If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the upcoming photo retrospective of West Rogers Park is a dictionary.
Co-sponsored by the Jewish Neighborhood Development Council (JNDC) and the Chicago Jewish Historical Society, ""Then and Now: 10 Decades of Jewish Community in West Rogers Park" will offer a close, personal depiction of the past century of Jewish life in West Rogers Park, told primarily through photographs.
The exhibit will be housed at the newly built Northtown Library branch located on Western Avenue and will run Oct. 23 through Nov. 20. Renowned author and West Rogers Park native Joseph Epstein will kick off the exhibit with a welcome presentation entitled "Growing Up Jewish in West Rogers Park."
"Mine was an unambiguously pleasant childhood in West Rogers Park, where I made friends that I retain to this day, lo, more than 75 years after my family first moved there," said Epstein in an email interview. Epstein will share his childhood memories, many of which unfolded on the playground. "For the boys of my generation there was only one road to distinction, and that was through athletic prowess. At the Boone School's then-gravel playground, there seemed always to be a game in progress."
To prepare for the exhibit, Beverly Siegel, JNDC President, and Ellen Doppelt, JNDC Executive Director, started collecting tons of photographs--such as a photo of kids playing in the alley or teens attending a mixer.
Siegel said she thinks the appeal of this exhibit will be broad and far reaching. "People who have a connection to the neighborhood generally have a nostalgic connection," she said. "It's their roots-even for a lot of people who grew up here but haven't lived in the neighborhood for a long time. There's a lot to draw people that highlights the uniqueness of the neighborhood and I think that's a source of pride. The exhibit underscores the fact that maintaining a Jewish community in an urban neighborhood takes a lot of work."
Doppelt also noted how distinctive the neighborhood is. "Jewish West Rogers Park carries a unique status," she said. "Now in its 10th decade, it is the longest extant Jewish neighborhood in Chicago history. Heir to Maxwell Street and Lawndale, West Rogers Park is the only major, full-fledged Jewish neighborhood left in Chicago."
Dr. Rachelle Gold, co-president of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society, is thrilled to partner with the JNDC. She hopes to showcase a neighborhood that continues to evolve and reinvent itself. "It's not just the historic Jewish community that we want to celebrate--we also want to highlight the current Jewish communities. In this case, we have a current thriving Jewish community which is also historically significant."
West Rogers Park boasts more Jewish schools and adult learning programs, agencies and social services, synagogues, and organizations than ever before. "Yet, it is home to the streets, parks, schools, and memories that tens of thousands of Jews throughout Chicagoland picture in their minds' eye when they imagine the 'old neighborhood,'" Doppelt said.
The exhibit's images are sure to spark memories, touch people's hearts, and kindle feelings of pride. "I suspect that for most people who will attend, the exhibit will provide, as I suspect it will for me, a warm bath of nostalgia," said Epstein.
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Rochelle Newman Rubinoff is a freelance writer living in the northern suburbs of Chicago.