Debra Polsky, In Memoriam – Baruch Dayan Emet

Since 2012, Debra Polsky had been the face of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society (DJHS). The path which led Debra to Dallas, was an interesting one, gaining countless years of invaluable Jewish leadership experience along the way.

Debra was born in New York and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she was very active in BBYO (B’nai B‘rith Youth Organization) and Young Judea. After graduating from the George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, she returned to her hometown, where she taught elementary education while simultaneously working at the Chattanooga JCC. At various times, she was their Camp Director, Aquatics Director and Tween Program Director, while also making time to teach religious school at the conservative shul and volunteering as a BBG advisor. Debra was hired to work on the regional level for the Cotton States Region BBYO which led her from Chattanooga to Omaha, Nebraska, where she began work at the Omaha JCC. While there, she was the Adult & Singles Services Director, also taking on professional responsibility for the Cornbelt Region BBYO.  Debra worked to merge Cornbelt with the Missouri-Kansas Region to create Mid-America Region BBYO. which laid the foundation for her long career in Jewish Communal Service.

In Omaha, while working as BBYO Regional Director and reading Torah at the conservative shul, Debra was able to earn a Master’s Degree in Public Administration & Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Debra then moved to San Francisco as the regional director of BBYO’s Central West Region (Northern California) where she was also involved in the JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) and the “Free Soviet Jewry” movement. In 1989, an opportunity arose for Debra to make a move to Dallas as BBYO’s Executive Regional Director, which eventually led to an opportunity for her to join DJHS as their executive director.

Once in that position, Debra got right down to work. She began developing strong professional relationships between DJHS and several Dallas Jewish, secular and cultural organizations, improving outreach within the community. This resulted in a historical marker waiting to be  installed in the old Frogtown neighborhood near the Perot Museum; she has greatly enhanced the Oral History Project, where hundreds of interviews have been added to the collection; she was instrumental in the preservation of the Blue House, a historic Jewish dwelling that was saved from demolition and relocated; she had a Customer Relationship Management System installed to track donations; she implemented tight financial controls; she applied for and received numerous grants; she fostered a deep love of Jewish Dallas and the mission of DJHS; and she devoted herself to her work. With Debra’s leadership and support as the DJHS Executive Director, it is clear that she provided s solid backbone on which to grow the agency into the powerhouse she always envisioned.

As if that weren’t enough to fill her days, Debra also found time to work or volunteer for many other local organizations or agencies. A few of those included SMU Jewish Studies, Dallas Memorial Center for Holocaust Studies, Congregation Kol Ami, Congregation Tiferet Israel, JCC Dallas, JCRC, Kosher Chili Cook-off, Texas Women’s Foundation, Girl Scouts of North East Texas, Center for Jewish Education/Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, Family Compass Families/First Program, the Dallas Association of Directors of Volunteers, and all this while teaching for over 25 years at the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School.

Click here to watch Debra’s Oral History Interview.

We would like to extend our deepest condolences to Debra’s family and friends, for her passing is a monumental loss for our community and those who knew and love her. Additionally, we thank Debra for everything she has done for us and in the community.

Information regarding Debra’s funeral service and Shiva will be shared via our website and social outlets as soon as we know more.

Care & Preservation for Your Family Heirlooms

We recently partnered with Congregation Beth Torah’s Sisterhood to present Judaica Roadshow, our spin on the network television series of a similar name. While we mimicked some aspects of the familiar format, we structured our program to fit our community, and included preservation and care advice to promote longevity of the cherished items. The items selected fell into four preservation categories: silver/metal alloys, books/paper, oil paintings on canvas, and glazed ceramic. 

Read below to learn about how and why these types of objects and materials age the way they do and what you can do to care for them. 

Silver and Silver Alloys

Silver tarnishes due to a process called oxidation. Oxidation is caused when an element, in this case silver, reacts with atmospheric compounds, such as (but not limited to) sulfur, on a chemical level. This is what creates the layer of discoloration when silver sits unused for long periods.

When handling silver artifacts, use clean hands, clean cotton gloves or clean nitrile gloves to minimize the transfer of acids and oils on our hands that accelerate oxidation and etching.

There is discourse in the preservation community regarding how and when to clean silver. Our recommendation is to clean silver judiciously. When you clean silver, you are effectively removing a layer of the artifact. Over time, this wear can weaken the artifact, increasing the likelihood of physical damage/alteration and cause loss of detail. It is easier for you, and better for the object, to maintain a cleaned surface than it is to wait for an object to severely tarnish before cleaning. However, if your silver is already tarnished and will likely remain in storage, it may be advisable to leave that stable layer of tarnish in place, especially if details are already obscured due to wear. 

Store silver in a cool, dry place where fluctuations in temperature or humidity are minimal. Silver tarnishes more rapidly in hot and damp environments. Package silver in silver cloth, or unbuffered acid-free tissue paper and a polyethylene zip-loc style bag. Silvercloth has particles of silver or other compounds that absorb atmospheric pollutants before they have a chance to interact with the surface of the silver object. Acid-free tissue works in a similar fashion, providing a barrier that will also slow exposure to air and its compounds. Avoid storing in cardboard or other types of plastic, as their inherent composition – the chemicals they are made of – can accelerate and worsen oxidation. 

If the silver artifact is on display, place it in a location out of direct light and with consistent temperature and humidity. An air-tight cabinet is ideal, but not always practical. If you wish to keep the item free of tarnish, dust and polish regularly with a soft cotton cloth or polishing cloth while wearing gloves. This will not prevent oxidation, as that is unavoidable, but it will help to slow the process and maintain the item’s luster. One option to protect the piece is to consult a conservator about having the artifact cleaned and coated with an archival lacquer, such as Acryloid B-72 – a long-term, but impermanent solution. You can also purchase activated charcoal and other anti-tarnish inserts that work to absorb harmful pollutants for short periods of time.

It is also important to consider any wood the object is around. Wood should be well-sealed with a varnish that is archival quality, such as polyurethane. Natural compounds in wood, as well as chemicals in stains and some varnishes can accelerate oxidation. 

When cleaning silver, if you choose to do so, use a gentle phosphate-free detergent, as phosphate can cause discoloration on the surface of silver objects. To polish, a mildly abrasive paste of baking soda and water is recommended. Gently scrub in circles, rinse well. Dry completely with a soft cloth. 


When considering the needs of books, many factors must be considered, including the various materials that make up the pages, binding, and covers, how those materials interact, and how that may impact how a book ages. Books are prone to aging – predominantly discoloration, embrittlement, and weakness is binding materials. The needs of historic books vary based on the composition – the types of materials used to create the book. Leather, paper, board, adhesive, and cotton-based thread are most often used, but you may run into vinyl covers, or covers inlaid with metal or even precious/semi-precious stones. The composition of inks varies substantially, as well.

Handle historic and delicate books with clean hands or well-fitting nitrile gloves. Dexterity is important when handling books because pages may be brittle and prone to loss. You may use a mini-spatula or letter opener to help turn pages if the edges are particularly delicate. Always support the spine and never open the book flat on a table. This will accelerate any separation of the binding materials. 

Store books away from high heat and fluctuations in humidity, as well as away from places at risk of water damage, such as basements or near pipes. Paper and paper-based materials are hygroscopic, meaning they absorb and release moisture depending on the surrounding environment. This causes changes on the molecular level, weakening pages and binding materials over time. Adhesives are also sensitive to fluctuations and can fail more rapidly when exposed to extremes. Leather can become brittle, or begin to secrete natural emollients when stored improperly, while vinyl can become brittle and flake or break apart easily. Inks may fade or bleed when exposed to high temperature or humidity. Chemicals in inks, pages or paper-based covers, and those used in leather tanning processes off-gas and often lead to discoloration. This is why the pages of many aged books are yellow or ochre in color. Overall, books are prone to pests such as (but not limited to) mold and silverfish; moisture makes the environment even more inviting. 

If displayed on a bookshelf or similar case, place the book out of direct sunlight. Prolonged exposure to light of any level can cause the cover to fade; bright/direct light will speed up the process. Heat from direct light can also compromise any adhesives.

Store small and medium books vertically, how you would orient them on a shelf. Store large volumes, especially those with soft covers flat to minimize warping and separation. Particularly delicate volumes can be protected from further damage by storing in specialty phase boxes, or wrapped in archival tissue and then placed in an acid-free box or zip-loc style polyethylene bag.

Oil Paintings

Every kind of art, every kind of painting will have a unique set of needs. Oil paintings are among the more stable, but there are still steps you can take to ensure longevity. The most common cause of damage to an oil painting is improper handling and storage, but they are also sensitive to other factors in the environment.

Always handle oil paintings by the frame or by the strainer (the support the canvas is stretched around) with two hands on the left and right sides. Never carry with one hand on a single side. Wear gloves or use clean hands if any part of the surface/paint needs to be touched for any reason. If the frame or strainer are unstable (moving at joints when handled) or the canvas is flagging (loose on the strainer), consult a framer or conservator for stabilization.

When considering where to hang an oil painting, factors such as light and humidity levels should be considered. Oil paints themselves are not prone to fading, but they are impacted by the heat direct or bright sunlight and incandescent lights generate, as are their canvas/board and frame. The canvas, board, and frame will also be impacted by fluctuations in humidity, expanding and contracting, which can lead to cracking or delamination (separation of the paint from the canvas or board). 

Store oil paintings vertically with the face protected by a plain cotton cloth with the face of the artwork positioned in such a way that no other objects will come in contact with or lean on the face of the painting. If anything leans on canvas, it will lead to stretching, which compromises stability and integrity over time, leading to cracking and loss on the surface. Ideally, paintings will be stored in slip cases, shadow boxes, or crates, depending on the size and value of the piece, as well as storage space. 

Consult a conservator when it comes to cleaning oil paintings. The process generally includes solvents that may be harmful in the home environment. 

Glazed Ceramic

Ceramics are among the most stable and easily preserved objects in home collections. Their biggest risk factor is physical damage from accidents and improper handling; however, they can be affected by heat, humidity, and moisture. 

Most glazed ceramics can be handled without special tools such as gloves, but ensure the object and your hands are dry and free of substances that can make the object slick to reduce the risk of dropping. Always handle with two hands for greater stability when transporting

Some historic and antique glazes include toxic metals or other minerals that can be harmful when handled, so it may be advisable to consult an expert or do personal research to learn about what glazes a producer may have used in a certain timeframe. Generally, these glazes have a luster-type finish, appear to be gilded (this does not include gold-toned details on china), or have very saturated hues. When in doubt, wear gloves, and do not use these vessels for food or beverage.

Over time, ceramic glazes can age and crack, a condition called crazing. Crazing is caused by the natural composition of glazes, as well as exposure to temperature extremes, moisture, and handling. When crazing occurs, more moisture can reach the ceramic body itself, which can lead to further delamination or loss of glazed areas and an interaction called spalling, which is when minerals in the clay body leach to the surface. Oxidation can also occur if iron or other minerals are present in the clay body and exposed to water and air. Moisture in the clay body can also lead to cracking, though cracks are most often caused by extreme fluctuations in temperature and mishandling. 

Store or display the object in a place where it is unlikely to be bumped. If your ceramic item is known to be food safe, you can clean with soap and water and dry with a soft cloth. Avoid using anything abrasive, as it can accelerate wear to the glazed surface. If the object is decorative, clean by dusting with a soft cloth and avoid use of water. 

Additional Resources are linked below:

DJHS Founder’s Records Come to Light

Recently, our archivist, Jessica Schneider, and our archives assistant, Corynthia Dorgan, collaborated to write an article for The Rambler, the newsletter of the Southern Jewish Historical Society. The article, “DJHS Founder’s Records Come to Light,” highlights the large, invaluable collection of Ginger Jacobs, a co-founder of DJHS. Follow the link to reach the article, along with several others contributed by our regional colleagues.

Rambler Spring 2021, Volume 25 Number 2








The Christmas Day Classic: a multi-generational Jewish Dallas tradition

Listed alphabetically: Arthur Eisenberg, Mike “Izzy” Eisenberg, Mike Gallant, Albert Goodman, Mike Grossfeld, Steve Gutow, Billy Jacobs, Neil Landsman, Chuck Lewis, Danny Litchenstein, Paul Marcus, Steve “Yogi” Marcus, Ronnie Meyers, Seth Meyers, Alvin Miller, David Rosenfield, Mark Schor

On Christmas morning in 1964, this group of young Jewish men met on the field of the Jewish Community Center for a football scrimmage – full contact, and no pads. And then, they did it the next year, and the year after that…continuing until this year, 2020, when the Christmas Day Classic was canceled amid social-distancing recommendations due to covid-19. In 2014, for the 50th Anniversary of the Classic and attendant celebrations that have developed over the time, several Classic members had a documentary made to immortalize this unique tradition, an ode to their life-long friendship.

In place of the 56th annual game, Mitchell Meyers, Christmas Day Classic athlete and DJHS Board Member, worked with DJHS Staff to bring our community a special screening of the film and a panel discussion with five of the original players, Mike “Izzy” Eisenberg, Mike Gallant, Mike Grossfeld, Steve Gutow, and Mark Schor.

Follow the link below to watch the film and panel discussion, which were originally shared on December 23, 2020. It’s heartwarming, hilarious, and not to be missed!

*due to copyright restrictions related to the film’s soundtrack, some music has been muted

Click here to watch.

Ellis & May Titche Wartime Correspondence Goes Digital

We’re thrilled to share with you a selection of audio recordings from the Ellis & May Titche Wartime Correspondence Collection.

Mel Ginsburg, a dedicated long-time volunteer of DJHS, has been working hard to record letters from Ellis Titche to May Levy during their courtship and early marriage during the WWII Era.

There are many, many more letters to share, but here is a selection from the earliest days, August 1943. From the beginning, May kept and labeled each letter she received from Ellis. May’s letters in the collection begin a little later, in Spring 1944. Because of this, the conversation seems a little one-sided, but not for long.

Listen below, or visit our SoundCloud.

Regional Treasures: Menorahs from Historic Temple Emeth, Ardmore, Oklahoma Find New Home after Long Visit to Dallas

Confirmation class at Temple Emeth, June 24, 1940. (from left to right) Hardy Soloman Fr., Manfreed Schmidt, Sam Doube, Rabbi Smauel Soskin, Ellie Myers, and William Strasmick. Photo taken by Fonville Studios, Ardmore, OK Photo courtesy of The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Tulsa, OK.

When we are approached regarding a donation—as a local historical society, it happens often—the main question we ask is: “does this fit our scope?”—meaning we do our due diligence to make sure that our repository is the best fit for the materials. There are a number of factors that go into making that decision, including, but not limited to:

  • Size/available space (do we have adequate space and resources to properly care for this item in perpetuity?)
  • Redundancy (do we already have multiple similar items that are of equal quality?)
  • Does it relate directly to Jewish Dallas?

And, we give the same level of care and consideration to every item and inquiry.

So, when Ruth Andres—a founding member and past President of Dallas Jewish Historical Society—reached out to us concerning a few items that belonged to Clint Risner (of blessed memory), we agreed to assess his collection.

Clint was an active and dedicated DJHS Board Member and oral history interviewer for many years, who also had a deep love of Judaica and local/regional history. That passion led him to acquire a pair of six-foot tall electric menorahs that originally belonged to Temple Emeth in Ardmore, Oklahoma, after the temple closed in 2004.

Temple Emeth was established in 1907 following formal settlement of the Jewish community in Ardmore in 1890. We are able to confirm that the menorahs were present in the Temple in 1940, as witnessed by the photograph (above) of a Confirmation Class at Temple Emeth. (Photo courtesy of The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Tulsa, OK).

We knew upon hearing the history of the items and of the Temple that the menorahs needed to go to a Jewish museum in Oklahoma. The stars aligned when we contacted The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art in Tulsa, OK, which holds a collection of other items from Temple Emeth as well. We are thrilled to assist in the donation of these items; working with other regional organizations to ensure that collections are thoughtfully and accurately shaped is critical to effective Archive management and public access.

Transport has been arranged to get the menorahs to their permanent home, reunited with other pieces of Oklahoma Jewish history.