Congregation Rodef Sholom

Congregation Rodef Sholom at 1119 Elm St. in Youngstown was founded in 1867 and is the oldest temple in the Mahoning Valley.

Congregation Rodef Sholom in Youngstown has partnered with the applied history program of Youngstown State University in Youngstown and the AmeriCorps Ohio History Service Corps for the development of an institutional archive of record collections discovered by the temple’s executive director, Sarah Wilschek.

The partnership grew from meetings between Kayla Metzger, the AmeriCorps Ohio History Service Corps member, and Wilschek, hosted by the YSU’s history program.

Shortly after Wilschek assumed her position at Rodef Sholom in April 2019, she discovered boxes of institutional records and keepsakes, including meeting minutes, scrapbooks, letters and financial ledgers in a utility closet on the lower level of the temple. She recognized their importance in telling the 154-year-history of the congregation and of Youngstown’s Jewish history.

YSU graduate students in the applied history practicum course will assist in the first steps in a multi-stage process of developing the archive at Rodef Sholom. Congregants are also volunteering in the initiative and learning how to manage and care for the archives, including Bethany Goldberg, a member of the temple’s board of trustees and music historian.

“I am very excited about this collaboration between the YSU history program, AmeriCorps and Congregation Rodef Sholom,” Goldberg said in a news release. “The hands-on experience is so valuable for the graduate students, and the expertise of the faculty and advisers is a huge benefit for organizing, preserving, and making accessible over a century-and-a-half of our records and artifacts. As we dream about and plan for the future of Rodef Sholom and the Jewish community in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, the archive project will provide a better understanding and appreciation of our past and strengthen the foundation upon which we strive to grow and prosper.”

The model set forth by Wilschek can be replicated by future houses of worship and organizations, according to the release.

“The creation of a formal Congregation Rodef Sholom archive is not only an invaluable resource to our congregation, congregants, and their distant families,” Wilschek said. “It is also a resource documenting the impact our congregants and congregation have had on the Mahoning and Shenango valleys over the past 154 years. We also have collections from synagogues that have merged with us over the years – allowing for multiple entities to formalize their archives.

Wilschek acknowledged the benefits of the initiative include a broader reach, as well as exposure and knowledge the historical records bring.

“Furthermore, partnering with Youngstown State University, Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, the American Jewish Archives and the Mahoning Valley Historical Society has enabled us to have a large reach and add a breadth of knowledge and experience to ensure our archival resource is a success. One of the largest successes of this project is the recognition that we are an innovative collaboration and resource to advise in duplicating our process,” she said.

The long-term goal of the initiative is to develop a research center along with the archives for visiting scholars and classes from local schools to learn about the history of the congregation and Judaism in the region.

For more information, contact Wilschek at 330-744-5001 or at swilschek@congregationrodefsholom.org.

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