Between the Lines: Vol. 11, No. 2 (Fall 1998)

Francine Klagsbrun Passes on Leadership of Library Board

In stepping down as chair of the Board of Overseers of The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, I feel in many ways like a child moving away from home - I'm sad, but I know that the time has come to separate. I have been associated with the library for more than ten years. For me, these years of close connection to the library have been dynamic, challenging and wonderfully satisfying.

When I began as chair of the Friends of The Library , it was a little-known organization with few members. Once Rickie Weiner joined me as its director, it began to expand in myriad directions. We created funds for public programming and exhibitions that, for the first time, informed the public at large about the library's vast treasures. Among the many fine public programs that remain in my mind were "Scholars at Work on Torah" with Rabbis Gunther Plaut and Jacob Milgrom; a concert by the late Hugo Weisgall, "Psalm of the Distant Dove," its music commissioned by the Friends of The Library ; and lectures by such JTS luminaries as Professors Burt Visotzky, David Roskies, Ray Scheindlin and Neil Gillman and outstanding scholars such as Moshe Greenberg, Yosef Yerushalmi and Dan Miron. Eleven exhibitions were sponsored by the Friends of The Library , among them Haven and Home: Jews and Judaism in America, The Jew as Other, and Kehillat ha-Kodesh: Creating the Sacred Community. In recent years, they have launched a publication program of stunning catalogs to accompany the library's exhibitions, with several of them winning awards. Greeting cards and a recently published calendar featuring images from the library's collection have been marketed throughout the world via the Internet.

All of this might have been fulfilling enough, but when Chancellor Ismar Schorsch invited me to chair the newly- formed Library Board of Overseers in 1994, 1 felt especially honored to be able to move the library into a new era of outreach and expansion. The board's mission has been to enhance the growth of the library and to create strong bridges between it and the larger community. To that end, board members helped arrange for library exhibitions to travel to communities outside of New York City and held parlor meetings to acquaint others with our remarkable library. Others have made significant contributions toward upgrading the library's technological capabilities and underwriting the costs of additional, much-needed librarians. The board has held two highly successful dinners, the more recent of which was a brilliant evening of discourse with noted Jewish authors, among them Cynthia Ozick, Chaim Potok and Judith Rossner.

But enumerating the many accomplishments of the Friends of The Library and the library board doesn't begin to touch on the joy I've had in my library responsibilities. I have felt so close to Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz, the librarian, to Rickie Weiner, and to Jennifer Notis, JTS's director of special projects, that often we would know each other's thoughts before ever uttering a word. We have had a warm, happy and rewarding partnership, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity of knowing and working with them.

I feel blessed, also, in having Ellen Kapito take my place in heading the library board. She has dedicated herself to the library from the moment she joined the board. She will carry the board to ever-greater heights in its contributions to the library. I look forward, now, along with the library staff and board members, to a wonderful future for the library. Being part of its past has been a great gift for me.


New Chair of Library Board

I am very honored to continue my involvement with the library in my new assignment as chair of the Board of Overseers. My commitment over the last four years has only strengthened my belief that the library is the crown jewel of JTS. The library is special, not only because of the vastness of the collection but because it is a working library that is open to everyone.

As chair of the board, I would like to increase the visibility of the library as a valuable resource to the Jewish community at large. To accomplish this we are developing a program of traveling exhibits to help share our library's treasures of Jewish culture with Jewish communities across the country and to attract national financial support. On the local level, we are expanding our influence throughout the New York metropolitan area by means of outreach programs to local communities.

We have a wonderful working board whose members are committed to making the future of the library a success. We have been entrusted with the responsibility of sustaining and nurturing the JTS library as it conserves the past and meets the challenges of the future.

With the support of my husband, Rob, and my four children, I look forward to serving the board and the library.


New Exhibit Documents Jewish Experience in Amsterdam

The current exhibition at the library is entitled Sanctuary & Synagogue: the Experience of the Portuguese and Ashkenazic Jews in Amsterdam. Through seventeenth and eighteenth century engravings selected from the print collection of the library, this exhibition explores the establishment and development of the Jewish community of Amsterdam as documented by several of the preeminent printmakers and artists working in the Dutch Republic. The prints on display feature the magnificent synagogues built by the Portuguese and Ashkenazic Jewish communities between 1639 and 1752.

During the seventeenth century, Amsterdam was a leading European center for international trade and commerce. In this milieu, the Portuguese Jews flourished financially as a result of their extensive mercantile connections. The prosperous Portuguese Jews resolved, in 1670, to build a synagogue that would reflect their acceptance and good fortune within Dutch society. Completed in 1675, their magnificent new sanctuary seated over 1,600 congregants; for almost two centuries it remained the largest synagogue in all of Europe. Standing directly opposite it, just across the Houtgracht Canal, are the Great Synagogue and the New Synagogue, two equally impressive houses of worship established by the Ashkenazic Jewish community. Exterior and interior views of these three remarkable buildings are documented in an array of prints which depict the customs and ceremonies of the Jews of Amsterdam.

The exhibition, which opened on October 1, 1998, will run through January 31, 1999. It can be viewed on the first and fifth floors of the library building Sunday through Thursday 9:30am - 5:00pm and Friday 9:30 - 2:00pm. For further information please call (212) 678-8082.

Goitein Research Archive Acquired by The Library

A valuable resource for research on the historical documents from the Cairo Genizah has been acquired by the JTS library. It is the handwritten index cards (on microfilm) of the late Shelomo Dov Goitein. Professor Goitein, the leading authority on genizah studies, published hundreds of articles and many books on the genizah and other subjects, including his magnum opus in five volumes, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Reflected in the Documents of the Cairo Genizah (1967-1988), describing in vivid detail the economic, communal and family life, the daily routine, physical environment, thought and feeling of the Jews of the Mediterranean in the eleventh-thirteenth centuries. Maimonides lived during this time and many of his letters, some of them autographs, were found in the genizah. Several of them are in the library's Elkan Nathan Adler Collection of genizah manuscripts.

For the benefit of future generations, Goitein bequeathed his entire research archive, which he called his "laboratory," to the Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, as well as having a complete copy made for Princeton University, where it now constitutes "The S.D. Goitein Laboratory for Genizah Research at Princeton." Professor Mark R. Cohen, who supervises this "laboratory," noted that "[i]t is wonderful to have this invaluable resource at Princeton to meet our local needs, but it would also be useful to have at least some of the material available in New York, at JTS in particular, because of its important genizah collection."

Thanks to Professor Cohen's good offices, Elon Goitein of Israel, the executor of his father's estate, agreed to allow the library to make a copy of the set of microfilms (30 reels) of the Goitein index cards at Princeton and also copies of files relevant to the Adler Collection. Genizah historians will now have access to this valuable research aid in New York City at the JTS library, which boasts the largest collection of genizah manuscript fragments in the Western Hemisphere, as well as microfilms of genizah fragments from around the world.

Traveling Exhibitions

The library is proud to announce the following recent publication: to announce the following recent publication:

Past Perfect: The Jewish Experience in Early Twentieth Century Postcards is an exhibition catalog documenting Jewish participation in the turn-of-the-century "postcard craze." It includes 150 full color reproductions of postcards with an introduction by Shalom Sabar, professor of comparative folklore and art history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The catalog is accompanied by a poster displaying eighty-five postcards of synagogues around the world.

To order the Past Perfect catalog and synagogue poster, please contact the Friends of The Library at 212-678-8962, or write to Friends of The Library , 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027.

The library has been approached by various museums in the United States and Canada about the possibility of its exhibits traveling. In the past year, the exhibition The Jew As Other: A Century of English Caricature, 1730-1830 traveled to the Janice Charach Epstein Museum/Gallery in West Bloomfield, a suburb of Detroit. "To come face-to-face with the actual documents is haunting. It's much more immediate than reading about these attitudes in history books," commented a local rabbi. Towards the Eternal Center: Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple was displayed at the Latter Day Saints Museum of Church History and Art in S alt Lake City. The Salt Lake Tribune observed that "[t]he exhibit speaks to the reverence that peoples place on the material culture of religion and the lengths [to which] they will go to preserve their heritage." A third exhibition, Kehillat ha-Kodesh: Creating the Sacred Community, has been on view at the Musée des Religions in Nicolet, Quebec. The Canadian Jewish News urged that "[t]he entire Jewish community should avail itself of the opportunity to see its rich history come alive at the museum."

The following exhibitions are available for travel:

  • Great Books from Great Collectors.
  • The Jew as Other: A Century of English Caricature, 1730-1830.
  • Towards the Eternal Center: Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple.
  • Text & Context: The Development and Dissemination of Medieval Sephardic Culture.
  • The Crown of All Wisdom: Hebrew Printing in Italy from the 15th - 18th Centuries.
  • Power and Privilege: Selected Documents of the Ambron Family, 1687-1804.
  • From Eve to Esther: Images of Women in Biblical Prints.
  • The Rothschild Mahzor.
  • Decorated Ketubbot from the library of The Jewish Theological Seminary.
  • Kehillat Ha-Kodesh, Creating the Sacred Community: The Role of the Rabbi, Cantor, Mohel and Shohet in Jewish Communal Life.
  • Past Perfect: The Jewish Experience in Early Twentieth Century Postcards.

If you are interested or know of a museum that may be interested in one of our traveling exhibits, please contact Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz, librarian, at 212-678-8075 or Sharon Liberman Mintz, assistant curator of Jewish Art, at 212-678-8975. Additional information regarding library's exhibitions and publications can be found via the library's website.

Library Represented in Vienna and Warsaw

In September, JTS Librarian Dr. Mayer Rabinowitz attended the opening of an exhibit entitled Der Shejne Jid: Images of the Jewish Body in Myth and Ritual at the Jewish Museum of Vienna. The library lent a number of items from its collection for the exhibit. Included were an 1881 royal charter of Czar Alexander III ennobling David Rosenthal, senior physician of the Jewish Hospital in Warsaw, in recognition of the outstanding talent and courage he demonstrated during the typhus and cholera epidemics in Poland; a number of books depicting scenes of various Jewish customs such as shihitah and mikveh; an illuminated manuscript from Vienna, Seder Birkat Hamazon, dating to 1724; and the diploma granted in Siena in 1633 to Hanania Graziadio Modigliani to practice as a physician. The items will be on display as part of this exhibit in Vienna until January 1999.

Executive Librarian Naomi Steinberger represented the library at the annual conference of the International Consortium of ALEPH Users at the Polish Parliament (Sejm) in Warsaw, Poland this September. ALEPH is the integrated computer library system developed at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and used by The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary and more than 200 libraries throughout the world.

Following the ALEPH meeting, Ms. Steinberger spent her remaining day in Warsaw at the Jewish Historical Institute, a center for research on the history of Jewish life in Poland. Malgorzata Bonikowska, librarian at the Institute, who had spent three months as an intern at the JTS library, extended the invitation. The Institute houses a significant Jewish library, with many manuscripts and archival collections, including the Ringelblum collection of underground Warsaw ghetto archives. In the 1990s, it has become a center of Jewish activities.

"In the department of Documentation of Historical Monuments," Ms. Steinberger relates, "I saw page proofs of a book to be published about every synagogue and Jewish cemetery in Poland. Jan Jagielski, a non-Jew, visited, researched and photographed each site. The Genealogy Project, run by Yale Reisner, a JTS graduate, provides a we alth of information going back hundreds of years, which has enabled countless people to discover their Jewish ancestry and to reunite with lost relatives. The Institute's archives preserve the echoes of a formerly vibrant Jewish community, ten percent of the Polish population before the Holocaust. Today, on a single desk, in a bright red multivolume set, sits the list of Polish survivors of the Holocaust."