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Sylvia Rosner Rothchild Oral History Project Papers

Identifier: P-817

Scope and Content Note

The Sylvia Rosner Rothchild Oral History Project papers primarily consist of transcripts of interviews conducted by Rothchild with members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel Worship and Study Minyan from 1993 to 1996. The collection also includes the background story behind the oral history project and articles written by Rothchild about the congregation, as well as a biography of Rothchild herself.


  • undated, circa 1993-1996


Language of Materials

The collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

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Use Restrictions

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Biographical Note

Sylvia Rosner was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1923 to Bertha Newberger Rosner and Samuel Lionel Rosner, who had immigrated to the United States from Austria-Hungary. She studied science at Brooklyn College, but left before graduating. In 1944, she married Seymour Rothchild. After a brief time in Rochester, New York, the couple moved to Sharon, Massachusetts and had three children: Alice, Judith, and Joseph.

Beginning in 1951, and continuing until just before her death in 2009, Sylvia Rothchild published stories and essays in such magazines as Commentary, Hadassah Magazine, Present Tense, and Moment, as well as over 1,000 book reviews in the Jewish Advocate and The Boston Globe. Her first book was a biography for children about Yiddish writer I. L. Peretz titled Keys to a Magic Door: Isaac Leib Peretz, which won the National Jewish Book Award in 1960. She published a novel, Sunshine and Salt, in 1964, and in 1990, she collected 12 stories written in the 1950s and eight written in the 1980s into the volume Family Stories for Every Generation.

Rothchild produced two books based on oral histories: Voices from the Holocaust, published in 1981, and A Special Legacy: An Oral History of Soviet Jewish Emigres in the United States, published in 1985. The former consisted of testimonies of Holocaust survivors gathered in the William E. Wiener Oral History Library of the American Jewish Committee, and the latter focused on interviews with Soviet émigrés, also held in the Wiener Oral History Library and taped by Rothchild herself.

Rothchild also conducted oral history interviews about the Worship and Study Minyan at Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel, of which she was a member. The group was a havurah formed in the 1960s by Rabbi Ben Zion Gold, director emeritus of the Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel, as a way to create a community, or “spiritual home,” to replace the one he had lost when he left his native Poland. The interviewees were congregants who had been with the group since the beginning, as well as those who were relative newcomers, and the interviews focused on the effect the Worship and Study Minyan had on stimulating interest in Judaism among its diverse members.

The interviews formed the basis of an essay, “The Two Way Street: Unexpected Developments in American Jewish Life,” along with a short article “Continuity and Stability at Harvard,” both written by Rothchild. The transcripts and writings from this project are the focus of this collection. The remainder of Rothchild's personal papers and manuscripts are located at the Mugar Library at Boston University.

Due to her written explorations of Jewish culture and identity in America and contributions to the Jewish community as a whole, Rothchild was honored by a number of organizations, including B’nai Brith, from which she received the Women’s Pacesetters Award in 1982; Hadassah, which awarded her the Women of Achievement Award in 1987; and Brooklyn College, which presented her with the President’s Medal in 1991. Rothchild was a gifted lecturer, and she gave talks around the United States, as well as teaching for many years at Hebrew College, which granted her an honorary doctorate in 1992.

In addition to writing and lecturing, Rothchild was an amateur painter and semi-professional cellist. She performed with her husband, who played violin, in the Sharon Civic Orchestra, Boston Civic Orchestra, and Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sylvia Rothchild died on March 1, 2009 at the age of 86. Her husband Seymour died in 2001. Both are buried in the Sharon Memorial Park.


  1. Material from the collection
  2. Kates, Judith. “Sylvia Rosner Rothchild (1923-2009).” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, March 20, 2009. Accessed October 26, 2016. />
  3. Marquard, Bryan. “Sylvia Rothchild, novelist, reviewer, and cellist; at 86.” The Boston Globe, March 3, 2009, B.14.


Sylvia Rosner is born.
Sylvia marries Seymour Rothchild.
Sylvia begins publishing her writings in major publications.
Keys to a Magic Door: Isaac Leib Peretz is published.
Sunshine and Salt is published.
Voices from the Holocaust is published.
Sylvia receives the Women's Pacesetters Award from B'nai Brith.
A Special Legacy: An Oral History of Soviet Jewish Emigres in the United States is published.
Sylvia receives the Women of Achievement Award from Hadassah.
Family Stories for Every Generation is published.
Sylvia receives the President's Medal from Brooklyn College.
Sylvia receives an honorary doctorate from Hebrew College.
Sylvia interviews members of the Worship and Study Minyan.
Sylvia produces "The Two Way Street: Unexpected Developments in American Jewish Life."
Seymour Rothchild dies.
Sylvia Rosner Rothchild dies.


0.25 linear feet (1-half manuscript box)


Sylvia Rosner Rothchild (1923-2009) was an award-winning author and oral historian who focused on the relationships between American and Jewish identity and culture. She published five books and thousands of articles and book reviews during her lifetime, including two collections of oral histories based on testimonies gathered from Holocaust survivors and Soviet Jewish émigrés. This collection primarily consists of transcripts of interviews conducted by Rothchild with members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel Worship and Study Minyan from 1993 to 1996, along with her completed writings based on the interviews and related biographical and background materials.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Sylvia Rosner Rothchild, 2003.

Processing Information

Processed by Shannon Struble, 2016
Guide to the Sylvia Rosner Rothchild Oral History Project Papers, P-817
Processed by Shannon Struble
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States