When Clio Was Jewish
by Gad Nahshon
Clio is the Greek Goddess of history. We, the Jews, as well as the Israelis rush to state that Jewish identity is rooted in our past. But the truth is that most of us only speak about our past. We are looking for the masses who are willing to study about our past. We are looking for the masses who are willing to study about our past. Who likes to study history? Therefore, any idea to promote the study of our past, to promote non-stop research of our past is more than welcomed.
A few years ago Jewish leaders and philanthropists decided to build and establish in New York City, a new effective cultural institution: "The Center for Jewish History," located at 16th Street just off Fifth Avenue. The 'center' is based on a Jewish 'reunion' of the following cultural organization: American Jewish Historical Society, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University, Museum and Y.I.V.O. Institute for Jewish research. More organizations such as the American Sephardic Federation were invited to join this new 'center.' It is a bold enterprise. It needs the utmost support of the Jewish community.
All investment in the center is an investment in the Jewish future. It is the greatest Jewish cultural consortium. It is also a 'center' which is linked in its structure, functioning and activities to the essence of the 21st century. It is an enormous contribution to the world's Jewish scholarship, per se.
In the opening ceremony of the center on Aug. 5, 1999, Mayor Rudy Giuliani promised to help the center with 3 million in capital funding. But the financial burden of the center should be a new mission for every Jew. The center, the 125,000 square foot center at 15 West 16th Street, with its unusual treasures of 100 million archival documents, 500,000 library volumes and tens of thousands of artifacts and works of art will be open to the public from June 2000. Its library is already open to the public since January 2000.
At the opening ceremony, Bruce Slovin, YIVO's chairman and the 'dynamo' behind this idea of one center said: "It will be the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute of the Jewish people." And Giuliani declared: "Outside of Israel, this will be the single largest research and cultural institution dedicated to the documentation preservation and protection of Jewish history." Dr. Michael Feldberg, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, the largest and most well known organization in this center said: "We're very excited to be in a center of Jewish learning where scholars...from various institutions and disciplines will grapple with important issues of Jewish identity that only history can help us address." And the Jewish Theological Seminary's Chancellor, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, who is also the President of Leo Baeck Institute remarked: "It is our hope that by pooling our assets by enlarging our impacts we will firmly position ourselves on the American Jewish landscape." These leaders, scholars and philanthropists believe that this center will be a new leverage of attracting scholars, intellectual and educated people to the treasures of the Jewish civilization and will push Jews back to their history. This coming revival should be manifested in the Jewish educational system, in schools as well as adult education projects.
For many years, Jewish history was a stepchild of the Jewish standard curriculum and courses. How many Jews are familiar with Jewish history? How many are familiar even with American Jewish history? Let's hope that this center will radiate a new appeal of Jewish history. Also, it is important to educate Jews about Jewish history before the Holocaust as well as the post-Holocaust era. How many Jews, today, are familiar with the American volunteer movement of 1948 with the heroic life story of Jews who were willing to sacrifice their life for the victory of Israel in 1948.
The leaders of this center are Bruce Slovin, Kenneth Bialkin, Erica Jesselson, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, Max Gitter, Leon Levy, and others. The professional leaders are: Dr. Michael Feldberg and Dr. Abraham J. Peck, Carol Kahn Strauss, Syvia Herskowitz and Jayne Rosengarten. Ms. Joyce C. Kites is in charge of development. Many famous celebrities have already expressed support in this center such as Richard Holbrook, Ronald Perelman, Princeton University President Harold T. Shapiro, S. Daniel Abraham, Ron Lauder, Martin Peretz, Laurance A. Tisch, and many others.
It should be noted:
- The Center for Jewish History is seeking an additional $24 million to meet its goal of raising $55 million to fund its building and endowment.
- Scheduled to open its doors in Spring 1999, this future "Smithsonian of Jewish Studies" and "Jewish Library of Congress" will house and make accessible the most massive Jewish archival collection in the diaspora - 100 million documents, original manuscripts and photographs, a library in excess of 500,000 volumes, and more than 10,000 artifacts and works of art.
- Located at 15 West 16th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, The Center is within proximity of nine major schools and universities. Ideally suited to serve the worldwide academic community and to become one of the world's leading genealogical centers, its central New York City location and a rich array of cultural and education programs will encourage a broad audience of all ages to participate in dynamic Center activities. The Center expects to welcome more than 50,000 visitors annually from all sectors of the community, nationally and internationally.
Among The Center's outstanding features are:
- A state-of-the-art computer system providing worldwide access to information from each of the member institutions, Internet resources, digitized archives and databases.
- A climate-controlled environment that will ensure preservation of precious resources and their accessibility, and draw new family and organization archives to The Center for safekeeping.
- A two-story Central Reading Room, open to the public, where scholars and students can enjoy a quiet and pleasant study atmosphere; private study areas for scholars to conduct research.
- A 250-seat Theater/Auditorium equipped with infrared technology for the hearing impaired and a simultaneous translation system; public lecture and education spaces for symposia, conferences, classes and workshops.
- Audio-equipped sound studios and archives for public and scholarly use, Including the world's largest Yiddish music collection, original sheet music from renowned German-Jewish composers and American music masters.
- Exhibition galleries to showcase The Museum's collections as well as materials from the holdings of the other participating institutions.
- A Children's Discovery Center with computer stations and craft areas for visitors to explore and school and community groups to utilize for youth programs and research projects.
The famous novelist Cynthia Ozick remarked the following about this center for Jewish history: "Imagine the severed threads of an honored old tapestry now nobly stitched together; or consider the restoration to dazzling wholeness of the four sides of a golden box; or conceive of a people's unnaturally divided storehouse at last richly united - all that is the meaning of the amalgam, in the newly formed Center for Jewish History, of four separate archives of Jewish scholarship. An unprecedented American Institution of vast cultural magnitude is in the making!"
The major organization of this new tapestry are the following ones: The oldest ethnic historical organization in the United States, the American Jewish Historical Society has amassed the world's largest collection of documents regarding American Jewish life and history, and has served as the national archives of the Jewish People in America. Founded in 1892, the Society is currently located on the campus of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Its collections include more than 40,000,000 archival documents and 30,000 books, dating back to the proceedings against the Jews of the 16th century Mexican Inquisition. Among its most dramatic holdings are the first. Hebrew books and Jewish Prayer books ever printed in America and the handwritten original of Emma Lazarus's famous poem, "The New Colossus," whose invitation to Europe's "tired ... poor ... huddled masses, yearning to breathe free" is inscribed oil the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. In the spirit of that poem, the Society's archives include extensive immigration records of American Jewish families from the late 1800s and early 1900s, a source not just for scholars, museums, filmmakers and publishers, but for anyone interested in tracing the background of immigrant families in America.
As the first organization to promote an understanding of the unique contributions of the Jews to American culture, the Society has long served a public educational and interpretive function. For the half century before WWII, Jewish scholars could find few mainstream academic journals other than the Society's own quarterly that published articles on American Jewish themes; today, American Jewish History remains the most respected journal in its field. The Society recently completed a monumental, multi-volume history of the Jews of the United States. The Society's famed Levy-Franks Colonial Family Portrait Exhibition graced the inaugural exhibit at the new Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
The following are some highlights in the history of this center's flagship:
1892 AJHS is founded as the first ethnic historical society in the United States. Oscar S. Straus is its first president.
1893 The "Publications of the America" Jewish Historical Society'' first appear, renamed in 1962 as American Jewish Historical Quarterly-, and in 1978 as American Jewish History.
1903 The Society is invited to have its headquarters at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where it remains until 1968.
1954 AJHS holds its first major conference on "The Writing of American Jewish History." Historians and scholars convene in Peekskill, N.Y.
1968 The Society moves into new headquarters at Brandeis University; in Waltham Mass.
1980 "On Common Ground: the Boston Jewish Experience,"' a traveling exhibition, opens.
1992 The five-volume history, The Jewish People in America., is published, edited by Henry L. Feingold.
1997 Publication of two-volume Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia.
The Leo Baeck Institute was founded in Jerusalem in 1955. Its task is collecting, recording and preserving the rich history of the Jewish communities in German-speaking countries from the, length century until their tragic end under the Nazi rule. Working centers were established in Jerusalem, New York and London. The New York LBI is today a major research study and lecture center which includes the significant library, historical archives and art collections of the entire international institute.
Its library of more than 60,000 volumes is kept current with the ongoing acquisition of recent literature. The archival material is being constantly enhanced by actively accumulating family and communal records, memoirs, literary estates and manuscripts which relate to the life of German-speaking Jews. The institute has published over 125 books and nearly 1,000 scholarly papers. It recently assembled a team of ten historians to embark on it's most ambitious publishing project: a four-volume comprehensive history of the Jews in German-speaking lands. An extensive art collection and some 30,000 photographs are providing a visual record of Jewish life from the earliest time of emancipation until the period of persecution, destruction and resettlement in the 1930s and 1940s. The institute's lectures and displays offer its visitors rare glimpses into the social and intellectual life of simple Jewish people and of world-famous luminaries like Moses Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine and Albert Einstein.
Since its founding in 1973, the. Yeshiva University Museum has been acclaimed for its ability to educate the Jewish public through dynamic exhibitions of both historical and artistic dimensions, attracting audiences of all ages with colorful shows on popular themes ranging from Purim to Jewish wedding traditions. The Museum provides educational opportunities for artists, historians, collectors and ethnographers.
Acclaimed for its community outreach programs and given its present location in Washington Heights, the Yeshiva University. Museum features exhibitions and tours for its neighboring Latino and African-American populations and conducts tours in Spanish, Russian, Yiddish and other foreign languages.
Among the Museum's permanent holdings are its outstanding architectural models of historic synagogues (commissioned to mark the Museum's inaugural exhibition) and its renowned collection of Judaica objects which had been confiscated by the Nazis and later rescued by the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Agency.
The Museum's work will complement that of The Center's research institutes by providing a -unique opportunity for public education and a venue where artists, scholars and collectors will be able to examine and compare objects, techniques and ideas. The Museum will continue to provide outreach to the community at large by conducting tours for adults and school children.
In its new location, the Museum's community programs will be more accessible to the public. More dramatically, the Museum staff will use its expertise to coordinate exhibitions, displays, lectures, symposia and other events, creating a public window for The Center's rich collections and the presentation of Jewish culture and history in an appealing format.
In 1925, the YlVO Institute for Jewish Research was founded to record the history and pioneer in the critical study of the language, literature and culture of the Jews of Eastern Europe. At the time of YlVO's founding, Vilna was the intellectual capital of the Jewish world and widely referred to as the "Jerusalem of Lithuania." Quickly, YlVO became acknowledged throughout the world as the "Yiddish University of the Jewish people." From its inception YlVO's work was animated by a deep concern that the language and culture of Ashkenazic Jewry were undergoing radical transformations in a rapidly changing world, and would be lost for future generations. YIVO's founders worked tirelessly to collect the documents and archival records of the hundreds of Jewish communities from across Eastern Europe, decades before, anyone could have predicted the devastation that would befall them.
Though the Institute in Vilna was destroyed during the Holocaust, a handful of YlVO's leading scholars survived the, war. Arduous efforts by survivors, the State Department and others helped to reclaim items stolen by the. Nazis. YIVO's headquarters were reestablished in New York City in 1940. YlVO's archives and library comprised of more than 22,000,000 documents and 350.000 volumes today form the world's largest collection documenting the civilization of Eastern European Jewry before the Holocaust. Through the Institute's wide array of classes graduate seminars, public lectures, publications and scholarships, YlVO now continues to pioneer in the preservation of East European Jewish culture and the influence of that culture as it developed in America.
1955 The international LBI is founded in Jerusalem.
1956 The New York LBI is established -with its library and archives, including-, about 1.,500 rare books, some dating back to the 16th and 13th century manuscripts.
1973 International Scholars' Conference arranged by LBl New York at Arden House, NY on "A Typology of German Jewry."
1985 International LBI Conference in Berlin on "Self-Reliance in Adversity-German Jewish under the Nazi Rule 1933-39."
1985 LBI Art Exhibition at the Berlin Gallery of Art, and in Museums in Frankfurt, Bonn, Duisburg and Munich (157 works from the Art Collection of LBI New York and 62 archival documents reflecting Jewish life, and suffering in Germany from tile 18th to the 20th centuries).
1990 LBI starts the project of writing a collaborative history of German speaking Jewry since the 17th century, to be published in English, German and Hebrew.
1997 Publication of all four volumes completed in German (Deutsch-Juedische Geschichte in der Neuzeit). Volumes I and 11 published in English (German-Jewish History in Modern Tines) English volume 11, Emancipation and Acculturation, 1780-1871) receives National Jewish Book Award for History. Publication of Hebrew volumes scheduled for 1998.
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