Since 1981, the Columbus Jewish Historical Society has collected decades of Jewish history in Columbus and elsewhere.'
Although her mother, Marti Rosenfield Goorey, died in 2012, Susie Petrak says, "I can hear my mother now," as she poses for a photograph. " 'Susie! Your bangs are in your eyes.' "
Luckily for Petrak and her sister, Sharon Starr, they still have the opportunity to hear that voice just by pushing "play."
Goorey's is one of nearly 300 interviews the Columbus Jewish Historical Society (CJHS) has conducted, transcribed and posted on the Oral Histories page of its website, columbusjewishhistory.org.
The organization's interview subjects represent a wide range of experience, from rabbis to veterans to people who have lived in Columbus their whole lives to those who have made a great economic impact on the city (Schottenstein, Solove, Lazarus).
CJHS started recording the stories in 1981. There are around 25 in Hebrew and Russian that still need to be transcribed. Each story, no matter the subject's background, is treated with reverence.
"We want to celebrate them within the Jewish community and help show how all of these groups of people have helped make Columbus what it is," says Toby Brief, president of the organization's board of trustees.
Flo Gurwin leads the group's Oral Histories Committee. She helps train interviewers on the art of asking questions and makes a point to tell them to get out of the way of their subject's story.
"Some have overcome amazing circumstances, but everyone has a story to tell," Gurwin says. "I enjoy doing it. Everyone is different. You really have to have a feel for the person you are interviewing."
The recordings are kept in the society's small Bexley office, and they occasionally loan them out to interested family members.
"Such a gift, to hear mom chatting and laughing and sharing her story," Starr says of her mother's September 2011 interview, which both sisters attended but waited until last November to listen to because it hurt to hear it so soon after her death. "The timing was precious. The tone of her voice indicates how happy she was with her life."
CJHS has big hopes for the future of the project, including creating digital stories using clips of the recordings and perhaps images of the interviewees curated into various reoccurring subjects and themes, such as migration (both to America and around or out of Columbus), faith, discrimination and the Jewish community's business and cultural impact.
History is more than worthy of our attention, the project members say-to the community and individuals alike.
"But for that strong [CJHS] community, we wouldn't have information that adds so much value to our family history," Starr says. "Families should take advantage of the resources. We plan on starting volume two, our stories, soon."
Through Brief's genealogical investigation for the sisters and their journey with their mom's oral history project, Starr and Petrak have found cousins, added six generations to their family tree and discovered their ancestors founded Agudas Achim temple on East Broad Street.
"This project made me feel the weight of responsibility of carrying Judaism forward," Petrak says. "It weighs heavily on me that they left everything they had for religious freedom."
That aspect of surviving persecution is part of what makes some of these stories so sacred.
Look no further than Fran Silberstein Greenberg's interview transcript, recorded in 2004. She was in her 60s and recounted her earliest memories as a Jewish child in Paris. In 1942, German soldiers sent her father, Simon, to Auschwitz, where he died. Her mother sent Greenberg and her sister to foster homes soon after "so she could run and hide without worrying about us."
Voices are important-in all senses of the word.
"My grandma used to call me 'Shar-Shar,'" Starr recalls. "I'll never hear that again. I'm so glad I can pass this on to Mom's grandchildren."