The 100 photos in the series, which were posted to Historic Pittsburgh by the Rauh Jewish Archives, are primarily team photos of Jews engaged in a variety of sports, including baseball, fencing, swimming and softball, but mostly basketball. The teams generally represented the old Irene Kaufmann Settlement and the YM&WHA.
There are other images besides team shots in the collection — individuals who were nominated to the Hall of Fame — but the Rauh decided to make the series it posted about the team shots only.
“Those images are really compelling, particularly the ones from the early days,” said Susan Melnick, archivist for the Rauh. “They tell an important story about Pittsburgh and the immigrant community here and how the Irene Kaufmann Settlement responded to that community by providing activities — wholesome activities for the young people that would help them acculturate — [like] playing baseball. It was a very American activity and there were so many stereotypes of immigrants. Coming in and playing sports helped to make these kids Americans, which was the goal at the time.”
The team photos also have an appeal to Jewish residents living in Pittsburgh today, she added, many of whom posed for some of the shots.
“So many people who live in Pittsburgh today can look at those pictures and find someone they know or find themselves,” Melnick said.
Founded in 1982, the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Western Pennsylvania provides financial support for Jewish sports programs in Western Pennsylvania and Israel. But it is better known for honoring area Jewish men and women who achieved a high level in athletic competition or careers in sports-related fields.
The photo collection, which the Hall of Fame gave to the Rauh in 1998, is accessible in its entirety at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Smallman Street in the Strip District.
This is the third posting the Rauh has made to the Historic Pittsburgh archive. Five months ago, it posted a series of photos depicting the history of the Hebrew Institute, from its earliest days in the Hill District to its time in Squirrel Hill. Prior to that, in collaboration with Pitt’s Archive Service Center, it posted images from the Irene Kaufmann Settlement.
The Rauh plans to post another series sometime next year.
“We would like to post all our pictures eventually, but it’s a matter of the time it takes, so we have to be selective,” Melnick said. “Digitizing and preparing them (the photos) for Historic Pittsburgh is a time-consuming and resource-consuming job.”
The Hall of Fame series, for instance, took nine months to finish.
Historic Pittsburgh is an online collection of local resources that supports personal and scholarly research of the western Pennsylvania area. The Web site, http://digital.library.pitt.edu/imag/pittsburgh/jewishsports.html, enables access to historic material held by the University of Pittsburgh’s University Library System, the Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center, Carnegie Museum of Art, Chatham University Archives, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and Point Park University Archives.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)