The American Jewish Archives Receives Grant to Fund Digitization of Rare Aluminum Audio Disks Containing the Sermons of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA) at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's (HUC-JIR) Cincinnati campus announces that it has been awarded a $38,340 grant through the Recordings at Risk grant program, a national re-granting program administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). Recordings at Risk is a national competition for the preservation of rare and unique audio and audiovisual content of high scholarly value through digital reformatting.

The grant will fund the digitization of original recordings of sermons and addresses primarily of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, together with other speakers, delivered during worship services that were held in New York’s Carnegie Hall from 1934-1942. Wise is considered among the most significant American religious leaders of the 20th century. 

“News of this grant award to the AJA will be a tremendous boon to researchers, scholars, and students across the globe — now and for generations to come,” explained Dr. Gary P. Zola, Executive Director of the AJA and the Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor of the American Jewish Experience & Reform Jewish History at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati. “Once digitized, these audio recordings of Rabbi Wise’s sermons will carry listeners back in time to experience the power of this man’s oratory for themselves.  This collection contains topical sermons on many of the most salient and controversial issues of that era, including his comments on Civil Rights, Hitlerism, American society, politics, and much more.” 

Rabbi Wise’s sermons were captured on discs made of aluminum.  The recorders were introduced in the late 1920s. They were used for making amateur studio or home recordings or in coin-operated "record-your-voice" booths at fairs and arcades.  In the 1930s, these aluminum discs were frequently used to record performers for radio broadcasts.  Wise’s Sunday morning addresses given at Carnegie Hall were recorded on aluminum disk recording devices, and they were frequently played on radio networks hours after they were delivered. Most of these sermons have not been heard since the day they were recorded. Professor Zola stressed that,  “Bringing the content of hundreds of Rabbi Wise’s rare and remarkable recordings into the stream of history will bring forth anew one of the most powerful voices of the 20th century.”

Generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Recordings at Risk program will award a total of $2.3 million between January 2017 and September 2018. Substantial proportions of the nation’s audio and audiovisual recordings documenting vital, irreplaceable aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century life will be lost due to the fragility and obsolescence of audio and audiovisual media. For more than 20 years, CLIR has partnered with organizations to help raise awareness about the legal and practical threats to audio and audiovisual content. The Recordings at Risk program also works to help institutions identify priorities and develop practical strategies for digital reformatting; build relationships with partners; and raise awareness of best practices. The next round for Recordings at Risk applications begins on December 1, 2017. More information is available at www.clir.org.

“Congratulations again on receiving an award for the second call of Recordings at Risk,” wrote Mr. Pedro Gonzalez-Fernandez, a program associate at CLIR, in his award notification letter to Dr. Zola. “This was a very competitive process and we have been amazed at the quality of the projects put forward.”

The digitation of the recordings should begin on December 1, 2017and be completed by October 1, 2018. Once completed, they will be uploaded to the AJA’s website for universal access.

For more information, please contact Joyce Kamen at 513-543-8109.

The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, founded in 1947 by its namesake on the Cincinnati campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, is committed to preserving a documentary heritage of the religious, organizational, economic, cultural, personal, social, and family life of American Jewry. The Marcus Center contains over 15,000 linear feet of archives, manuscripts, nearprint materials, photographs, audio and videotapes, microfilm, and genealogical materials.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu