Diarna’s Curator Chosen for Fellowship

Diarna’s curator, Jason Guberman-Pfeffer, is currently a Tikvah Fellow. A profile interview with Jason was featured in The Tikvah Fund Forum. Excerpt:

What does documenting these sites involve? We identify a site within Google Earth, and then build on top of the satellite imagery a data layer: written summaries, archival and contemporary photography, tour videos, place-based oral histories, immersive panoramas, and 3-D models. We have put together thousands of photographs and tens of hours of site tour and interview footage. We are the only organization operating in this field, insofar as Jewish Studies is concerned. There are non-Jewish groups working on applying Google Earth and these new technologies, but no one who is doing what we are—site-specific, place-based oral histories, using the geography as a gateway to understand these communities. It makes other digitization projects more useful. You can have a great archive full of resources, but if it’s not connected to anything else, if it’s a data silo, it’s less relevant. How do you choose or find your sites? The sources are primarily the people who remember them, who once lived there, even though that was decades ago. My lead photographer and I were speaking at an Iraqi synagogue in Queens, and a 92-year-old

woman stood up at the end of our talk and said, “I have to tell you about the home that my father built on the banks of the Tigris.” We said, “Can you show us?” We opened up Google Earth and flew her to Baghdad. And then she told us this amazing story about how she had survived the Farhud, the Nazi-pogromed pogrom. The mob had come as far as her neighbor’s house, and then an airplane inadvertently flew overhead and scared them off. Did you find the house? We found the house; it’s still there. We were able to map it, to record her story, and include it in our layer. What about your work on the ground after you’ve identified a site? We work with people on the ground throughout the region, and then we prioritize where we want our professional photographers to go. Where that proves difficult due to cost and/or the security situation, we work with travelers and local volunteers—young Arabs, “Berbers,” Kurds, and Persians. For many of them it’s a rebellious act. They didn’t know that these Jewish sites existed. They didn’t grow up like their grandparents did with Jewish communities and neighbors. So now they’re discovering that these sites are all around them, and that this hidden history is part of their heritage, too.

Read the full interview here.