Opportunity attracted 19th-century immigrant Jews to venture beyond the major centers of Jewish life in eastern seaboard cities. These pioneers traveled north, south and west in the expanding United States. From beginnings as peddlers, small merchants and scrap dealers, they built successful businesses, grew families and established Jewish communal life in the prairies, hills and backcountry of an expanding nation. Since then, American life has evolved, the nature of business changed and the path of opportunity for the descendants of those who built the businesses and communities has led away from the scenes of those successes.
The same optimism of opportunity that motivated the pioneers must inspire present-day leaders to contemplate the future of communities that were once thriving but are now diminished and on the edge of extinction.
Bricks and granite of synagogues and gravestones tell an obvious story of Jewish life. Preserving those stories and their associated assets within a Jewish context is vital before they are lost.
The Jewish Community Legacy Project (JCLP) addresses the need for small Jewish communities to plan for the future when faced with the erosion caused by aging and changing demographics. JCLP engages local leadership and facilitates the creation of a "Communal Living Will" that identifies specific issues, addresses all concerns and prepares for all eventualities. Each community's requirements are unique but the process applies similarly to each location in terms of phases, time lines and benchmarks. Some of the essential matters considered in the document are cemetery maintenance, disposition of real estate and religious and historic artifacts. Documentation of both individual and group histories is also addressed.
Planning, with the help of JCLP, assures that the past has a place in the future. Action to preserve the stories and accomplishments of trailblazing generations strengthens us all.
The project is funded by The Marcus Foundation, Inc. and administered by The William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum. The Jewish Federations of North America and the National Museum of American Jewish History are partners with JCLP.