facebookfacebook facebook pj library campaign me ter










The strength of our Jewish community is our membership. We are blessed by so many warm and caring individuals and families that make our community a great place to live and work. Our member Q & A section seeks to tap into that community spirit and find the mitzvot motivation of our members.

Joellyn Wallen Zollman is an out of town member currently residing in San Diego, Ca, where she resides with her husband and two children. She is the daughter of Carolyn and Bill Wallen.


1.  At what point did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career as a historian in the field of the Jewish American experience?  What factors, events or mentors were involved?  What advice do you have for young people who are interested in a similar career path?
I discovered my love for history in Kathy Richardson's classroom at Hollidaysburg Area High School. She is a dynamic, insightful teacher, and her passion for her subject was contagious. Ask her to recite the Checkers speech sometime. Her Nixon is spot on.

I went on to study American history as an undergraduate at The American University. As a senior, I experienced what can only be described as the perfect storm in Jewish Studies. I took a Jewish Studies class with renowned historian Pam Nadell;  I wrote a senior thesis on the history of Altoona's Jewish community; and I scored an internship at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, working with the  --wait for it.....Judaica collection. 

I became interested in Jewish history at AU because my Judaism was so essential to my identity/experience.  Yet I learned at AU, going to school with more Jewish kids than I had ever seen before in one place in my life, that my Jewish experience was very distinct from other kids' Jewish experiences. I understood the master narrative of American Jewish history--the New York narrative--but I knew from my own life that the New York story wasn’t the only story. For me, it wasn’t even the most interesting or most compelling story.  So, when I wrote my thesis, and worked at the Smithsonian, I looked for untold stories. It's easy to be Jewish in New York City. I have always been curious, due, of course, in no small part to my own upbringing, about how Jews make Jewish communities work in other, less obvious, more challenging places.

My advice to young people considering a similar career path would be to take an internship, or if possible in this economy, get a job working in the field before committing to a graduate program. I worked at the Skirball Museum (Jewish museum in LA) between undergrad and grad school, and it gave me a real sense of working in the field, as well as a better understanding of the economics of my career choice.

 2.  As a historian, do you feel you see current events, especially, Mideast or Jewish current events with a different perspective?
Historians take a solemn vow never to discuss a subject that is less than 25 years old.

3.  Do you have any books, movies or any other sources of information that you recommend for our Jewish community?
I am a faithful reader of The Forward, and a fan of their food blog, The Jew and the Carrot ( I think the new Jewish Review of Books is thoughtful and exciting. But nothing beats the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation newsletter. My favorite part is the photo captions.

4.  Any wishes, thoughts or messages for the future of the greater Altoona Jewish community?
See my answer to #2, above

5.  Any special thoughts or memories from your time in Altoona?
Whenever someone tells me that they had a Jewish college roommate from Altoona, or that their grandmother's best friend was Jewish and lived in Altoona, I say that I must know that person because I know all the Jews of Altoona. No one ever believes me. Technically, it's not even true. But I do have the sense that I know most of the Jews of Altoona, and there is something tremendously reassuring about that idea.

In any case, I feel like I know something essential about growing up Jewish in Altoona, and that is that it means that you are part of a community that knows you, a community that simultaneously gives you roots and wings. And even though my teenage self would pass out from disbelief on hearing this, that is not an experience I would trade.


  Past Member Q&A's