Remembering Dorothy Tapper Goldman

Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, delivered this eulogy at the funeral of Dorothy Tapper Goldman, a devoted JTS trustee who served for many years as chair of the Advisory Board for the world-renowned JTS Library.

I met Dorothy 19 years ago, when I interviewed for the position of Librarian at JTS. During that interview, Dorothy kept me on my toes with her joyous honesty, making sure I understood that she would support for leadership of the Library only someone who reached her high standards for primary custodianship of the Library and its exceptional collections. She never compromised her standards and, following her lead, to the best of my ability, neither have I.

Shortly after I assumed the position of librarian, I asked Dorothy what inspired her to become so involved in our work and mission. Without hesitation, she responded by recounting her first visit to the Rare Book Room. As you all know, Dorothy was herself a collector, who appreciated both beauty and just purpose. The former explains her collection of Chinese porcelains and other objects, the latter her collection of early American constitutions and other documents. In the JTS Library’s rare collections, she saw these same qualities and values—exceptional beauty and lofty visions of a just world.

I think it is fair to say that in the beginning Dorothy was not primarily interested in the “Jewish” of our Judaica. But she quickly became a model for the rabbinic principle, mitoch she-lo lishma ba lishma, which I would translate as “from indirect appreciation, one comes to appreciate the essence.” The beauty of Jewish works wasn’t accidental, she saw; it was central to Jewish expression and celebration of our tradition. Once Dorothy understood this, she insisted that we share the beauty we preserve with the world at large.

Dorothy understood that the Jewish legacy is an expression of the human legacy, and she sought to bring the two together. Early in her tenure as board chair, she and I arranged a special trip for the Library board to the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. At the LOC, we enjoyed a viewing of that library’s special Judaica, a real treat and privilege for all. But the most memorable part of our visit was our lunch meeting at the Supreme Court—thanks to Dorothy’s relationships—with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This was a day of beauty, wisdom, and justice, all values held dear by Dorothy and all central to the Jewish legacy as held by the JTS Library.

Dorothy motivated and supported the Library’s specialized tour program, the first to Israel and the second, two years later, to Italy (our third planned tour to England was cancelled due to Covid). When we were in Padova, we were welcomed to a beautiful library at a local monastery, which held 15 Hebrew manuscripts. These manuscripts were all medieval and all magnificent, and we were the first Jews to look at them in several decades. We were able to help the resident clergy identify the manuscripts and appreciate what they represented. You will have no trouble imagining how excited and proud Dorothy was at this short-term interfaith relationship, a joint celebration of the Jewish legacy.

In recent years, Dorothy’s leadership in assuring we can open our treasures to the public led to her gift of the magnificent Dorothy Tapper Goldman Exhibition Gallery in the new JTS Library. Supporting both the gallery and our exhibition program, Dorothy has assured that her impact will outlive her for many years. As we speak, our present exhibition, “Living Yiddish in New York,” is attracting more visitors than we ever could have hoped. At the same time, Dorothy has assured we will be able to mount an exhibition of some of our greatest treasures at the Grolier Club, opening in late 2025. This is the first exhibition at the club devoted exclusively to Jewish rare books and manuscripts, and this too is part of Dorothy’s ongoing legacy.

Finally, I want to add that it was my privilege to count Dorothy as a good friend. I cannot exaggerate how much I enjoyed and learned from our conversations in my office and elsewhere over the years. I will miss her voice and her smile. I don’t know if I believe in a next world, but if there is a next world, I look forward to resuming our conversation there.