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This has been another superb year here in The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Despite economic challenges, we have moved forward on a number of fronts, several of which are reported below. We are actively making our rare materials available in digital format, we are drawing upon our collections for new cultural programming, and we are opening our doors (even those of our Rare Book Room) to a wider swath of the general public than ever before. As libraries and information access change, so, too, do we. We are and will continue to be a leader in the development of Jewish libraries worldwide.
Please take a look at the various projects and updates reported below. We hope you will agree that our work is exciting and essential. Needless to say, if you are motivated to help us continue and advance that work, we will be grateful for any contribution you make. You can easily do so online. (Learn more about supporting The Library by visiting the membership page.)
Before signing off, I would like to report on a wonderful personal tribute that was recently the occasion for the enhancement of our collection. Just a couple months ago, in order to honor Dr. Menahem Schmelzer, former librarian of JTS and, this year, the recipient of an honorary doctorate from JTS, Dr. Alfred Moldovan and Mr. Benjamin Zucker made contributions that helped us acquire a copy of Sod Hashem, a Kabbalistic treatise on the mysteries of circumcision, with manuscript records of circumcisions in Hungary (1776–1821). Both Dr. Moldovan and Mr. Zucker have long been friends of The Library, and their tribute to Dr. Schmelzer is fitting—and most appreciated.
I wish you a (somewhat belated) good, peaceful new year.
Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian
Learn more from Naomi Steinberger, director of library services, and David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian, about upcoming public events at The Library.
Reference Librarian Ina Cohen, through her work in The Library, recently became part of a real-life drama. She describes what happened:
A routine request in the Reference Desk's email inbox in February became an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of two Holocaust survivors.
An attorney from a large international law firm requested World War II documentation concerning Jews who had lived in Castelferrus, an isolated village in Vichy France, in connection with a pro bono reparations appeal.
My research in published sources yielded no mention of this village. However, the village is listed in Zosa Szajkowski's Analytical Franco Jewish Gazetteer, 1935–1945, which refers to census data in the JTS and Yad Vashem archives. An Inventory to the French Jewish Communities Record Group 1648–1946 [of The Jewish Theological Seminary Archives] by Roger S. Kohn (1991) led me to the original 1941 census documents regarding the Jews of Vichy France, by village and department, located in the JTS archives. I feel honored that my research has provided documentation to buttress this reparations appeal.
Castelferrus was the topic of my March 11 entry on http://jtslibrarytakeaway.blogspot.com, the official blog of The Library's Reference Department. This entry not only describes the question, the answer, and the research strategy, but also requests that readers with additional information about Jews in Castelferrus during World War II post their information as a blog comment.
On April 29, a reader from South Africa responded with details about her mother's two-and-half-year experience in Castelferrus, including helping her father hide Jewish refugees. The 85-year-old mother, very interested in communicating with the lawyer, recently participated in a ceremony in Castelferrus honoring the Jews who were hiding there during the war. With appropriate permission, I was able to connect this survivor with the attorney and, I hope, with his client. Again, I feel honored to have facilitated this connection.
This rewarding process demonstrates that handling reference questions in a research library is not just esoteric and isolated "ivory tower" research. Rather, it is enriching and consequential in the unfolding drama of life.
The main function of The Library's technical services is to catalog items that are added to the collection by way of donations or acquisitions. Among these are old books, some of them rare and valuable, that have found their way to The Library during the last century, many of which survived the fire that broke out at JTS in April 1966.
The fire was devastating—approximately 70,000 books were destroyed and another 150,000 damaged to some degree in the conflagration or its aftermath. By September of that year, The Library was back in operation and the salvaged books were returned to its shelves. However, many books requiring special care were put into storage outside JTS and remained there (due to lack of funding for the difficult job of recovering and repairing them) for the following seventeen years.
In mid-1983, construction was completed on JTS's new wing, which houses The Library, and the salvaged books were brought back from storage. But the new location did not improve the physical condition of the books, which remained stained and battered. Compounding direct damages from fire and water, salvage efforts resulted in book covers lost or pages missing—from a few pages here and there to half a book. Bringing the books home, then, was only a preliminary step in their required treatment.
Twenty years passed before a fund was dedicated to the rehabilitation of the rescued books. In 2003, the Goldsmith Foundation granted The Library a million dollars for the recovery and repair, over a five-year period, of 35,000 volumes damaged in the fire (the project continues, now with the generous support of Stanley and Phyllis Sanders). This made it possible to identify, classify, restore, and shelve each of these books, and here our story of "reuniting" begins.
It soon became clear that the physical condition of the books made them difficult to identify. In many cases, we were dealing with book parts that crumbled at the touch, books without covers or covers without books, books without beginnings and without endings, sections of books containing only an introduction or a chapter with title pages missing, individual pages, and so on. In such circumstances, when identifying information is not available, we look to other identifiers—such as paper type, print format, page layout, and numbering system—for hints of time and place of publication. The following is one case among many where we "reunited" a book without a title page and a title page without a book.
In late March of this year, a book turned up on my desk without a title page. It was immediately apparent that this was a book of rabbinic literature, written in Yiddish and featuring a number of woodcuts depicting biblical images relevant to the text. From the texture and thickness of the pages, I determined it was printed in the second half of the eighteenth century, but I needed more. I took the little information I had to Dr. Moldovan, a bibliophile who volunteers in The Library, and asked if the book brought anything to mind. He took a quick look and replied that the print (veibertaytch²) was used in the Tsena U-re'ena, and the engravings, too, were consistent with editions of the Tsena U-re'ena³ that appeared up until the middle of the nineteenth century. Dr. Moldovan was quick to caution against premature jubilation; due to the large number of editions, he warned, the identification process would be time-consuming and chances of success small.
Dr. Moldovan was right—almost. He did not factor in the element of luck.
I learned that since it was first written in 1616, the book has seen 200 editions, of which The Library owns 50. It was indeed too soon to celebrate, for I now realized how far I was from full identification. Even if I pulled all the editions owned by The Library and compared them, one by one, to the volume on hand, who was to say that the one in my hand was an authentic copy? And if it had not been a copy of an existing edition in The Library's collection, my effort would have been in vain. Perhaps I might as well have given up before I started.
Still, I decided to try my luck. First, I located in our electronic catalog all editions of Tsena U-re'ena in The Library. Then I narrowed the list down to those that first appeared between 1700 and 1850. The time span I chose was determined by the paper type and page-numbering system, both of them consistent with the second half of the eighteenth century, give or take a few decades. The result was a list of twenty-one editions, most of which were to be found in the Rare Book Room.
So, inspired by a sense of mission and armed with hope and a list, I walked into the Rare Book Room and turned left toward the shelves containing the call numbers BS1225. There I found a single volume of Tsena U-re'ena Frankfurt 1753 edition, complete with title page. I pulled the volume, puzzled as to where the others were, and compared it to the book in my hand. I was amazed—the books were identical! I took the two books to the adjoining Reading Room and compared them once again, paying close attention to the type and number of pages, their numbering system, and their texture and thickness, and I went on to examine defective letters in the text. It was a perfect match.
Now that I knew the volume that turned up on my desk was a copy of an edition owned by The Library, I wondered where the other twenty editions on my list were. Why had I not seen them? The answer lay in the language of the text: Yiddish. Yiddish books are shelved to the right of the room—and there indeed they were. My turning left upon entering the room had been a mistake, as was the mis-shelving of the book on the left side of the room.
Satisfied with the discovery, I returned to my desk with the intention of entering into ALEPH a second copy of Tsena U-re'ena, Frankfurt 1753 (CN # BS1225.J257 1753), and lo and behold, I saw that The Library already had a second copy, but it was a partial copy—missing all the pages except for the title page! I sprung from my chair, rushed back up to the Rare Book Room, headed to the area where cataloged Goldsmith items are shelved, and pulled a thin hardcover labeled BS1225.J257 1753 c.2—the title page of Tsena U-re'ena, Frankfurt 1753 edition.
Title page and book "reunited," the complete copy was returned to the Rare Books Room.
Dr. M. Reuveni
3- Tsenerene is a Yiddish homiletical paraphrase of the Torah, Haftarot (lessons from the books of the prophets), and Five Scrolls (the megillot, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther), written in 1616 by Jacob ha-Darshan of Yanov (Yaakov ben Yitzchak Ashkenazi, 1550–1628). The book is intended for women to read on Sabbath afternoons, as a suitable substitute for other literature. The earliest edition that survives is from Basle, 1622, but the three prior editions are lost. In eighteenth-century editions, several linguistic changes were introduced, while in the nineteenth century the differences were more substantive, both in style and in content, reflecting alterations in lifestyle in the Jewish environment. The book was widely distributed, and it went through about 200 different editions, some 50 of which are held by The Library—including that of Basle, 1622.
Last May 10, The Library presented a sold-out concert of German Jewish vocal and chamber music at New York's Society for Ethical Culture. The concert, Remembrance and Renewal, was produced by Dr. Tina Frühauf and featured works from our Music Archives. It truly was a glorious evening: the Society's wood-paneled walls resounded with music from the vibrant cultural world of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Central Europe. Special thanks are due the young, professional performers as well as members of The Library Advisory Board—Sanford Batkin, Ruth Hendel, Adele and Sheldon Lobel, and Dorothy Tapper Goldman—for their generous support of the concert.
What a thrill to hear these manuscript scores—usually resting inert within the cool of our Rare Book Room—brought to vivid life. The audience got to hear works never performed before on these shores, including songs by Hazzanim Salomon Sulzer, Herman Zivi, and Hugo Adler, and chamber works by Joseph Sulzer, Heinrich Schalit, and Herbert Fromm. Both Schalit and Fromm's papers and musical works are part of The Library's Music Archives.
The evening also served as a 100th-birthday tribute to Herman Berlinski, another composer whose works are part of the Music Archives. Berlinski's Suite No. 2, From the World of My Father (1948; 1969) proved to be a wonderfully virtuosic piece for cello and piano that utilized melodies he had composed for the Paris Yiddish Theatre (PIAT) between 1938 and 1940.
As a special treat to honor Herman Berlinski, I traveled to Washington DC in April to interview the late composer's wife, Sina. Excerpts of the interview were included in the concert's program notes. The Library has also produced a three-CD set (CD 1051) that contains the entire two-and-half-hour interview. Born in Leipzig, Mrs. Berlinski graduated from the Leipzig Conservatory in 1932 and studied piano with Alfred Cortot in Paris before emigrating to the U.S. in 1941. She and her husband first crossed the Pyrennees and then sailed into New York harbor after twenty-two days on a Spanish frigate. After nine years as assistant organist at Temple Emanu-El, Herman Berlinski became organist and music director at Washington Hebrew Congregation. Mrs. Berlinski also had a successful career in Washington as an accompanist and vocal coach. One of her students was Todd Duncan, whom George Gershwin personally chose for the lead in his opera Porgy and Bess.
Though she is thoroughly Americanized, I cannot help but think of Sina Berlinski as the embodiment of the lost world of Central European Jewry. One enters her gracious, northern Washington DC apartment and is immediately struck by the number of musical scores lining the walls of the living room. There one finds book after book of German, French, and Italian art songs, opera scores, and piano music. And, in the corner, there is a baby grand piano with the family photos on it. The Berlinskis met when both were students at the Leipzig Conservatory in the late 1920s. Their son David was born in 1942.
An interior room was where her husband would compose his many Jewish works: contemporary settings of Jewish liturgy during the 1960s, as well as numerous Jewish oratorios such as Maskir Neshamoth (In Remembrance of the Souls, 1998) and Job, which premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1972. So many of these were works in which Herman Berlinski struggled to find his faith in the shadow of the Holocaust. Furthermore, Berlinski's music is the uncompromising expression of a profound thinker and first-class musician. As Mrs. Berlinski explained in our interview, "He felt his deepest inspiration came from the synagogue," yet his music was "appreciated all over the world, except in the Jewish synagogue . . . I don't think he ever understood, or wanted to accept [it.]"
Spending time in the Berlinski home, how could I not have been reminded of the visit I made sixteen years ago to interview composer Herbert Fromm and his wife Leni in Boston? They were also Jewish artists who had fled Hitler's Germany. Or the visit I made to Dr. Johanna Spector's apartment ten years ago to look over hundreds of her field recordings of Hebrew chants from India, Yemen, and Iraq? She was a pianist trained in Vienna and former inhabitant of Riga, Latvia—and of several concentration camps.
So, for me, our May 10 concert had a special resonance because it reinforced my beliefs in just how unique this Central European Jewish world must have been. It was a milieu in which Jews tried to find a way to be Jewish while embracing the highest cultural ideals of the host nation. Mrs. Berlinski often speaks warmly of the Jewish gymnasium (German equivalent of high school) in Leipzig where she first received her strong Jewish and secular German education, Rabbi Ephraim Carlebach's Höhere Israelitische Schule. That institution, similar to the Lehrhaus movement of Buber and Rosenzweig (in the 1920s), is perhaps where her notions of being culturally European, yet a believing Jew, first took root.
What good fortune I have had to converse and spend time with these amazing people.
And what positive results it has produced! Our library has now become a repository where this culture can be rediscovered. As the decades, even centuries, pass, there must remain a place where the "World of Yesterday" that Stephan Zweig described can be read about, seen, heard, and experienced. That place remains The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary.
Paul Jiang began working as systems and digitization librarian in September 2009. He is responsible for maintaining and upgrading The Library's digital collections site and the ALEPH integrated library system. See the related article on what's new in the digital collections in this edition of News From The Library.
Naomi Steinberger: How did you get involved in library work?
Paul Jiang: I was born and studied in Guangdong, China. After graduating university, I moved to Beijing and worked at the Institute of Science and Technical Information. While there, I also worked for UNESCO as an interpreter—from French to Chinese—for online research courses. I enjoyed it and thought that pursuing a career in librarianship would be satisfying.
I was fortunate to receive a Ministry of Education scholarship, with funding from UNESCO, to study in Lyon, France. There I received diplomas in library and information systems and completed an internship at the National Center of Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique or CNRS) in Paris.
NS: When did you come to the United States and what did you do when you first arrived?
PJ: I came to the United States in 1990. I began studying for a master's of Library Science at Queens College. While I was at Queens College, I was offered an internship at Lehman Brothers. Upon graduation I began working at American Express as a consultant and then at Matthew Bender as legal template developer. In 2000 I was recruited by Lehman Brothers (as a library system specialist) to develop databases for managing library users and content applications. I developed the computer graphics, web job track, and electronic-submission applications. My library skills utilizing complex analysis, research, and indexing, and my experience with library automation projects, enabled me to successfully complete a number of large projects. I worked at Lehman Brothers until 2008.
NS: What attracted you to working at The Library?
PJ: I took an instant liking to the environment at JTS when I came for my interview. I was also excited by the idea of returning to work at an academic institution. I was ready to move from the corporate environment to the academic and research environment. I enjoy working on projects that enhance society and knowledge. I particularly enjoy working with my colleagues and like the openness in discussing options for moving ahead on projects. At a smaller institution, one is able to work on an entire project rather than just a piece of it. I find this extremely satisfying. It is particularly rewarding to see a project through to its conclusion and have a final product such as the new look and feel of the digital collections.
NS: How do you find working in a Jewish organization?
PJ: I am enjoying learning about Jewish culture. Over the past year, I have learned so much from my colleagues. They have enriched my life and opened my eyes to a different society. JTS has enabled me to participate in the staff Hebrew classes. My teacher was very excited to see how someone can come in without any knowledge of Hebrew and begin to learn some of the basics.
NS: How does your job as systems and digitization librarian bring together all your skills and experience?
PJ: My role at JTS combines skills that I have developed over the years. It puts together librarianship skills-such as cataloging, indexing, research, and analysis-with computer science skills. It is very gratifying to see how it all fits together.
NS: What is the most exciting part of your job at JTS?
PJ: Every day is exciting. I want to improve the system. I want to make a contribution and to make the users happy and satisfied. It is part of being a librarian. I want to make The Library's digital collection one of the best systems. I enjoy making the system look more beautiful. It is exciting to see the improvements in the system day by day and month by month.
Manuscripts and HebrewManuscripts.org
As readers of News from The Library know, The Library's efforts to make rare and unique parts of its collection available online began several years ago, and realized their first substantial success with the digitization of the 35,000 fragments from our Cairo Genizah collection. Now, we are taking another giant step, with the announcement of a site featuring images of many of our manuscripts and other rare items. This site, a cooperative project with HebrewBooks.org, will be a boon to researchers and students of Judaica everywhere.
This project has been long in coming (relatively speaking, that is; nothing digital is all that old, as you know). Several years ago, we began exploring what it would take to photograph our manuscripts and make images of them available online. We quickly discovered that the project would be more difficult and expensive than we and potential partners thought. At that point, HebrewBooks proposed a technologically advanced but conceptually simple solution: digitize the microfilm images of our manuscripts, which had been photographed years ago. Employing state-of-the art technology, HebrewBooks digitized all of the microfilms of our collection (in about a month's time!) and began preparing them for a new website. That new site—HebrewManuscripts.org—is now available, and what it offers is spectacular.
The range of what is available in these online images reflects the range of The Library's manuscripts themselves. Works now online include linguistic treatises, halakhic works, commentaries on scripture and Talmud, midrash, and a variety of Kabbalistic compositions. Among the latter are manuscripts of the Shiur Koma—a work describing the proportions of God's "body"—and a massive copy of the Kabbalistic classic, the Zohar, written in North Africa. In addition to manuscripts, the site includes such rare items as Jewish wedding poems from Italy, prayers from Germany, and other works of interest to scholars and students of Judaism.
This new site is not perfect. The digitized images are only as good as the microfilm images themselves (though many of the images are quite excellent, and the ability to magnify digitized images makes their reading that much easier). We therefore anticipate that this will not be the end of our manuscript digitization project. Our hope is to set up a process to evaluate the present images and judge whether new ones should be produced. For those cases where the images on HebrewManuscripts are adequate—and we anticipate that this will include a substantial majority—we will use the images that are now available. But where the present images do not adequately serve researchers, we will undertake new photography to offer superior ones. Of course, manuscripts acquired after the microfilming was done will also require new photography. We have good reason to believe that funders and partners are available to bring this project to its completion.
In the end, we should emphasize that we recognize that making these images available online will not serve all research or study needs. For any number of reasons, students and researchers might still need to examine the original materials, and we will continue to provide service in our Rare Book Room to those who need such access. But for those who can study them from afar—without troubling themselves to travel and without contributing to global warming—this site will be a boon.
Other New Digital Projects
During the past several months interesting and significant new content has been added to The Library's Digital Collections site. There is also a new look and feel to the site. With a grant from the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO), the diaries of Mordecai Kaplan have been digitized and added to the site. These diaries, written between 1913 and 1972, are a window into the thoughts of this towering figure over the course of most of the twentieth century. Kaplan's diary reflects, often in intimate detail, on his work, the people he met, the political situation of his day, theology, and Judaism. These personal records are crucial to many areas of study of twenieth-century Judaism, particularly in America.
For example, in his early entries he often speaks about people who came to see him at JTS. Among them were new immigrants, who spoke poor English, often coming with family members who spoke better English, expressing their desire to study at JTS after working in the sweatshops of New York City's Lower East Side. He also discusses his meetings with Jewish leaders concerning the future of "Judaism with an open mind." His reflections during the Holocaust, on Zionism and the birth of the state of Israel, and on the development and challenges of the Reconstructionist Movement, are all major primary source material that is now open to students, scholars, and the general public.
More than 100 musical scores of the St. Petersburg Jewish Folklore Society are now available on the site. The Folklore Society was established in 1908 by Joel Engel to develop Jewish music by collecting folksongs, publishing compositions by its members, producing concerts, and promoting research on Jewish music. The scores were digitized with funding from the American Society for Jewish Music. Many of the scores have magnificently decorated cover pages, which appear in color online. Each is followed by the entire score, which is downloadable and can be printed for performance.
Nearly 100 rare books, mostly from the sixteenth century, have been added to the site. Many of the rabbinic texts found here are first editions. Many have never been republished. They were digitized as part of our cooperative project with HebrewBooks.org. None of these books are found on Google Books.
We have also added theses and dissertations by JTS graduating students. This past spring we added our first PhD dissertation, Methods and Approach in Yefet ben Eli al-Basri's Translation and Commentary on the Book of Proverbs, submitted by Ilana Sasson, along with four undergraduate theses and four cantorial master's theses.
Hundreds of portraits of prominent Jewish figures have recently been added to the site. The collection includes a wide range of individuals who lived in the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, including rabbis, poets, Zionist leaders, American and European Jewish leaders, musicians, politicians, scientists, philanthropists, and others. Also featured are prominent women (often in elaborate dresses) such as Henriette Herz, daughter of Moses Mendelssohn; the French actress Lia Felix; Anita Brenner, an author of children's literature; soprano Lola Beeth; and others. The portraits include photographs, drawings, lithographs, and caricatures. The collection is an excellent resource for the social history of the Jewish people and for the study of eighteenth- to twentieth-century costumes.
The METRO grant also provided funding to hire consultants to assist in creating a survey to assess the effectiveness of the digital collections. After evaluating 282 responses, we implemented many suggestions from the survey participants to provide for easier navigation, new help screens, clearer organization of categories, and a new home page.
The collections are expanding daily. Take a look today and come back in a few weeks to see what's new in the collections.