RIJHA kept to its mission during this historic era


PROVIDENCE – On March 14, 2020, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island sent out a notice saying that a decision had been made to close the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center for a week to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

When we left the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association’s office on Friday, March 13, we did not know that we would not return until the beginning of June. The brief “pause” that many Rhode Island businesses planned turned into almost three months; for some, it was even longer.

We very quickly received approval to work from home. Thankfully, we got help creating our at-home work stations from my husband, Derek, who was able to set up remote access to our computers in the office at the JCC. This gave us access to everything but the physical archive.

RIJHA office manager Jaime Walden coordinated with the JCC maintenance staff to pick up any mail we received and to check phone messages once a week. We sent out a newsletter to let our members know what was going on, and promised to work on getting them access to some of the regularly used genealogical material in the archive.

The first thing we did toward that goal was to make our collection of digitized newspapers available on the RIJHA website, www.rijha.org. We also made our obituary collection – over 12,000 of them – accessible through the website. Our digital initiatives seemed fruitful as we regularly received research requests throughout 2020.

Another project we have worked on during the pandemic is a collaborative effort with several other New England-based Jewish history organizations. We created the New England Jewish History Collaborative (NEJHC), and over the course of about two years, 2019-2021, put together a resource website and webinar that launched on Jan. 21.

This collaborative effort has been virtual thus far, but we hope 2022 will allow us to finally meet in person to continue creating content that spreads awareness about Jewish life in New England.

This year has brought us back into the office, where committee meetings are being held in person. Annual meetings are still virtual.

We held our fall meeting via Zoom earlier this month, and presented another digital initiative, the Jewish Rhode Tour, at https://rhodetour.org, and also accessible to our members through the RIJHA website.

We are looking forward to resuming all events in person, when it is safe to do so.

KATE-LYNNE LAROCHE is the executive director of Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association.