Identifying the Impact of the OJA

For over 45 years, the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre has been collecting, preserving, and making accessible, records that document the vibrant history of the Ontario Jewish community. These records are not only valuable sources for researchers of Jewish life and history in Canada, but also are poignant gateways to individual and shared stories that are integral to Jewish community identity and belonging. By creating opportunities for learning about and understanding Ontario’s Jewish history, the OJA directly impacts the growth and continuity of community identity. But how can this impact be measured?

The OJA has partnered with the University of Toronto iSchool on a collaborative research project that seeks to explore how community archives impact their communities. With funding from the Partnership Engage grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), this pilot study will demonstrate the different ways in which the OJA has played a role in building, strengthening, and preserving Jewish community identity and heritage in Ontario. Both the OJA and iSchool are excited about this opportunity to work together in bridging scholarly research with community organizations in the field.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 3393.

Israel Independence Day celebrations, Sudbury, 1953.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 3393.

The project will take place in three stages. The first phase involves a graduate student from the iSchool embedding themselves in the archival work of the OJA. Working alongside the archival staff, volunteers, along with researchers and community members of the OJA, the student will have an opportunity to learn and witness firsthand the affective encounters that take place through the process of donating, using, and sharing archival records and the stories that they hold. By participating in the work of the OJA and conducting informal interviews with the broad spectrum of OJA community members, the student will identify methodologies that make clear the difference the OJA makes in the community. The second phase will involve collecting data using the identified methodologies. The final stage of the project will involve the addition of a second student to analyze and report on the data collected to assess the effectiveness of the methodologies. The goal of the project is to identify and develop tools for community archives to understand and demonstrate their value and impact to stakeholders and the larger community.

The first phase of the project is already underway. An archival student, Yoonhee Lee, has joined the OJA archival team and is beginning to familiarize herself with the OJA programs and services, along with its collection. She is not only excited to work with the records of the OJA, but also is eager to meet and talk to the people that make up the OJA community from archival staff, volunteers, donors, researchers, program participants, social media followers and more!. Stay tuned for more updates as the project unfolds.

Read more about this exciting project here.