In popular culture, historians are often portrayed as professor-like academics, working among stacks of books in musty offices; or atypical heroes with an adventurous flair whose remarkable physical prowess enables them to rescue lost artifacts from deviant thieves. The truth is, most historians are regular people…men and women who are innately as curious as a detective, and are as passionate and eager to share their knowledge as a proud new parent. In selecting Aimee Ergas for the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan’s 2017 Leonard N. Simons History award, the selection committee lauded her street-level “history chops” and her quiet and careful curation and documentation of Michigan’s Jewish history.
Ergas began her Jewish historical career some twenty-five years ago, first writing articles for the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, then moving on to curate exhibits, bring internationally renowned historians to the area, staging exhibits, and researching all kinds of fascinating stories that have helped to create an understanding of the footsteps of Michigan’s Jewish community’s foremothers and forefathers.
After serving as a volunteer for many years, in 2003, Ergas became JHSM’s first-ever director. In that role, she advanced JHSM from an obscure society into a viable organization by initiating new programs, and attracting new members, donors, and partners. Encouraged by colleagues, she then entered the archival administration program at Wayne State University in 2007, leading to her current position as archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library-Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at WSU. Her projects there have included archiving the papers of Judge Avern Cohn and Max M. Fisher. She also oversees the collections of the Jewish Community Archives, housed at the Reuther Library. Ergas officially left JHSM in 2012, after producing the "Haven to Home" exhibition at the Detroit Historical Museum, but continued to support the organization as both volunteer and advisor.
Among her most accomplished contributions is JHSM’s “Michigan Women Who Made a Difference” (MWWMD) research project and the 2015 publication of the corresponding book. MWWMD is an on-going program that, using volunteers and professional historians, is researching and documenting contributions of women who helped shape Michigan’s Jewish communities. Ergas notes that a community can be defined as geographic, cultural, or professional. The project now includes some 200 biographies and will be soon launched by JHSM as an online archive.
“Having the honor of interviewing Annetta Miller and Sylvia Granader was remarkably inspiring,” said Ergas, who interviewed these two female Jewish war veterans for publication of the MWWMD book. Both served in World War II, Miller as a nurse and Granader a pilot. “I knew so little about these women who sacrificed so much but also found an important role.”
Ergas, of Farmington Hills, will be honored at the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan’s 58th Annual Meeting, on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield. Ergas will be joined by documentary filmmaker, Aviva Kempner, a long-time friend and historian who, like Ergas, has an interest in uncovering stories of lesser known Jewish “Heroes and Sheroes.” The two will share some of these stories, while also examining some clips from Kemper’s films including Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg (2009), The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (2000), and Rosenwald (2015).
Stanley Meretsky (West Bloomfield), a community activist and past president of JHSM, will be receiving the Leonard N. Simons Lifetime Achievement Award, and Margery Jablin (West Bloomfield) will be honored as JHSM’s Volunteer of the Year. Both are very active with the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, which was founded in 1959 to promote and celebrate the special story of Michigan’s Jewish communities, organizations and citizens. Throughout the year, and the state, JHSM presents programs, tours, events and publications that preserve and proudly bring to life the stories of Michigan’s settlers along with the legacies of today’s innovators and urban pioneers.
The Leonard N. Simons History Award, first established in 1991, and presented annually by the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, supports the organization’s mission to educate, celebrate and promote awareness of outstanding Jews of Michigan. Reservations for the 58th Annual Meeting of JHSM and Simons Award presentation are available by calling 248-432-5517 or going to www.michjewishhistory.org. Tickets are $40 and include a dessert reception following the program.