Stories Project / Projet d’histoires
Stories Project is the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s participatory
digital oral history initiative. This project is intended to document
unrecorded aspects of the Montreal Jewish experience, while also providing new
and inclusive opportunities for connection and Jewish identity building to all members
of the community, especially those who feel disengaged or marginalized.
Designed to be a scalable, replicable model for community-based testimony
collection, Stories Project centers on a combination of digital tools
and community organizing strategies. While planning for the initiative started
in 2012, the project began in earnest in June 2015 when the Museum launched our
Stories Project web app, which empowers anyone to easily record and
share a story through the Museum’s website (www.imjm.ca/stories). Since then,
we have successfully collected over a dozen new testimonies and engaged more
than 100 people in the story sharing process through online engagement as well
as a series of intimate parlour meetings and our first storytelling event. Our
community manager, Katherine Romanow, has also begun to engage a cadre of
university and young adult researchers and volunteers in the story collection
process. Through the involvement of our first group of student researchers and
volunteers, our efforts have begun to demonstrate how Stories Project can
be a powerful catalyst for stronger intergenerational connections within the
Montreal Jewish community, and for encouraging more diverse community members
to participate in community life.
In the coming year,
we plan to build upon our early successes to involve an even greater cross
section of the Montreal community in Stories Project, and to begin to
reach out to Montrealers who have moved away to include them in our project.
This will primarily be accomplished by expanding the scope of our community
organizing efforts, developing a 10-12 week oral history fellowship program
that will take place in the spring, summer and fall in partnership with various
academic institutions and community groups. We also plan to begin integrating
oral history testimonies into our upcoming exhibitions and hosting more story sharing
events in collaboration with a number of community partners. Finally, we are aiming
to make the Stories Project web app more user-friendly by incorporating
feedback we have received from our early adopters.
What is the mission and purpose of this program?
We are passionate about
empowerment and inclusion, and believe that every Jewish community should
celebrate its diversity and provide opportunities for their members—especially
those who are uninvolved or never felt like they belonged—to share their
personal Jewish stories. Stories Project
is our attempt to realize this goal in the context of Montreal’s Jewish
community by enabling anyone who has a Jewish experience in Montreal to help
create a larger and more diverse picture of the city’s Jewish history. We are
aware that we have a small window to collect and save these pieces of
Montreal’s very unique Jewish experience while members of our community are
still able to tell their stories in their own words, and intend to empower
young Jews to lead this preservation effort as a way to encourage them to take responsibility
for our overall community. We believe this will further serve to promote
diversity and tolerance – both in the context of the community and in broader
Quebec society – while also providing younger or more disengaged Jews with a
new means of connecting with Jewish life in Montreal.
Stories Project aims to enable individuals to
record, preserve, and share their experiences of Jewish life in Montreal, and
to provide a new means of participation and identity building for members of
Montreal’s Jewish community, especially those who are disengaged. The
initiative is comprised of four main elements:
· The Stories Project web
online tool available on the Museum’s website, designed to make the testimony
collection process more grassroots and participatory and to encourage more
people to share their stories by streamlining the process into three easy steps.
· Youth volunteer and research fellowship programs designed to train young Jews
to share their experiences, and to enable them to go out into the community and
help collect stories from older community members.
· Intimate parlour meetings facilitated by the Museum’s community manager to reach
out to more marginalized or underrepresented segments of the Jewish community
to ensure they are given the opportunity to have their voices heard.
· Storytelling events hosted by the Museum in collaboration with the Jewish
Public Library to share the results of our testimony collection efforts with a
wider audience, and to facilitate broader participation in the project, while
celebrating the community’s rich past.
encouraging youth participation and incorporating perspectives of different
Jewish populations, we intend to create a more complete portrait of Jewish life
in Montreal that will be available for future generations. We also hope to
create a greater sense of interconnectedness between the different generations
and populations that make up the Montreal community, and ensure that groups
that have been overlooked in previous efforts to record and document Montreal’s
Jewish history – in particular Sephardic Jews, Hasidic/Haredi
Jews, women, and Montreal Jews who have moved away –
have the opportunity to participate. Through these efforts, we intend to create
a living repository of Montreal’s Jewish stories
that can serve as a model for Jewish communities worldwide.
Montreal’s Jewish history is built upon a diverseStories Project began
array of stories and experiences that have been passed down from generation to
generation. While these stories constitute an important part of the narrative
of Montreal’s Jewish history, many of them have never been recorded, and are
therefore at risk of being lost forever. Furthermore, while Montreal’s Jewish community is
institutionally rich, its many institutions have sometimes struggled to connect
with and engage with large portions of their audiences, in particular young
people, Sephardic and Haredi populations. According to
the 2011 National Household Survey
Analysis of the Jewish Community of Montreal by Charles Shahar, Montreal’s
Jewish community has 12,810 members between 15-24 (or 14.1% of total), 9,915 members between 25-34 (or 10.9%
of total) and 9,520 members between 35-44 (or 10.5% of total). Of a total
Jewish population of 90,780, 22,225 (or 24.5%) are Sephardic and 15,200 (or
16.7%) are Haredi. Stories Project is designed to address these challenges
by lowering the barriers of the testimony collection process, empowering anyone
to easily record and preserve their experiences of Jewish life in Montreal.
in 2012 when the Museum was undertaking research for other projects and began
to realize that much of Montreal’s Jewish heritage exists as part of a rich
oral tradition, rather than in the pages of books or academic papers.
Acknowledging that there is a pressing need to record these stories, we began
looking for a way to collect testimonies from the largest number of different
individuals in the community. After experimenting with creating short form oral
history videos, we began looking for a more grassroots, participatory
methodology. This has resulted in the strategy we are currently pursuing, using
a combination of new technological tools and community organizing techniques to
reach out to populations that are often disengaged or overlooked and to give
them the opportunity to make their voices heard. We believe that crowdsourcing
oral histories will enable us to preserve a larger number of stories from a
more diverse audience than we would be able to reach with a traditional,
top-down approach, and can serve as an innovative model for other Jewish
communities seeking to undertake similar preservation initiatives.
Since the beginning of 2015, the Museum of Jewish
Montreal has successfully:
tested, and implemented our innovative Stories Project web app to
enable anyone with an internet connection to easily record and share
testimonies. The web app went live on the Museum’s website in summer 2015.
three young adult
volunteers, who have begun to go out to collect testimonies from more
elderly or disadvantaged members of the community. We are preparing to
host an additional six-eight student and young adult volunteers in the
winter of 2016.
- Collectedover a dozen stories
from different community members, and shared them through the web app.
more than 50 people through the Stories Project online portal, our Stories Project email newsletters
and over coffee at homes or cafes.
our first storytelling event, In Montreal: Not In Montreal, in
collaboration with Montreal’s Jewish Public Library. The event helped
engage an additional 10 storytellers,
and attracted more than 65 people.
We are hoping to produce a podcast based on the highlights of this event.
How do you measure the success of your program?
Stories Project seeks to employ
new technology and organizing techniques to facilitate Jewish identification, create
connections within Montreal’s Jewish community through story collection and
sharing, and preserve Montreal’s unique Jewish stories for future generations. For
this current year of the project and 2016-17, we are measuring our success by
our ability to:
- Train 10 younger members of the community per
year as research fellows and organizers in order to help them engage with,
connect to, and preserve their community’s story
- Oversee the collection of 3-5 stories by each
fellow, for a total of 30-50 stories per year, as well as 5-7 coffee
meetings with community members by each fellow
- Engage 2-5 younger volunteers per semester, who
will also each carry out 1-4 coffee meetings and collect 1-2 stories each
- Host a series of 10 parlor meetings with 5-15
guests to engage different segments of the Montreal Jewish population and inspire
these groups to share their stories, record their friends or connect us to
further community members
- Use our web application to record at least 20
testimonies from individuals all over the world with connections to
Montreal’s Jewish experience
- Organize at least 4 storytelling events per
year based around different themes with 50-100 guests at each event and
potentially a podcast of the event that reaches at least 50 additional
- Integrate oral history collection into an
upcoming Museum exhibition, and potentially give visitors an opportunity
to share stories as well
- Provide a model for Jewish communities around the world
seeking to preserve and share their history by creating tools and
processes that could be adapted to fit other contexts.
Given that our Stories Project community organizing efforts did
not get underway until the summer of 2015, we are happy with the progress we
have made so far. In particular, we are on target to meet our goals for hosting
storytelling events and engaging younger Jewish volunteers by the summer of
2016. Due to our organization’s limited capacity, we have not yet been able to
meet our benchmarks for the overall number of parlor meetings or testimonies
that we would like to collect, though we are beginning to make steady progress
towards this end. We are also falling short of our goal of curating an
exhibition based on content collected through the web app, though we still plan
to work towards this at a future date. Overall, Stories Project has made
great strides in the past six months in particular, and the Museum feels we are
at a turning point where additional investments in staff, resources and
technology will allow the project to begin serving as a model for other Jewish
communities within Canada and around the world.