A new generation of students at the Bronx Jewish History Project is getting help from those with experience—the group’s student co-founder and a professional historian. 

BJHP is a Fordham research initiative that preserves the stories of the Jewish Bronx. The project originally began with Sophia Maier, FCRH ’23, who documented the stories of more than 75 members of the Jewish community who once called the Bronx their home. Now, in the months before Maier earns her master’s degree in teaching from the University this spring, she’s teaching a new group of undergraduates how to continue the project.

Oral History with a Professional Historian

About a dozen undergraduate and graduate students joined BJHP this semester, thanks to an Arts and Sciences Deans’ Faculty Challenge Grant. The students, who study subjects from economics to theology to history, are interested in BJHP for different reasons, said Daniel Soyer, Ph.D., BJHP director and history professor. Some are Jewish themselves, with family ties to the Bronx. Others are interested in Jewish studies and history.

During a recent training session, the students met Leyla Vural, a New York City-based oral historian. Vural, who has a master’s degree in oral history from Columbia University, has interviewed recipients of the Nobel Prize, scientists, artists, trade unionists, LGBTQ New Yorkers, and more. She spoke with the students about how to approach their interviews and navigate the ethics of their work. 

What stuck with me most was when she talked about how the role of the interviewer was, above all, to listen,” Maier said.

Jews in the Bronx: An Important Part of NYC History

People sitting at a desk and looking at a TV screen
A recent meeting of the BJHP, with most students attending via Zoom

In another session, Soyer taught students about the history of the Jewish Bronx.

“The Bronx was once the most Jewish borough—almost half Jewish—and now it’s the least,” said Soyer. “Through [BJHP], we’re capturing an important part of Bronx, New York, and Jewish history that’s been understudied.” 

As part of their training, the students also learned from Maier about how to conduct interviews, using a 27-page guidebook developed by Maier herself. 

“I’m considering going for my Ph.D., so it’s great to get that experience, working with undergraduates,” said Maier, an aspiring history teacher who earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Fordham College at Rose Hill and is now part of the accelerated master’s degree program at the Graduate School of Education

This summer, Maier, Stovall, and Soyer will teach high schoolers about the history of Jews in New York in a weeklong course, part of Fordham’s annual summer programming. Their curriculum will include oral histories from BJHP, said Soyer.

Having a Cup of Tea and ‘Just Listening’

Being a part of BJHP means so much, said Maier, who teared up while speaking. 

“It’s changed the trajectory of my life. I love doing it, and I’ve met so many amazing people. … These people are predominantly elderly, and they really appreciate that some young person is taking an hour or two out of their day to sit down, have a cup of tea with them … and just listen,” said Maier, noting that the oldest person she has spoken with is 97. “To have their life stories recorded and made available [especially for their families]is a gift without value.”


Taylor is a visual storytelling strategist in Fordham University's marketing and communications department, where she documents University life through photography and video. Since joining Fordham in 2018, she has served as a writer, photographer, videographer, and social media manager, dividing her time between University Marketing and Communications and the Office of the President. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Stony Brook University's School of Communication and Journalism and her master's degree in public media from Fordham University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her work has appeared on NPR, NBC New York, and amNewYork METRO.