I wrote the book, is that I just kept having all these aha moments when I started working here because I had to really search out this content. And luckily, being the archivist at the museum had unbridled access to all these primary sources. And just through my day to day responsibilities of helping people access the archives and process collections and present this information to the public, I just kept coming across all these significant contributions and and things that I just hadn't seen anywhere else.
And so that's another reason why I wrote the book, is that just really for my own purposes and for people in the future, that it's just kind of something they can easily grab off the shelf. It's not like a. Massive volume that's dense and full of text, it's very image driven, it's kind of like a thirty thousand foot view that basically anyone with the fourth or fifth grade reading level can pick up and learn something about this community's history in a very visual way.
Yeah, the visuals make it so rich.
And I wanted to talk about just a couple of them to give listeners and kind of a sense of how this whole thing works and how you're using the imagery to open up discussions about the Jewish communities history here on pages forty and forty one, there's a really lovely two page spread of a photo of a shopkeeper. And you use that as the the way to to be the entry point to talk about the Jewish communities relationship with the black community in Atlanta. Will you talk about that a little bit?
Yeah, I'm so glad you mentioned that because this book is really supposed to start discussion. You know, we we had such limited space to work with that we wanted to include those those important nuggets that we wanted people to learn about, but also to be a jumping off point and really kind of say that, like, each of these chapters could be its own book. I mean, there's so much there that we can go into.
But related to the Jewish business owners relationship to the black community, a lot of these businesses were owned by either first generation immigrants or second generation immigrants who had fled persecution themselves from around the world and came to America. And here they are confronted with another minority community facing prejudice. And even though they may not have felt the prejudice upon themselves because typically Jews are lighter skinned, so they could pass as as members of the white community, they sympathize and empathize with the plight of the black community.
And and Jewish businesses were the first to hire blacks in sales positions and not just doing the day to day cleaning or sweeping or the entry level positions, but at a management level. They were also the first businesses to offer credit to members of the black community. And even some of the department stores were the first to have dressing rooms for the black community. There was this kind of saying in the department store business that you could you could buy, but you couldn't try because they didn't have dressing rooms for them.
So there is a deep connection. And also the the Jewish community was particularly those those first couple of generations, they were impoverished. They came here with next to nothing. And so they would settle next to the black neighborhoods because that's where where they could afford. And so they would set up shop. And so there was a close relationship between these minority communities and a kind of symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship where they could help each other get by with their day to day needs and necessities.
In my head, I just thought, like, oh, I would love for you to, like, co-author a book with someone from, like the King Center and do a really deep dive on that. I think it would be amazing.
I love that idea. I mean, this is going back like long before the civil rights movement, like we're talking about like the nineteen teens on. I mean, it really goes back long before it was in the mindset of people in the national spotlight.
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There's also another really it's more of a lighthearted topic, but there's a fun picture that really stood out to me when I was reading through this book, and it's on page sixty one. It's five women and they're all looking very elegant. They have beautiful long gowns on, but they also have these very chic coats with the fur trim and they look very giggly and it's snowing. And the caption mentions that they're en route to an event at the Mayfair Club.
Will you talk about the Mayfair Club and what it was and how it functioned? Yeah, definitely.
That's one of my favorite pictures, too. I think it really captures like a sight guys out there of the time. And the maybe a couple was significant because I mentioned earlier this diversity in the Jewish community and how the Eastern European Jews that came over the 19 teens didn't exactly jive with the Central European Jews that came over in the late eighteen hundreds because there was a generational gap. There was an economic gap, there was a religiosity gap. And so they formed their own congregation.
They formed their own social clubs. If you've seen The Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Yeary, the award winning playwright is the only person to have won the Triple Crown, which is the Tony, the Academy Award and the Pulitzer. He wrote this trilogy about Atlanta's Jewish history that Driving Miss Daisy people are very familiar with that the Academy Award winning film that started as a Broadway play, as other two two plays that are part of this trilogy are The Last Night of Ballyhoo, which is about this division in the community of a member of the German Jewish community, inviting a member of the Eastern European Jewish Community to this dance called Ballyhoo and the whole ethnic prejudices between these two communities coming out.
But the third one was about the Lefranc case called Parade. And so the Mayfair Club existed kind of in between this this division. So there was a standard club which was for this Central European German speaking Jews. And there was the progressive Jewish Progressive Club, which was for the Eastern European Yiddish speaking Jews. But the Mayfair Club kind of occupied this rare space in this deeply divided Jewish community and at the time of its founding in 1930. So that picture is actually from the founding.
That was their first event at the Biltmore at that time. I mean, the Jewish community was essentially segregated. We have this incredible population study that was done a little bit later in the 1940s. It perfectly illustrates this division because you can see one grouping of enclave of the Jewish community north of Ponce de Leon Avenue, which is a major thoroughfare in Atlanta and another enclave south of Ponce de Leon Avenue. And that was kind of the dividing line was Ponce de Leon Avenue.
But by the time that the Holocaust and the birth of the state of Israel, but even before that, the Mayfair Club was founded in the 30s, we start to see, especially when it comes to the the second generation, the third generation members of the community, it starts to homogenize. Not only are they becoming more Americanized, that they're not they don't have these kind of traditional roots in Europe that they're reflecting on. It's more of these American values and also starting to focus on their shared Jewish values, particularly after the Holocaust.
You know, that obviously was a traumatic experience for the Jewish community. And they realized we have a lot more in common, that we have differences. And also, the founding of the state of Israel was a really huge rallying call for the Jewish community to come together and work together to support Jews in the community and around the world. So the Mayfair Club was kind of the first semblance of this homogenisation and the Jewish community of Atlanta.
What do you think? If you could tear it down and I know you've talked about several of the kind of key events of Jewish history in Atlanta, but what do you think are are two or three of the most important things for people to know about Atlanta's Jewish history, potentially, if they want to learn more like where the entry points that are best?
Yeah, this is something I've been thinking about. And I didn't include this in the book because I didn't like just been thinking about this recently. But I can kind of frame Atlanta's Jewish history by three booms and three busts, the three booms being following reconstruction. That's when we have the first glass of Coca-Cola sold at Jacob's Pharmacy, the first non profit state of Georgia, founded the first congregations, founded all Jews being involved in the Chamber of Commerce and and all sorts of different political, social, economic things in Atlanta.
The second boom being after the civil rights movement integration, that's when we get a proliferation of Jewish congregations and we start we get the first Jewish summer camps and the and the first Jewish day schools and and a home for the aged. A massive boom in the Jewish population at that time and then following the Olympics as well. And that's really kind of those last two. All three of those are across the board in terms of Atlanta and its growth, but also in terms of the Jewish community as growth and after the Olympics that really propelled Atlanta into the twenty first century.
That's when we start to get all sorts of different festivals. For example, the Jewish Film Festival in Atlanta has grown into the largest Jewish film festival in the world, the largest film festival in Atlanta. They just concluded their their festival for this year and all sorts of new Jewish entrepreneurs, for example. This is something I didn't include in the book, but I kind of wish I had was Spanx was founded here in Atlanta by a member of the Jewish community.
We have all sorts of different restaurants that are owned by members of the Jewish community that cater to the deli and and all sorts of different fusion related to Jewish food. And so there's been kind of a renaissance following the Olympics and all these these three different booms. But there's also we can't overlook and sweep under the rug these busts, these three instances of anti-Semitism that I mentioned earlier that really are pivotal moments in Atlanta's Jewish history. And it all started with Leo Frank and caused the community to kind of go underground.
And I mentioned this in the book that not no member of the Jewish community ran for public office for over 15 years following the lynching. And it was a very traumatic experience that has been healed a little bit by the temple bombing that the outpouring of support following that and also the apology from Emory University in 2012, apologizing for the anti-Semitism that took place in their dental school in the 1940s and 1950s. So some people bookend a real frank case with the temple bombing.
Some people bookend it with the apology. But I'd say I would say today that the Jewish community is definitely feels like Atlanta is supportive, a good place to settle and feel comfortable in its framework. You know, the fact that my book has been out for literally just a matter of months and it's already outdated because of John Allsorts historic victory becoming the first U.S. senator from the state of Georgia, that my book is already outdated. But I think it's so indicative of the contributions that Jews are making everyday to this city.
And so there's a lot of different entry points into the Jewish communities. History in Atlanta just depends on what you're interested in. If you want to focus on the diversity, if you want to focus on the instances of anti-Semitism, the contributions, the massive contributions that Jews have made to the city, and to think of the Bremer Museum as a resource, we have this incredible wealth of primary sources that are available to the public that we're working every day to democratize access to this incredible history.
So I'm glad that you mentioned John Asaph, because tying that to something you said earlier about the breadth of your collection and how you have things both very, very old and very, very new, you made a new acquisition recently. That is really quite cool. Will you talk about it? Yeah.
Just last week, I picked up the Bible that John Ashcroft was sworn in on during his Senate confirmation, and it belonged to Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, who was a civil rights activist rabbi at the temple, the oldest congregation in Atlanta. He was friends with Martin Luther King, actually. He was the chairman of the committee that created the first integrated banquet in Atlanta that was to honor Martin Luther King winning the Nobel Peace Prize. So it's a really remarkable that John Asaph reached out to the family to have that history perspective and tying the past, the present to the future.
And I think it just shows, you know, his objectives and his vision being focused on social justice and in advancing civil rights. And we're going to be featuring this Bible in our upcoming exhibition, History with Hutzpah. It's all about the archives and featuring content from our archives, which, as I mentioned, spans from the colonial America till now, the present day connecting the past, present and future.
That's so cool. How did it come about that you guys got to take possession of it?
Yeah. So it belongs to the family, which we have a very close relationship to. We work Janiece Rothschild, Rabbi Rothschild's widow. We're very, very close to. We actually had a. Program all about honoring her, all about honoring her a couple of weeks ago, that attracted close to a thousand people, Alfred Yeary, the famous playwright, was the keynote speaker for the jinnies Rothchild symposium, the first annual, and we're connected with her, her son, Bill Rothchild, who it belongs to.
And we also have a very close connection to the temple. So the Bible belongs to the family, but they want to give it to the to the temple and we haoles the temple records in the archives. So we have a very close relationship to both the temple, the Rothschild family, and they were nice enough to allow us to acquire this Bible, to put it on display for this exhibition.
That's also excellent because, you know, at that point, too, it will be preserved and cared for in a way that that it is not ever lost to history, which is so important. Exactly.
You know, that that this belonged to a major civil rights icon. It was used by the first Jewish senator for their swearing in ceremony. And now it's going to be in our museum being protected for future generations to view and learn about this remarkable history.
Since you do work as an archivist and you've talked about how much you have really made an effort to just take in every piece of information possible, I know you had already spent a lot of time on all of this before you worked on the book, but were there any surprises that popped up while you were actually prepping the the book for publication where you like? I did not know about this.
Yeah, that happened all the time. I think the biggest surprise was Jay Scream. If you're not familiar with this, it's a genetic test that you can take to determine if you are a carrier for genetic diseases that you and your partner would pass on to your offspring. And this is something that I did myself. My wife and I did this testing and I had no idea that it was founded in Atlanta by members of the Jewish community and founded by the Marcus Foundation and partnered up with Emory University.
And this test is available throughout the entire country for one hundred dollars, which is for something of this nature is and is incredible that they were able to offer this service. But I'd say that's probably the biggest surprise was the pandemic was not that hit like three months before the book was due. And it was certainly a challenge to work in a pandemic and try to write this book. I'd say there was a silver lining. The fact that I was had a lot more time at home meant that I had a lot more time to write the book.
But I'm in the office. I get distracted with researchers and co-workers coming in to ask me about all sorts of different questions. But the biggest challenge was that our doors were closed to the public. I had access to the archives, but it was a very, you know, a very uncertain time. And so I had to kind of like make a running list of images that I wanted to go into the archives and scan or find and kind of pick a day and plan my day out to go into the archives and literally just search for images all day because my time was so limited in the archives.
So the pandemic certainly threw a curveball. The book doesn't include the pandemic because it was just so new. You know, his only book was due in June. The final draft was due in June, the pandemic hit in March. So just to fresh to talk about in the book. So the book really covers up until the end of twenty nineteen, but there were a number of occasions where I was just blown away. I mean throughout my entire career as I was coming across all these different contributions.
I mean we're talking about Coca-Cola, Georgia Tech, Henry Grady Hospital, Emory University, the Atlanta Braves, the High Museum of Art, WABE, Atlanta's NPR station, the Georgia Aquarium, Mercedes Benz Stadium. I mean, these are all icons of Atlanta that pay homage to the Jewish community, you know, not just from the book writing experience, just from my experience working in the archives and coming across this and being like, why hasn't this already been written about?
Right. I mean, this is such an incredible contributions that shape this city. And so it's been a long haul, but there have been a lot of surprises along the way.
This might replicate your answer regarding the pandemic being a surprise, but was that the hardest aspect of working on this project or was there something else that was difficult?
There was also the tearing down what it meant just to select and also what stories to include. I mean, there's so many members of the Jewish community that have contributed to the fabric of this Jewish life in general life in Atlanta. And so that's why I relied heavily on that committee. I didn't want this all to be my responsibility to greater responsibility. And I want people calling me and saying, oh, you did include. My grandpa, my grandma, and so I had to be I wanted it to be a selection by committee so I could defer to them is like, oh, we have we only have space for one of these two stories.
And I would defer to them. It's kind of a vote by committee and say, which story do you think is really important to include in the book? And I really think, like I said, that this book is a jumping off point. I mentioned in the acknowledgement that this is not every single story that about Jewish life in Atlanta. It's really supposed to be a very general, highly accessible, low barrier, a way for people to kind of get their foot in the door and interest them, get them thinking about the topic.
And if they're interested in learning more, come to us. Come to the museum as a resource. Speak to Emory University's Jewish studies program. There's so many other places and resources where they can learn more about this topic and then to close out, because I always like to end on an up note.
What was the most fun part of this project?
Well, I will say I'll zoom out a little bit, because this book project is part of a larger initiative to democratize access to our archives. So in addition to writing the book, we also published a Google Arts and Culture page that we launched that in May. We're doing a hard launch next month with an Atlanta rollout. Page is going to feature dozens of cultural arts institutions in Atlanta. It features hundreds of objects from our collection and online exhibitions. Really cool platform that's highly accessible and easy to navigate, very intuitive.
We also overhauled our entire collection catalog system to the industry leading content management systems that put the museum on par with Yale University and Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia and all of these leading archival institutions around the country and some cases where even industry leading. We've done some really cool things that only US and Yale University have done, which is with our oral history collection, which has been a lot of fun to work on. We also hold a number of programmatic series.
We just concluded a six week series all about Atlanta Jewish history, where we talked with experts in the field on each week. We focused on a different topic and invited those experts in on those topics to come and talk about them in great detail. And that reached over a thousand people. That was that. We've done three or four of these series throughout the pandemic and reach thousands of people. And we're also in the process of putting together a whole exhibition called History with Stories Told and Untold.
All of this content is coming from our archives for this big twenty five year anniversary of the Braemar Museum, and it's really highlighting our archival collection. So this book is part of a larger scheme to make our history more visible, to highlight it to and share it with the community so that we think that that is a way for people to connect with this community. That is a very highly transient population. Over 80 percent of the Jewish population in Atlanta was not born here, and over 50 percent of those people are not affiliated with any Jewish organization.
So we are working hard to to connect these people that are unaffiliated, that are not born in Atlanta. I was one of those people when I first moved here, and I found it hard to to connect with the community at first. It took a while for me to find my footing. And so projects like the book and Google Arts and Culture and making our collection more accessible to researchers, there are collection catalogs, overhaul or public exhibitions. It's a multipronged approach that stems back to our strategic plan to make our contents of our history and our archives more accessible than ever before.
So the book was a lot of fun to work on, but I get to work on so many other fun things every day to make this history accessible and use the latest technology and to work with colleagues across the state and across the country to really bring this history and make it more accessible, more searchable than ever before.
I love it. And lastly lastly, where can people go to find more info about the Breneman Museum?
Yeah, go to the Breneman dog. You can check out our Google Arts and Culture page by our book. It's available wherever books are sold and feel free to contact me, find my information on our website. I'm always happy to talk to people about our history, share links to where you can find all this information and think of me as a resource and then bring the museum as a resource.
Careful what you wish for mind. Thank you so much first. Spending this time with me, I really appreciate it. You know, Gus is my pleasure and thanks for highlighting the book and the Prema Museum and it's been such a pleasure talking to you.
Many, many thanks to Jeremy Katz for spending time with us and to the Breman Museum, which you can find at the Breman. That's BRM. And Doug, they have a lot of great resources online, including if you want help with genealogy research, there is a whole little hook up there. The book, once again, is The Jewish Community of Atlanta, which is part of the Images of America series. We have some listener mail for us to wrap up today's episode.
I know I sometimes get I get into listener mail, repeat routes because I will get a lot of mail about something. And it's sort of exciting to me that people are learning about a thing for the first time. This is from our listener, Karen, who writes Hello and thank you. Thank you for the wonderful history lessons you've created for your listeners all these years. My hour long commute to work is much more tolerable because I have your insight into all kinds of stories to keep me company.
She writes, I finally found a reason to write you sidebar. You can write us for any reason just to say hi. I listen to the Isadora Duncan episode and freely admit I had never heard of her demise, her life and work. Yes, but not her death. I'm a theater historian and college professor. Yes, a Ph.D. in theater history. Also sidebar. Thank you for being an educator and knew of Duncan from her connections to Constantine Stanislavski and George Bernard Shaw.
They talk about her being an inspiration. Yeah, I never knew of her tragic end or even that she was American. So much more for me to learn. And then she gives some interesting suggestions for the show, as well as sending pictures of her cats, which I love. She writes, I really look forward to your shows and have learned so much. I'm also appreciative of your approaches and methodologies to history, especially that you highlight bias and privilege where they have clearly shaped our collective understanding of events.
Keep doing what you do best. Karen, thank you so much for your beautiful kitty pictures. They're so precious.
But I also just it's always thrilling to me in a way to realize that that we have accidentally filled a gap, because as I said in my intro to those episodes, I feel like a lot of people know the shorthand of Isadora Duncan is she died in this horrific way, but they don't know much about her work.
So it's interesting to me to get the opposite perspective of, oh, I knew all about her work.
I did not know about that end or that she was American, just a school. So if you if you would similarly like to share these interesting perspectives with us, you could do so at History podcast it I heart radio dotcom. You can find us on social media as missed in history and you can subscribe to the show on the I Heart radio app at Apple podcasts or wherever it is you listen.
Stuff you missed in history class is the production of I Heart Radio for more podcasts from My Heart radio visit by her radio app Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.
Just because your family doesn't mean you relate Yarbro site to see your new dog. Did you buy it from someone famous? Ha ha, very funny. You do know it was Matt Damon, right? Tonight on ABC, a new comedy about three siblings who discover while money can divide us.
So think of them as your baby brother. Think of him as a cartoon duck swimming in a pool of gold coins. Family unites us to look up to me. We way down to know. Home Economics series premiere tonight. Eight thirty seven thirty central on ABC.