Our History

Barbara and Bernie Bernstein,

Archive Dedication, May 2005


     In 1983, Barbara Winick Bernstein, a Knoxville native, put out a call throughout the Jewish community for the formation of a local archive to preserve Knoxville’s Jewish history.  A small circle of volunteers began collecting records and artifacts.  Barbara and others conducted over 20 interviews of community members. 

     Thanks to the generosity of Mitchell, Natalie and later Pace Robinson, materials were stored in boxes in a storeroom at the Robinson's Modern Supply Company.

     When Wendy Lowe Besmann became interested in writing a history of Jewish Knoxville, she consulted these materials as source material for what became A Separate Circle and revitalized the notion of a formal Archives.  Nora Messing oversaw the effort of transferring materials to archival-quality folders and boxes, and their move in 2004 to space in the AJCC Board Room, thanks to the KJA, and shelving and protective curtain provided by the generosity of the Bernsteins.

     Wendy Besmann became the first archivist of the Knoxville Jewish Archives.  Working with the archival assistant, Gerri Tumblin, she focused on organizing the materials into relevant categories and revising the ledger – the guide to the materials, setting up a formal accessioning process, and creating the infrastructure needed for a growing archive. 

     In January of 2006, Nicki Russler became KJA’s archivist.  Nicki is a graduate of Harvard Law School and taught in the clinical program at the University of Tennessee Law School.  She is a professional genealogist and has a master’s degree in Library Science, and, with the Archives Committee, is building on Besmann’s work.